OETA Foundation to dissolve, transfer funds to new nonprofit
To settle a legal dispute, the nonprofit foundation that supported public television in Oklahoma for more than three decades is dissolving.
The OETA Foundation will transfer "all funds and assets held in trust for OETA" to a new nonprofit organization, Friends of OETA.
"OETA is glad that the situation has been resolved and it can continue its obligation to provide quality public television to the citizens of the nation and the state of Oklahoma," its attorney, Michael Burrage, said Wednesday.
The settlement agreement between OETA and the OETA Foundation was reached late Monday night.
The agreement ends a legal fight that began in December and played out much like a bitter divorce case. Each side made harsh accusations about the other, mostly over money. There often were tense moments at the building the two share in Oklahoma City. The OETA at one point gave the foundation an eviction notice.
Caught in the middle were public television viewers and donors. Some major donors chose to hold off giving all together.
OETA is officially known as the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority. It describes itself as America's most-watched Public Broadcasting Service network. It is supported by both state funding and private donations.
It airs locally produced programming and PBS shows such as the popular "Sesame Street," "Antiques Roadshow" and was the broadcast home of "Downton Abbey." More than 2 million viewers tune in on a weekly basis, according to its website. Its board of directors are the state's educational leaders.
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The foundation was founded in 1982 to support OETA. It has said it has provided more than $67.5 million to, or for the benefit of, OETA since 1989.
In March, Attorney General Mike Hunter asked an Oklahoma County judge to appoint a receiver to take control at the OETA Foundation. That request had been pending.
Last week, the attorney general went to the judge again. He asked for an order putting restraints on how the foundation spends donations. He warned the judge of "the likelihood" that those funds would be mishandled. A hearing for Wednesday on the second AG request was called off because of the settlement.
OETA's board of directors voted 9-0 at a special meeting in January to terminate its relationship with the OETA Foundation because of the dispute. The foundation's president characterized the vote as legally irrelevant and told donors, "Keep calm. We're still going strong."
"OETA Foundation does not cease to exist simply because OETA wishes to establish and control a new organization," the foundation president, Daphne Dowdy, wrote in an online statement.
The settlement agreement calls for Dowdy's employment to be terminated immediately and for her to move out of the building by May 15. She will get the "remaining compensation in her employment agreement" upon her departure. Her salary is more than $150,000 a year, records show.
Other foundation employees will get to interview for jobs at OETA or the new nonprofit. Those not hired will get severance pay.
Under the agreement, the foundation must transfer more than $1.6 million to OETA by noon Friday. The foundation will transfer the rest of the funds and assets — more than $40 million — to the new nonprofit by May 15.
The foundation also will turn over its donor list, something it had refused to do earlier. OETA had complained to the judge that the information was essential to the network's future success.