Thursday, March 27, 2014

On again, off again water...


Berkeley-The Pacifica Board of Directors resorted to turning off the water tap on their national headquarters today, leaving the employees preparing the network's payroll disbursements unable to wash their faces or make a cup of tea until the water flow was restored. The desperate maneuver came from next door at KPFA, where the disputed chair of the board Margy Wilkinson has set up shop with the title of acting executive director once again. The Board of Directors of the radio network, which is under CPB enhanced attention for violating open meetings requirements, is delaying a financial audit, and is unable to re-license Houston station KPFT-FM at the FCC due to the inability to operate at full power, appears to be focused on a power struggle with the executive director and not the rapid collapse of their network.
A copy of a complaint filed with the CA Attorney General by 8 former members of the nBerkeley-The Pacifica Board of Directors resorted to turning off the water tap on their national headquarters today, leaving the employees preparing the network's payroll disbursements unable to wash their faces or make a cup of tea until the water flow was restored. The desperate maneuver came from next door at KPFA, where the disputed chair of the board Margy Wilkinson has set up shop with the title of acting executive director once again. The Board of Directors of the radio network, which is under CPB enhanced attention for violating open meetings requirements, is delaying a financial audit, and is unable to re-license Houston station KPFT-FM at the FCC due to the inability to operate at full power, appears to be focused on a power struggle with the executive director and not the rapid collapse of their network.
National board can be found here.
Staffers and volunteer programmers at the network's LA outlet, KPFK-FM, which just lost Community Service government funding for low listenership numbers in the nation's second largest media market, have petitioned for an election to remove their staff representative from the National Board. Their petition can be found here. 
An open letter to the Board signed by staffers, volunteers and listeners across the country can be found here
Wilkinson informed the Board on Wednesday that corporate counsel Terry Gross, of Gross Belsky Alonzo, a prominent and nationally-recognized attorney (his biography can be found here) has declined to represent the Board in any proceeding to assert the legality of the attempted firing or to remove the executive director from her workplace. Gross has not met with the full Board since early February. 
Wilkinson apparently plans to appoint an "interim corporate counsel" and claims to have secured representation for the Board from another attorney, although it would generally require both a vote of the full board and the participation of the current corporate counsel to allocate network resources to an outside law firm. The board can be contacted at with regard to the unauthorized use of donated funds. The network's insurance broker has warned the Board about the prospect of uninsurability if the rate of litigation does not significantly drop. 
The Board next meets on the evening of Thursday March 27th at 5:30pm pacific. The special meeting notices only the approval of minutes (the board has not approved nor issued any in 8 weeks) and changing bank signatorys as the subjects of discussion. 
Richard Uzzell, a national board member from KPFT-FM in Houston has offered the following motion to end the standoff between the Board and the Executive Director:
Whereas, Pacifica has been thrown into chaos by the actions of the board; and we are facing a complaint with the attorney general, possible multiple lawsuits and are perceived to be self-destructing in public, and;
Whereas, this will not help our upcoming fund drives.
Whereas, the board needs to put the organization above our factional fights, as just about everyone has told us, and make it clear that we will proceed in the future deliberately and with caution, following sound personnel procedures and with sufficient independent legal guidance.
Therefore be it Resolved, that in the interests of the welfare of Pacifica and our five stations,180 programming affiliates and our archival collections, the Pacifica National Board declares that the motion to fire Summer Reese as executive director is declared null and void; due to the lack of notice, lack of legal and HR consultation, no provision for continuing operations, increased financial risk to the network and confusion for network staff and volunteers.
And be it further Resolved, that the Pacifica National Board agrees to proceed with a system-wide performance evaluation for the executive director per the contract terms and agrees that duly-retained corporate counsel and independent human resources professionals shall be present for all executive personnel discussions going forward.
The Board of Directors is not expected to agree to entertain the motion put forward by Uzzell. 

