Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Crisis in Pacifica and KPFA

My impression garnered from this Town Hall meeting gives it to the Summer exiles. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The waiting game: No TRO today

Berkeley-The board majority's request for a restraining order to empty the national office of community members who have been occupying Pacifica's headquarters since March 17th, when Executive Director Summer Reese cut off a flimsy padlock and returned to work, was not granted today. Judge Petrou continued the request, deciding to address it after a preliminary injunction hearing in PDGG vs Pacifica scheduled for May 6th. 
Oakland mayoral candidate Dan Siegel spoke for the board majority, claiming to represent the Pacifica Foundation, but was unable to convince the judge that an emergency existed. The court declined to authorize the Berkeley Police Department to attack the national headquarters. Since the Berkeley Police Department, according to Siegel's filing, was unwilling to take any action absent a court order, the lack of action maintains the status quo.The next legal deadline is on April 30th when the PDGG directors will file their final brief prior to a May 6th hearing for a preliminary injunction to maintain Reese's contract, reverse the bizarre re-hiring of the former CFO, and suspend or remove board officers and KPFA rep Fuentes for breaches of duty.
Once again, those opposed to the abrupt personnel moves of the rogue board majority outnumbered supporters of Save KPFA/JUC by a large number at this morning's early AM hearing. 
On Tuesday April 29th, an ad-hoc group called the "Coalition Against The Corporate Takeover of KPFA and Pacifica" plans a press conference and protest in front of Siegel and Yee's offices at 499 14th Street at noon. The group is demanding Siegel's firm "get their conflicted hands off of KPFA and Pacifica" and declares "it is time to call a halt to this wrecking operation." 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Radio Unlistenable... it's not just the content ...

It has been said that today's WBAI has the worst sound on New York's FM dial. That not only holds true, the sound is getting worse! The following two sound bites were taken yesterday and today, but they are not rare examples. I have used cuts and crossfading to abbreviate them somewhat, but only because this is mostly to illustrate the abominable technical quality of WBAI. Of course, in the case of Michael Haskins, content is also a major issue.

He likes to very selectively cite events that occurred on "this date in history," and today he focused on decades-old protests against nuclear facilities. Not the kind of "news" that can stand alone and endure, but I wanted you to hear how Chief Announcer Haskins butchers the name and location of the Gundremmingen nuclear plant in Bavaria, and how Chief Engineer Haskins is equally adept at botching up the audio. The music that follows sounds like it might be emanating from a Muzak speaker way down the hall—goes on for quite a while until Haskins returns to the microphone at a reasonable but now not so pleasant level to tell us that "Holocaust Remembrance Day started yesterday." When, one is tempted to ask, does that day end?

If you keep the audio going, you will hear Haskins intro Queen Nasira. Unfortunately, they seem to be speaking in sign language. The ineptitude then continues with more music from down the hall before Haskins returns at high volume, having finally found his next guest, Joyce Williams, who informs him of the disappearance of the Queen. Haskins is sorry to hear that, but assures Ms. Williams that although she somehow didn't hear Queen, we and "the rest of the listeners" did. Really?

I still don't know why nobody monitors output. Haskins appeared to be unaware of the dead air and skewed dynamics on his own show and if he knew that the first ten minutes of "Democracy Now!" was more dead air, he didn't share that knowledge with the listeners. In fact, not at any time did he explain or apologize for this stellar example of ineptitude and warped priorities. Of course, Berthold Reimers, the dunce who is supposed to be managing the station, doesn't tune in to it.

Yesterday's "The Next Hour" fared no better—it had Janet Coleman talking into a dead microphone for 20 minutes!

They call it Stormy Monday, but...

Berkeley-On Monday morning, Siegel and Yee, claiming they represent the Pacifica Foundation despite no evidence of a letter of retention or a vote of the board, are rushing into court to seek an order to send the police to clear out the Pacifica national headquarters. The request, while not yet calendered in Department 15, will supposedly be heard between 9 and 9:15am. The request states the Berkeley Police Department, despite numerous entreaties by Wilkinson, has refused to attack without such a court order. Police were last called to Martin Luther King Junior Way in 2008, when unpaid staffer Nadra Foster was declared a "trespasser" by KPFA management and police were called to hog-tie and remove her. Foster's wrist was severely sprained in the melee and she later received a settlement from the Berkeley Police Department. 

