Business

Former employee files political bias complaints against BITV

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — A Bainbridge couple has charged that Bainbridge Island Television is politically biased, and has filed complaints with state agencies to pursue the matter.

The action has embroiled BITV in a dispute over whether the dismissal of part-time employee Mary Dombrowski was politically motivated or retaliatory in nature.

The issue began when Jim Olsen, a vocal community member, protested the coverage of a Police Blotter entry in BITV’s BNews broadcast.

The BNews segment, an often humorous take on the crimes reported, in part, from the Bainbridge Review’s own Police Blotter, made light of a police report filed by Olsen regarding the theft of a number of political signs he had posted around the community. After the segment, exchanges between Olsen and BITV Executive Director Scott Schmidt became heated over the matter.

Olsen’s wife, Mary Dombrowski, a contracted worker at BITV, told Schmidt she did not approve of the BNews Police Blotter piece. She pressed the station to air a filmed rebuttal by her husband regarding the matter.

Schmidt said BITV eventually aired the rebuttal twice.

However, Dombrowski believes the issue set the gears in motion for her dismissal. She also claims her employment was targeted after Olsen protested the timing of an airing of the documentary, “Forest in the City,” produced independently by island resident Cameron Snow.

Olsen claimed the documentary promoted the recent Bainbridge Metropolitan Parks and Recreation District levy lid-lift. He logged a complaint with the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) alleging the airtime that BITV granted Snow’s documentary amounted to an in-kind contribution toward the promotion of the parks district levy.

The PDC received Olsen’s complaint on Oct. 28.

About the same time, Dombrowski received a letter from BITV (dated Oct. 27) stating her contract at BITV was being terminated.

Dombrowski believes she was fired from BITV because of her conservative views and the allegations her husband leveled at BITV.

“I think it is directly retaliatory,” Dombrowski said of her dismissal. “The only thing I can think of is that I am a political conservative, people may not like my views, but that doesn’t affect the quality of my work.”

However, the dismissal letter sent to Dombrowski on Oct. 27 said that she was being terminated because of “numerous complaints about Ms. Dombrowski, which have resulted in youth and adult members refusing to participate in City Council productions and further involvement with BITV.”

It came as a shock to Dombrowski, who had been awarded on a number of occasions for the work she had done at BITV. She had volunteered in some capacity for BITV since 2005. At the end of April 2008, she entered into a contractual agreement to work as BITV’s technical director, coordinating and broadcasting council meetings for the community station.

“I’ve never had a single complaint,” Dombrowski said. “All the time I was working, people would say they really liked how I filmed council meetings.”

BITV’s official statement regarding the firing of Dombrowski stated her contract was always open to termination by either party. It also mentioned that her firing was not politically motivated because they procured Dombrowski’s services despite that “her controversial political positions and those of her family were well known to BITV and the Bainbridge community.”

Schmidt said the technical director position Dombrowski filled was also understood to be a temporary position and that a long process, ongoing since March, had finally found an applicant. Dombrowski refutes that point.

“We had the job posted on our Web site since March,” Schmidt said. “So for more than half a year it was posted and we interviewed job candidates, later in the fall we posted the position on Craigslist.”

“It was not anything political on our point,” he continued. “We started the process before Jim brought any of this up. It all happened well in advance.”

But the timing of the firing has led Dombrowski to file complaints with the PDC and the Washington Human Rights Commission regarding the matter.

Press agents at the PDC and the WHRC acknowledge having received the grievance complaints.

The PDC complaint filed by Olsen regarding the airing of Snow’s documentary is still under review, however, another source at the PDC said the issue would not likely be investigated. An official release regarding that issue is due next week.

Snow, the documentary’s producer, said the piece had been made over a number of years and felt the actions taken by Olsen didn’t reflect on her or the quality of the piece she made.

“I don’t see (the PDC complaint) as an attack on me,” Snow said. “I can only imagine he didn’t agree with my conclusion.”

Snow, who has worked with Dombrowski on numerous BITV projects, said that she never had any qualms with Dombrowski’s work. She also stated her view that BITV was careful to steer clear from political stances and commenting on content.

Schmidt said BITV is still reviewing potential legal actions it might take regarding the matter. However, Schmidt said the protracted battle has been draining.

Sean Roach is a former employee of BITV. The Bainbridge Review is a news partner with BNews.

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