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WTVP slashes budget by 30% amid claims of previous 'questionable, unauthorized, or improper' spending at the station

The WTVP board of directors meets on Oct. 10, 2023 at the station's State St. studios in downtown Peoria.
Tim Shelley
The WTVP board of directors meets on Oct. 10, 2023 at the station's State St. studios in downtown Peoria.

The Peoria PBS station is slashing its budget by 30% effective immediately. The board chairman is blaming problematic spending by unnamed people at Channel 47 for at least some of the issues.

The WTVP board of directors moved Tuesday to slash spending down to fiscal year 2019 spending levels of $3.5 million that's being called a "break-even" point. Board chairman Andrew Rand said further cuts may be necessary if the $3.5 million mark is missed.

The station lost $560,000 in fiscal year 2022, and a reduction of more than $740,000 in cash from operating activities. Things were trending poorly this year, too. The station had a net loss of $121,000 between July and August of this year alone.

Rand said Tuesday that station management was failing in their promises to break even on operating expenses or increase cash flow.

The station has experienced significant administrative upheaval in the past month. Former WTVP president and CEO Lesley Matuszak was found dead at her Moss Avenue home on Sept. 28, a day after she turned in her resignation. Director of finance and human resources Lin McLaughlin also recently parted ways with the station. The public television station has declined to comment on the reasons for those departures.

The station's board of directors gave the executive committee more oversight over station management and day-to-day operations last month. The fiscal year 2022-23 audit wasn't made available to WCBU upon request at the station's offices on Tuesday. Interim station manager Julie Sanders said the audit will be listed under public filings on the station website, but didn't specify when.

Rand said the executive committee consisting of himself, his domestic partner Sid Ruckriegel, Stephen Shipley, and Helen Barrick found evidence of impropriety over the past two months, working in conjunction with the auditors, accountants, and station employees.

"The executive committee has accumulated workpapers, documents, and other financial records that provide insight into expenditures and uses of funds of WTVP that were questionable, unauthorized or improper," he said to the board following a lengthy executive session. "We believe such expenditures have been stopped and are closely reviewing every proposed or recurring expense the station makes."

It's unclear how much money is in question.

Rand said current cash available, plus a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, will be essential moving forward. That grant application is due in November, and is expected to bring around $1 million to the station if approved.

He said there will be a station meeting for staff Wednesday morning to discuss WTVP's financial issues with them and "be as frank as possible."

WTVP has served Central Illinois since 1971. The public television station covers the Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, and Galesburg areas. The station also owns and operates Peoria Magazine. The magazine was purchased from Jan Wright in late 2021. At the time, Rand said the acquisition was not being funded by general membership funds, but rather unnamed "community investors" who set aside funds to relaunch the publication.

Sanders said her main goal is continuing the mission of the public television station.

"I assure you that WTVP will be around for a long time. It's an important part of our community," she said.

Rand declined to answer any questions after the meeting.

Updated: October 11, 2023 at 2:21 PM CDT
Stephen Shipley is also a member of the executive committee.
Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.