On Tuesday April 29th, an ad-hoc group called the "Coalition Against The Corporate Takeover of KPFA and Pacifica" plans a press conference and protest in front of Siegel and Yee's offices at 499 14th Street at noon. The group is demanding Siegel's firm "get their conflicted hands off of KPFA and Pacifica" and declares "it is time to call a halt to this wrecking operation."The State Bar of California responded to a bar association complaint against Siegel associate Jose Luis Fuentes by commenting  "civil remedies would have to be sought, such as dismissing Mr. Fuentes from the board". 
The amended PDGG vs. Pacifica complaint can be found here in a 137-page full complaint and a 24-page Memorandum of Points and Authorities.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Phone disconnect in dreamland

We all know by now that Berthold Reimers has severe problems with the truth; he moves in a fantasy land of his own and will say anything to give the appearance that things are going well, when they aren't/ We heard him on the air a couple of times recently, telling us that WBAI is doing remarkably well—on one occasion, he went so far as to predict that, financially. it would soon leave the other Pacifica stations in the dust.

Here, posted this evening, Thursday, April 24, 2014, is a staff memo from Tony Ryan that shoots holes in Reimers' optimism (click on it to enlarge it):


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

FYI: Union Complaint Filed against Pacifica

The following is a press release from Pacifica Radio in Exile, published here—as before—for everyone's enlightenment and to invite comment. This is not R. Paul's BlueBoard, so the door is open wide for all viewpoints, although not for sandbox pixel pap—you know what I mean. 

Berkeley-SAG/AFTRA has filed a  complaint at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Pacifica Radio, for unilateral contract modifications and bargaining in bad faith with the union local at WPFW-FM in Washington DC. Acting/interim/disputed chair Margy Wilkinson approved the seeming contract violations at an April staff meeting when presented by WPFW's general manager Michele Price. The complaint report can be seen here. 
The full board of directors has not been notified of the grievance more than two weeks after it was filed at the National Labor Relations Board. One of the conditions attached to Summer Reese's contract as executive director was that the board be informed of all pending litigation and grievances *immediately*. Wilkinson has also continued to hold privately the workplace investigation report Pacifica ordered to address hostile workplace complaints filed against the recently rehired CFO. 

Temporary/interim ED Bernard Duncan has not returned from Los Angeles to the Berkeley headquarters after falling ill 3 days into his first week of employment. 

An open letter signed by hundreds of the network's staffers and supporters objecting to the breach of Reese's contract can be found here.
Pacifica's financial situation continues to be extremely perilous, driven largely by severe cash shortfalls at the local stations. DC station WPFW is down to $4,000 in its operating account with no clear way to pay the end of the month payroll and WBAI has about $250,000 in unpaid bills piled up. KPFT in Houston faces a March 27th deadline to get up to full power after 4 FCC extensions. Station managers are improvising without clear guidance from national about how to meet their obligations without enough cash on hand. Slow progress is being made on the overdue bank reconcilations at KPFA, but recent financial reports presented by the local board treasurer at the last two local board meetings both contained math errors and overstated earnings. The new audit completion date is anticipated to be no sooner than the end of June. 
A FAQ about the events of the last 75 days can be found here. 
The PDGG directors have called a special meeting for April 27th to address falsified minutes and the on-going lack of corporate counsel, but are not sure their colleagues in the majority will attend the meeting. The amended PDGG vs. Pacifica complaint can be found here in a 137-page full complaint and a 24-page Memorandum of Points and Authorities

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sow's ear and pearl on a Sunday morning . . .

The difference in quality and content that separates the new "High Praize" program and "Through the Opera Glass" has never been more glaring than this morning.

Daulton Anderson's program—his third for WBAI—was another adulterated mixture of pseudo gospel music and the kind that makes people consider heathenism. Among the non-gospel fare this morning, he threw into the mix Edward Hawkins' unfortunate version of Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" and George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord". We were led to believe that this program would take us to church, literally, and feature weekly live remotes of wonderful choirs and soloists. That, as it turned out, was but a sales pitch from Berthold Reimers, and it isn't the first time he has colored the truth to hide his own inadequacies.

"Through the Opera Glass" has been on WBAI's air for over a decade and is hosted by several people, all of whom love the music and don't have to read liner notes and internet blurbs when telling us about it. This morning, the host was Manya LaBruja and the three-hour program was truly worthy of Pacifica's air. Ms. LaBruja presented a delightful portrait of mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, based upon her interview with the singer and produced with a professional flair that has become rare at WBAI. This is the caliber of programming that the station needed to return to, and it would have made a great premium.

A stark contrast between two programs. I recommend that you visit the WBAI archive and listen for yourself. I also suggest that Mr. Anderson's program (which is also heard in a similar version on WHCR) be replaced by a real quality presentation of gospel music.   

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The status of talk radio...

