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WTVP board chairman 'confident' station will come through Corporation for Public Broadcasting audit unscathed

The main lobby of WTVP's studios at 101 State Street in downtown Peoria.
Tim Shelley
The main lobby of WTVP's studios at 101 State Street in downtown Peoria.

WTVP's new board chairman remains optimistic the public television station will secure its grant funding after an audit by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's inspector general.

John Wieland said he and board treasurer Helen Barrick were informed of the audit in a Friday virtual meeting with three high-ranking CPB officials.

"I am like 100% confident that at the end of that audit, we're gonna get the right hand to fellowship. We all agreed, we're not the adversary. They're not the adversary," Wieland said.

The CPB is withholding WTVP's fiscal year 2024 Community Service Grant after multiple investigations were opened into the allegations of financial mismanagement levied against the former station management.

Those issues led the station's board of directors to cut the budget by $1.5 million, lay off nine employees, and suspend Peoria magazine's publication.

The taxpayer-funded CPB is specifically interested in how WTVP spent its Community Service Grants from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2023.

The audit begins in March, and Wieland said it might not be completed until May or June.

"I was a little disappointed that we're not going to get any financial, you know, a partial payment. But that's OK," he said. "You know, the financial commitment that this group has made will input a little bit more during this time to make sure that we're in good financial health."

A private foundation that Wieland has declined to name is contributing the bulk of $1.2 million in financial commitments over the next three years aimed to keep the station in the black. Wieland has said the only benchmark tied to that funding is WTVP ultimately securing CPB funding.

There were concerns that discrepancies in the books could have caused the station to get more grant funding than it was actually eligible to receive. Wieland said Community Service Grants are based on a station's finances from two fiscal years prior. The period under scrutiny falls before the public television station's December 2021 purchase of Peoria magazine.

"We're really confident that it (is) so materially correct, because the place where it could have got dicey is after the Peoria magazine came on board, where some of the advertising dollars actually still ended up in donations," he said.

The station had $889,214 in CSG funds worked into its fiscal year 2024 budget in a financial presentation made at Tuesday's board meeting.

The CPB apparently isn't requiring a third-party forensic audit, as was discussed last November when WTVP explored the possibility of using an insurance payout on an employee theft claim for lack of enough funds to pay for such an audit otherwise.

Wieland said WTVP has already turned over some 80% of the materials the CPB inspector general wanted to see, and plans to submit the rest by the end of this week.

"We're probably one group that gets excited at the Office of Inspector General going to do this, so we can move forward. And I mean, I think that's a good thing," Barrick said.

Wieland said he and possibly Barrick will meet with PBS and CPB officials in Washington, D.C. later this month.

The final audit will be made public on the CPB Office of Inspector General's website.

Search for a new CEO is ongoing

Wieland told the board Tuesday that the station has received a "plethora" of resumes from people looking to become WTVP's next president and CEO, but most of the candidates are from out-of-state.

"I made it pretty clear that the strong preference is that we get somebody local from Central Illinois," he said. "That's not a hard requirement, but we're going to have to decide we can't fill that with Central Illinois. But we are working on it."

That new executive would replace former president and CEO Lesley Matuszak, who resigned last September and took her own life a day later. Marketing and communication director Julie Sanders is serving as the interim station manager.

The station is also hiring a part-time bookkeeper to relieve Barrick, a retired auditor who's been going over WTVP's accounts for months. The station is also hiring a new manager to lead its development team, which is in charge of fundraising.

The board also welcomed five new board members on Tuesday.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.