National office employee Maria Gaite, who is working as the network controller, issued the enclosed statement about the "Shreddergate" confrontation on Monday March 24th, which ended with the Berkeley Police Department retreating after disproving assertions by Wilkinson of a gun possibly being in the corporate headquarters where a six-month old child was with her mother, a network administrative employee, at work.
Pacifica Foundation's uninspiring
storefront headquarters - Berkeley
"This is just a misunderstanding. As you know I just came back to work here in Pacifica on February 16th.The paper garbage for which shredding was ordered has been siting in the Pacifica National Office prior to Summer’s appointment  in July of 2012. Working paper drafts, extra copies of GL, and other items that we worked on for audit and needed to be shredded were not shredded. We were so busy complying with the auditors’ requests and making sure the last audit was done correctly and completely. I and my staff did not have time to shred them ourselves. I ordered a shredding pick-up way back July or August of 2013 but it was not taken care of. As I also left without prior notice, the staff including Tamika and Summer did not want to touch any documents that I left in my cubicle without talking to me first."
"I want to put this in the record. Summer had no idea that the shredding company was ordered to come by this morning and shred the documents that should have been shredded last year It was ordered by another colleague and I was aware of it. I am sure that had Summer known about it, she would not have allowed the shredding company to come by. It was a bad call on my part to allow it to be done in the middle of this chaos. But I assure you that while we were talking to Margy and her group this morning, we were open for them to look at the items in the shredding bin except for the old payroll documents. The old payroll documents had employees’ tax identification numbers that we cannot leak outside the office."
"In the end, the shredding bin were pulled in so as to end all these contentions about the shredding of these old unnecessary documents."
"I would like to assure you and any interested party that in IN GOOD FAITH, we are doing our best to correct the problems that were left by the former ED, the former CFO, and the former Controller (prior to Summer’s appointment). These include insufficient internal control systems in the company, failure to update the books on time, and making sure that revenues, donations, or grants received by the company are properly accounted for."
"Also, I want to put this in the record that we continue working in Pacifica National Office despite all these disagreements among PNB members. We are doing our best to go on with our day-to-day duties, to complete Fiscal Year 2013 audit, and provide assistance to the five radio stations (on top of KPFA’s lack of bank reconciliations since October 2012 – yes that is 18 months behind this end-March). It has been hard for all of us here in the National Office. The pressure has been mounting up. I apologize that Margy’s group had it this morning from one of our team but there is just too much pressure added on her by the requests from Margy’s end. I reiterate that it had been hard for all of us here in the National Office since this thing came down Monday of last week. I am sorry for my colleague who had enough this morning…". 
"I hope somehow this sheds light on the chaos."
Maria Gaite
Interim Controller

         Subject: Fwd: [alliance] Turning Off The Water and Firing The Lawyer
Date: March 27, 2014 7:57:12 AM EDT

Dear Members of Pacifica Foundation:
The open meeting of the Pacifica National Board scheduled for tonight may be

 unilaterally cancelled by Margy Wilkinson, who evidently lied to the police telling

 them that Summer Reese may have had a gun (she does not) inside the National

 Office (there is none there), who turned off the water in the National Office, and

 who refused to follow the advice of counsel NOT to attempt to fire the Executive

 Director Summer Reese.  The cancellation of the meeting is evidently an attempt

to keep members and staff from hearing any discussion of these issues. 

One of the questions that is on the agenda for tonight's web streamed (open) meeting of the Pacifica National Board is why Wilkinson never noticed the board that Terry Gross, counsel to the board, had advised her personally while he was being kept from meeting with the entire board to deliver this message as well as his  advice about the legality of "hiring" someone to replace the Executive Director.  

Wilkinson and the majority faction (including Dan Siegel's employee Jose Funtes and illegally-seated Tony Norman) voted repeatedly to deny the board access to counsel and to HR advice from our insurers, with the result that the board may now be denied liability insurance and be forced to pay for a new attorney who is evidently being hired as Wilkinson's personal advisor.  The officers of this "majority faction" do not want to be questioned about their actions, including the failure to provide minutes of crucial meetings (Cerene Roberts, secretary), the illegal acts committed to get elected (Tony Norman, Vice Chair), and the illegal claiming of the right to the chair while refusing to hold a new, "clean" election for that position (Margy Wilkinson).  The members of Pacifica need to know the facts about these issues, among others.  
                                                                                                             Carolyn  Birden


  1. I believe I found the reason why Reese was fired. Not all of it, but here it is:

    Gary Null issues aside, which apparently brought in some ethics investigation, here is the interesting angle: Reese got rid of the BAI news department and replaced it with her own version of it. The Free Speech Radio News apparently established a new funding model to put it back on the air, and this is what her supporters are objecting to, and I am guessing Reese wants to keep her version of the news show instead FSRN. Somebody maybe ought to talk to the FSRN people, if anybody knows any of the staff.

  2. Maria was spot-on at the end of her alleged statement (everything must be treated as purported): "I hope somehow this shreds light on the chaos" - sorry, she said "sheds", not 'shreds'. Shreddergate. Looks like Pacifica may be shredding itself, degenerating into a final autophagy.

  3. What's your take on Feature Story News (FSN) an independent DC based news outlet, which Pacifica syndicates, as opposed to BAI own Free Speech Radio News (FSRN)? I get the feeling that there was more to Reese firing the BAI newsroom than just cost cutting.

    1. If you are addressing me with that question, I haven't listened closely and often enough to the two program to make a judgement. That said, I cannot arbitrarily dismiss any talk of Pacifica decisions having been politically (in the broadest sense) motivated.

