A judge has ordered that a suit filed by ousted Alabama Public Television Executive Director Allan Pizzato will go forward based on possible violations of an Alabama sunshine law. A hearing on the merits of the suit has been scheduled for Sept. 4.
Pizzato filed suit after he and his deputy, former APT CFO Pauline Howland, were abruptly fired in a June meeting of the Alabama Educational Television Commission. Among other things, the suit alleges that the commission, which oversees APT, violated the Alabama Open Meetings Act by discussing Pizzato’s job performance in an executive session in that June meeting. The Open Meetings Act bars the job performance of certain public employees from being discussed in an executive session.
In an order filed Wednesday, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Joseph Boohaker ruled discovery in the suit should go forward based on evidence heard in hearings earlier this week that suggests Pizzato’s job performance was discussed in that session.
“Considering the evidence before it, the Court finds substantial evidence than on June 12, 2012, during the course of a regularly scheduled and noticed meeting of the AETC … the Defendant Commissioners voted … to go into executive session to discuss, among other things, a matter that is improperly addressed in executive sessions under Ala. Code §36-25-7(a)(1), namely the job performance of Plaintiff, the Executive Director of APTV,” Boohaker wrote.
Boohaker found that “this evidence is sufficient for purposes of establishing a possible violation of the Open Meetings Act …” and ordered that the parties in the case, the AETC and Pizzato, conduct depositions and gather evidence for a hearing on Sept. 4. Evidence related to the confidential aspects of the executive session may be redacted.
The order also includes a summary of events on a an audio tape of the June 12 meeting, and notes that AETC Commission President Ferris Stephens made a motion to “go into executive session to discuss the general reputation, character and job performance of the executive director of Alabama Public Television.” [Emphasis in Boohaker's order.]
Calls to Pizzato’s attorney Mark White and to Ferris Stephens were not immediately returned.
Other gems from the order:
In the order, the judge reviewed evidence from testimony of several witnesses, including Interim Executive Director of APT Don Boomershine, who replaced Pizzato after he was fired. Boomershine said he was told by Alabama Educational Television Commission President Ferris Stephens that Pizzato was to be terminated due to “a difference of opinion between the Commissioners and the Executive Director,” and that this “difference centered on Christian programming.” Since Pizzato’s departure, rumors have swirled that one of the reasons Pizzato was fired was that he refused to air a documentary series by pseudo-historian Texas evangelist David Barton.
Paula Drinkard, an executive assistant at APT, testified that the AETC modified APT’s mission statement to remove a diversity provision. That provision included a clause related to sexual orientation. The commission adopted a new mission statement at its June 12 meeting which did not include a diversity statement, which Drinkard said was “a matter of concern” because a grant that APT relies on for funding requires that “APTV meet diversity requirements in its mission statement and training”.
According to the tapes from that June meeting, AETC Commissioner Bebe Williams found that APT’s mission statement had “fluff and buzz words” in it.
An earlier version of this story referred to Interim APT Executive Director Don Boomershine as Dan Boomershine. The error was corrected.
APT Case – Judge Orders Discovery Go Forward