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Published: 1/24/2001

Council urges 2 sides to keep Spanish channel

BY LISA A. ABRAHAM
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Daniel Juarez, left, and George Villarreal make their opinions on Univision known during the city council meeting. Daniel Juarez, left, and George Villarreal make their opinions on Univision known during the city council meeting.
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Members of the city's Hispanic community packed city council chambers yesterday to send a message that they want to see Spanish-language cable programming continue in Toledo.

Holding signs that read “Salve Univision,” or “Save Univision,” they came out to watch city council pass a resolution “urging Buckeye CableSystem and Univision to work together to continue quality Spanish language television in Toledo.”

Council unanimously passed the resolution.

The resolution was proposed by Councilman Louis Escobar, the only Hispanic member of council, who said he first was made aware of the threat to the programming by his mother, who was concerned the “novellas” or Spanish-language soap operas she watches could go off the air in the Toledo area.

Univision is threatening to pull the plug on its Toledo broadcast Jan. 31, if it cannot negotiate a new contract with Buckeye.

For the first time in 10 years, Univision wants to start charging Buckeye for the programming. Buckeye is balking at that prospect, claiming that Univision does not charge for programming in 32 other U.S. cities, including New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.

Mr. Escobar said if Buckeye and Univision can't reach an agreement, both companies would go on and continue to profit.

But senior citizens like his mother, who worked hard and helped to build the community, would lose the simple enjoyment of watching their favorite shows, he said.

Buckeye's attorney, Fritz Byers, said the company supported the resolution and was committed to maintaining Spanish-language programming. “We hope, but we can't guarantee, that it will be Univision,” he said.

Univision representatives did not attend the council meeting. Bruce Ballard, Univision's vice president of affiliate relations, has refused to discuss the issue. “We take a high road approach to this,” he said last week, “and we don't want to negotiate through the media.”

Following the council meeting, local Hispanics had planned to demonstrate in front of Government Center. Instead, about 50 members of the group met in the Lucas County commissioners' chamber with David Huey, Buckeye president and general manager, who fielded questions.

Mr. Huey said the cable company could charge a fee for the channel but didn't think that was fair to customers. Audience members agreed.

The Toledo Hispanic Affairs Commission, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and Mr. Escobar urged the group to circulate petitions and get them signed to show Buckeye and Univision that there is strong support for the channel in the Toledo area.

“We could sit here and do nothing,” commission member Margarita DeLeon said. “With the petition, we want to get Univision to see that we really want Spanish language programming here. It seems like to us that Buckeye is negotiating in good faith.”

“Even if they take it off, I think it will be right back on because of the demand,” Vicky Avalos said.

Others talked about alternatives. “If they take it off the air, I'm getting Direct TV,” said Dolores Rodriguez, longtime community activist. “That's what I'm going to do, but I know that a lot of people can't afford the installation fee.”

In other action, council unanimously approved a $35,000 settlement with Carolyn Smithers, former manager of the Erie Street Market, who sued the city in December, 1999, claiming Mayor Carty Finkbeiner hit her in the head with a coffee mug and made offensive and sexist comments.

The mayor has denied the allegations and does not admit wrongdoing in the settlement. The city law department urged the settlement as the cheapest and least risky way to end the litigation.

Councilman Gene Zmuda said he asked council members whether they still had questions about the settlement, and whether council should wait for two weeks before giving it final approval.

He said the law department heard of the possible delay and sent him a letter telling him the settlement “had to go forward.”

Mr. Zmuda said the letter showed him the law department is concerned only with the mayor's interests, and not the city's. Ultimately, no councilmen had questions, but Mr. Zmuda said he feels the letter was inappropriate.

Law Director Barbara Herring said her office sent the letter “because we just wanted them to pass the settlement.”

Blade staff writer Clyde Hughes contributed to this report.



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