Static at BNN

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  July 16, 2010

Henderson was always eager to marry his passions for music and television. His first show, City Beat, served as a local talent forum, and through the years he continued his involvement with arts programming — even when certain projects posed potential conflicts of interest with his managerial position. Henderson spent more than $3000 on a 2009 venture with the nonprofit Jazz Boston called What's Your Jazz, raising speculation among colleagues that he was merely acting for the benefit of his concurrent debut solo album, Magic of the Night. Most disparaging was that a "marketing" consultant friend of Henderson's named Lynn DuVal Luse was paid $52,000 to advise on the failed anniversary party (where Henderson performed), and appeared to be promoting Henderson's record-release party at Sculler's Jazz Club.

Internal feuds aside, according to several local activists and producers who use BNN services, Henderson is widely respected throughout the Boston community. Union of Minority Neighborhoods Executive Director Horace Small reports only positive experiences from years of collaborating with Henderson, who is admired in some circles for helping found a BNN summer youth program in 2005, when Boston lost 7000 jobs for at-risk teens. Still, according to every insider with whom the Phoenix spoke, the network depends on a handful of employees who contend with the wrath of a mercurial boss. There have been such accusations since before Henderson took the reigns from Jessup; in 1994 retired Boston teacher and BNN producer Fred Washington told the Boston Globe: "Once [Henderson] went downtown [to work in the transportation building studio], he completely changed."

Others bring more damning allegations. Former studio manager Charlotte Holmes recently filed a complaint against BNN with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, claiming that she was denied promised maternity leave and personal days during which she sought to care for her disabled son. Holmes is also fighting for unemployment benefits, arguing that she was pushed out in March after having several confrontations with Henderson.

"The management is afraid of the staff, so they keep everyone off balance," says an ex-worker who left in disgust and spoke anonymously for career-related reasons. "It's the way that [Henderson] came to power; he went behind the previous manager's back to the board and instigated a revolution, so he's always worried about what might happen to him."

Stumbling forward
Written off over the years by various columnists, the Boston Community Access and Programming Foundation that operates BNN has also faced outright dissolution, as well as takeovers by Emerson College, which provides the network with interns year-round, and Mayor Tom Menino, who mostly remains hands-off yet appoints two of the foundation's nine board members (including president DeWayne Lehman, who did not return a Phoenix request for comment). The fact that the network has weathered controversy in the past, however, doesn't mean it has the present wherewithal to embrace new media models and take full advantage of its modern facility. Among the flaws perceived by some insiders: the BNN member database is incomplete and utterly dysfunctional; in many cases high-school interns are performing tasks that were until recently assigned to trained hires; the Web site is so outdated that it lists eight employees who have surrendered or been fired since 2008.

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