With the fate of WBAI and Pacifica up in the air, and opposing factions deciding what to do with Lew Hill's dream, and how to do it, there is much speculation as to the current state of radio, the value of Pacifica's stations, and the order in which they might be disposable.

Of course, the listeners, who pay for all of this, are left out of the equation, but I think we all want to know what the general picture is these days. Does WBAI's middle-of-the-dial position and commercial status mean much any more? It used to be the cherry on top, but that was before we could affordably fit an entire broadcast month on a card smaller than a thumbnail.

Although it does not directly have a bearing on Pacifica or WBAI, you might find the following discussion interesting, This is from Ed Schultz's radio show and the guest is media consultant Holland Cooke, who had just returned from the 2014 NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in Las Vegas.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Going over the top with that race card...

Comedian activist and sporadic office seeker Randy Credico was a call in interview on KPFA's "Flashpoints" show this evening. A couple of former co-hosts were also interviewed as Robert Knight was being remembered. The sentiment went over the top, as one might expect, but the women were relatively calm compared to Credico, who launched into a tirade against WBAI and Pacific, blaming their fostering of racism for Knight's death. Host Dennis Bernstein, made quite uncomfortable by the outburst, will hear none of this, so he stops Credico. All this is done to live piano accompaniment by ragtime player Terry Waldo, who can barely be heard due to a bad connection.

As most readers of this blog know, I have good reason not to personally mourn this departure, and I hope I don't offend anyone by being up front with it, but I wish—for the sake of Knight's family and friends—that this had been handled with some dignity. Knight had, after all, spent decades at WBAI, and they tell me that he used to do good work.

I am not posting the entire Bernstein segment, it's simply too maudlin, but here is Randy Credico:

A good Report to the Listeners

The video image of Tony Ryan walking back and forth at an LSB meeting with a sledgehammer on his shoulder is difficult to forget. However, that was in 2009 and we don't know what provoked it. Watching that meeting is painful, not so much because Mr. Ryan came overly prepared, but because the shouting by attendees, finger-pointing by a self-righteous board member, and general disorder in the room is one of the red flags that tell us why WBAI is on a downward trajectory.

Mr. Ryan conducted the studio meeting, because he was holding down Haskins' shift today—that made a very big, positive difference. Also at the meeting is Jim Dingeman, who has worked very hard to straighten out the premiums mess and, I believe, had a hand in setting up this report to inform listeners of the work WBAI's CAB is doing. He brings up the absolute necessity to change the station's programming, but this is a subject Reimers still seems to be avoiding. A call-in listener, however thinks that at least 50% of the current on-air offerings must be replaced.

Tony Ryan deserves praise for wanting to throw out a bunch of computers that were recently donated to WBAI. They are, he says, outdated and, thus, more likely to create headaches than to ease the work. This does not sit well with Jim Dingeman, who was instrumental in acquiring these machines, but Ryan is absolutely correct. Here's a good use for his sledgehammer! Reimers, who does not contribute to this disagreement, should go out in the world and get someone to donate new computers.

The unexpected death of Robert Knight last night was announced at the beginning of the report, but very casually, almost matter-of-factly. As you may know, I considered Knight a contributor to WBAI's demise rather than an asset, and found his programs to be utterly unsuitable for a Pacifica station, but he was associated with the station for decades and, just for that, should have been recalled with more dignity. I guess that will come, but here was an opportunity shamefully wasted.

Here is the actual report. Let us know what you think. I see Tony Ryan in a much different light now, but I still find his weekend music program wrong for the station, and—alas—I also continue to be skeptical when it comes to the station's future. Ryan and Reimers paint the rosiest picture yet, but we've heard that song before.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pacifica at 65

It was 65 years ago, April 15, 1949, that Pacifica officially went on the air, but FM was new, so there were probably not many people on the receiving end when Lew Hill gave KPFA's first station break and introduced the country to the grand daddy of public radio. 

Twenty-five years later, many thought it extraordinary that Pacifica was still on the air, broadcasting not only from Berkeley, California, but also Hollywood and New York City. From all appearances, the experiment had been a success, but Pacifica's stations were beginning to attract producers and hosts whose motivations were not quite as noble as  the
Lew Hill
original concept had called for. Great programs were still being produced and some of the country's most extraordinary movers, thinkers and artists embraced these voices in the wilderness. 

Most listeners were unaware of the subtle shifts taking place in programming, because the daily offerings continued to be diverse, substantive and on a high intellectual level. 

At WBAI, the most ominous change was the introduction of in-house "celebrities"—staff opportunists who engaged in disc-jockey styled chatter, often on a very low level. Shallow content and arrogant attitudes reflected the very kind of programming Pacifica was created to offer a contrast to.