  4. Former BAI news department has apparently found a way to bring itself back; and nobody talks about it! Even FSN vs FSRN is like Classic Coke vs the New Coke and Mountain Dew vs Mello Yello. For that matter, the broadcasters at Pacifica are some of the most politicized in the journalist sphere, and yet, nobody wants to discuss the politics of the Pacifica itself. And then you have program director after program director, and there are no town hall meetings and nobody demands that the key Pacifica leaders explain their positions with pertinent issues such as balance and objectivity versus lack thereof for any reason, funding models, etc.

    I don't think that this is coincidental or accidental. Either there is a gag order and culture of silence, or the Pacifica is such a feeding through, that nobody wants to make their business public with the listeners-supporters. Note how none of the distinguished commenters who visit this blog with insider's knowledge bother to bring us up to speed.

  5. I am just a lowly anon, not a distinguished commenter... with insider's knowledge. But on the left coast, there is rising outrage over FSN.

    I think you've hit on a very vital inquiry, on the subject of what's being done to the news departments--> FSRN/Democracy NOW: first get them out of the buildings/stations; when they organize themselves sufficiently to be viable contributors, starve them of payments owed. Hey, presto! What made an audience, and an honorable name for the radio stations: gone. Taking a big chunk of the audience with them, and leaving the stations easy pickings for the G Nulls and Steve Browns and Summer Reeses in our midst.

    The only audience left, and the only source of support, is those with the stomach for what such people offer. It also devalues the stations as they stagger toward bankruptcy, so that they will be cheaper for the opportunists waiting in the wings. Loudly declaiming that no one listens to old-media radio anymore; the world belongs to 140-character idiots and their fans. So there's another bargaining chip to drive down the price.

    The Washington station, then WBAI, are the toppling dominoes intended to bring down the whole network in due course. If NY-centric commentators could grasp the obvious, and see how they're being played, there's be fewer ignorant statements about how all the players are corrupt, power-mad, and incompetent. There'd be less straining to find an iota of fact (rather than effective tactics) in the Tracy Rosenberg noise machine. Who routinely gets y'all going with one rumor after another?

    Where there's smoke, there may be fire; but where there's just someone yelling "FIRE! Someone told me they saw smoke!" that person is probably blowing smoke.

  6. Anon,

    Why is there a rising outrage over the FSN? Does it have to do with FSN itself or because the BAI news department was fired?

    Regarding the Democracy Now! It is a branch off of Pacifica that went independent and the Pacifica National Board signed a financially unsustainable contract to syndicate it. I am still trying to find out why anybody would have signed it on the Pacifica side.

    I am not sure though, whether the destabilization of the Pacifica network that you cite is a deliberate strategy on anyone's part, or a result of the interaction between the complex internal social dynamics and external economic pressures. Have you come across any evidence that would point to destabilization being a deliberate strategy?

  7. The firing of news departments seems to be proceeding station-by-station, and the picture I'm getting is this: chaotic and/or incompetent management results in poor programming and subsequent reduced listenership and support. Citing falling revenues, the station in the crosshairs is made to reduce paid staff. The reduction "can only come" from the news department because technical can't be reduced. Local management is kept churning so that control rests with National: see the sad case of Andrew Leslie Phillips. At one point recently, while Rosenberg, Reese's comrade-in-ambition was making great noise about the dire straits KPFA finances were in, and how it was all because of greedy paid staff-- the station was paying salaries to both the suspended iGM and his replacement who was much more amenable to taking marching orders from the National Office than Andrew had become. That person, Richard Pirodsky, is now iGM-ing both West Coast stations-- I don't know how many salaries he draws for this, or whether severance of any sort was also due to the departed KPFK GM. What is clear is that this lack of stable, competent management, capable of building a cooperative functional unit from a staff that often does a stellar job-- plays a role in the troubles at the station. No objective evaluation is ever made of National Office expenses, and what might justify them, and whether the stations are getting their considerable dollars' worth out of the salaries paid to those executives. And no suggestion of salary reduction in response to financial troubles is ever entertained.

    I guess that's a long way of saying that the only evidence I have is what is in plain sight: there is a pattern (visible to me after less than 4 years' observation and fact-checking the available record going back somewhat longer) that is too consistent to be an accident or coincidence-- a pattern of events, proffered rationale, and of dramatis personae. Tracy Rosenberg is the most visible of them: whether she's guiding events to the degree that she can toward her own conception or someone else's is something I don't have the resources to discover, and really doesn't matter immediately or pragmatically.

    The outrage over FSN is that it is "to the right of NPR," blandly repeating government talking points as headlines-- and thus no substitute for the kind of reportage that listeners have supported with their contributions all these years.

    It seems exceedingly likely to me that if there were competent, fair-dealing management negotiating with FSRN and DN in good faith, the details of a sustainable arrangement could be worked out. What we have had in place while I've been observing fails on all three counts: NOT competent, fair, nor acting in good faith.