Langston Hughes and Pacifica co-founder Eleanor McKinney.
As Pacifica grew older, its mission became more blurred and political agendas were thrown into a mix Mr. Hill might not recognize were he still around.

The deterioration has been a gradual process, fed by an influx of self-serving, turf-claiming lightweights and pseudo activists, a succession of mismanagement, and a "democratized" system of governance that has spawned feuding factions. Board meetings are disorderly free-for-alls that foster collusion and accomplish little that is meaningful to Pacifica. With all too few exceptions, the programming is so inferior that it has reduced listenership to an all-time low. To pay for this high cost of ineptitude, stations stoop to spending a disproportionate length of time pitching for money, offering as incentives bogus "cures" and other products of a kind usually found advertised on the back pages of supermarket tabloids.

Most readers of this blog will find all this redundant; they have heard for themselves what is bringing Pacifica to the brink of oblivion. I bring it up here, because it lends a sad perspective to the following audio, a program produced to celebrate Pacifica's 25th anniversary. The participants include Mr. Hill's widow and son, co-founder Eleanor McKinney, and others who helped bring KPFA through its early years.

I find listening to these reminiscences sad, because they really bring home how far the current Pacifica has drifted in its descent. Ironically, the narration is done by Larry Josephson, one of the people who contributed to the shattering of Lewis Hill's dream and played a major role in leading WBAI astray.  I often wonder if he regrets that—I hope he does. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A call for secession...

An anonymous poster pointed the way to the following audio from KPFT. It is Leo Gold, host of The New Capital Show, hosting another program, Partisan Gridlock, yesterday afternoon, April  11. I don't know the normal nature of that show, but Mr. Gold decided that this edition would be about Pacifica.

I edited out his lengthy, rambling introduction, in which he explains, in very basic terms, what Pacifica is, that KPFT is one of the five stations it owns, and that there is currently a problem in Berkeley, on the foundation level. I redacted that part, because most of you already know the situation—Mr. Gold assumes that KPFT's listeners don't. He also wants the listeners to know that the ideas he puts forth are his own and not in any way related to his being Chair of the KPFT Local Station Board, a position he was elected to last January.

The show ends with phone calls that I think you might find interesting. 

Make room for another emergency fund drive...

Of course it hasn't occurred to brilliant Berthold that this extra squeezed-in day of fund raising comes about two weeks before WBAI's very own! How much money does he think people have to pay for bad radio?
Click on memo to enlarge

Eight in the middle...

As Summer Reese continues her occupancy of Pacifica's headquarters in Berkeley, eight employees of that office report to work as usual. Whether their sympathy lies with Summer Reese or the people who put Margy Wilkinson on stage is immaterial, they have duties to perform. The Majority (i.e. Wilkinson faction) has apparently been harassing and in other ways interfering with the work of these non-union Pacifica employees, so Attorney James De Maegt, a Reese supporter, wrote a cease and desist letter on their behalf, urging that "Repeated demands to perform actions which employees have stated appear to them to be contradictory to the law and inappropriate must cease until the matters in question are heard by a higher authority."

The letter (found here in its entirety*) was sent to the PNB and responded to by attorney José Luis Fuentes, a PNB Director whose activities lately have been the subject of unanswered questions. You may recall allegations that he recently attempted to have Pacifica payroll processing data diverted to the office of his employer, the law firm of Siegel and Yee. Mr. Fuente responded to Mr. De Maeght's letter with a threat:
* Thanks to an anonymous poster.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A voice from the past...

Change to Pacifica's governance must come from outside

Published on, April 7, 2014
By Arlene Englehardt

I have been following the recent events of the Pacifica radio network with great interest and even greater concern - even sadness. I am reading far too much misinformation - a thousand sparks, a million splinters, far too much "me-me-me," no "we."

I was the Executive Director of Pacifica before the latest appointee, Summer Reese. Though I had years of experience in radio in various capacities, I came to Pacifica as an outsider, and it is from that perspective, as an outsider turned insider, that I am writing.

Pacifica is not only failing, it is nearly moribund. The most recent episode unfortunately illustrates this point only too well. The recently hired executive director, Reese, was fired at a March 13 Pacifica National Board meeting. The current Chair of the Board padlocked the national office to lock out the fired ED and her staff. Using bolt cutters, the former ED gained access to the office and barred the Board Chair from entering. To date she has occupied the office 24/7, keeping the Board Chair at bay.

Not only does this represent an embarrassing and humiliating communication failure (totally unacceptable for any organization, let alone a radio network), but in a sense it underscores the utter dysfunctionality of the governance structure of Pacifica.

The Pacifica National Board has utterly failed its fiduciary duty. Embedded in the structure of the network is an even deeper problem, that of vision and commitment for the very existence of Pacifica. There is a lack of respect within the organization that is undermining and challenging the very existence of Pacifica.

I have spent many hours thinking about the keys to the future of Pacifica. I feel there is a need for a national network that represents the voices and ideas that Pacifica was founded on: to provide radio stations that promote peace and social and economic justice, to bring news and information not commonly covered, and to provide access to the local community.

In these very serious, difficult times, people must have outlets to challenge and address the very real excesses of institutional power. The media power deck is stacked against people now and Pacifica needs to be heard. One reason I was proud to be associated with Pacifica was its commitment to the voices of people, peace and challenging ideas, and its refusal to bow to abusive power. The history of this country would not be the same if Pacifica had not been there during the civil rights marches, the antiwar demonstrations, the Iran/Contra hearings, women's liberation, and so many other moments.

Pacifica has been the voice of the people, and I believe we need her even more today. There are definite advantages for a national network that extend beyond any local station. I feel that is what we must examine now - do people want a national Pacifica? What is the consensus of values that can be reached? Can there be respect and value for a national collective as well as for local stations? How do we approach this with the changes in media and technology? These are serious questions. If a national vision does not have life, then there is no national network. Frank, open dialogue by all who are concerned is necessary, with the goal of reaching a consensus on how to move forward.

In order for Pacifica to survive, the dysfunctionality of the "core," the structure must be addressed. I am not going to go through the complex and convoluted history of Pacifica - it is much too long for this article - but suffice it to say that Pacifica, after a period of strife, dissatisfaction and lawsuits, went from a self-appointed board to a democratically elected board (20 representatives from the five Pacifica stations and two from affiliate stations).

As I understand it, the goal was to prevent anything like the coup of 1999-2001 from happening again. Obviously, this change resulted in an imbalance of power. As with the dissolution of any power base, government or otherwise, reorganization can become political and factionalized. New bylaws were written under court order. Unfortunately bylaws can be rigid, unwieldy and inappropriate, and in this case very difficult to change.

When I became Executive Director of Pacifica, I quickly realized that every station seemed to have two major factions and probably many other splinters that vied for representation. The differences among these factions were never entirely clear, but they were real and intense. I suspect they grew out of many old rivalries and disagreements, but regardless of the cause, they represented the past and usurped the energy necessary to deal with the issues of the present and the future. It was apparent that this system gave wondrous opportunities for factionalism and political bartering. Not all, but far too many members of the board represented their local station's/faction's interests and their personal agendas at the expense of national interests.

The Pacifica National Board is large and unwieldy. Many members seemed to be unaware of their fiduciary responsibility and their duty to set policy, while allowing staff to manage day-to-day operations and carry out their directives. I remember too many board meetings in which most of the meeting was spent arguing over the agenda, leaving no time for discussion of important issues. I then had to postpone necessary action or implement solutions, which were then subject to revision or rejection by the board. All in all, it was extremely difficult to accomplish necessary business in such a system.

In addition to the unwieldiness of the board, the expense of holding elections two out of every three years and the cost of four in-person board meetings each year were prohibitive. Many members of the board were aware of the dysfunctionality of the structure, but the bylaws are so rigid that change from within is nearly impossible. Thus we come back to the present impasses. Under the present governance system, such dysfunctionality is inevitable.

If Pacifica is to survive, it must change its structural governance system, and that change cannot be affected from within. The revolving door of executive directors - nine in the last 10 years, and I served for three of those years - destroys any continuity. In my opinion, having the Chair of the Board serve as Executive Director for any length of time, as two of the last three EDs have done, creates a conflict of interest. The Executive Director does not have the power to make the necessary changes - and probably should not. The Executive Director's job is to manage the operation of the network.

As I stated above, even if the PNB agrees on necessary reorganization, it is almost impossible to implement under the current bylaws. In the past, a concerned public - people who really cared about Pacifica's survival - got involved and initiated lawsuits and other measures that affected change. So too, listeners and people from the communities served by Pacifica stations must now demand changes to Pacifica's governance. The impasse at Pacifica is an expected result of this dysfunctionality and will continue if not changed from the outside.

Arlene Engelhardt served as executive director of Pacifica 
from 2009 to 2012.

Copyright 2014 American University

Margy speaks as the Pacifica Follies continue...

Today, April 10, 2014, KPFK interviewed Margy Wilkinson, the winner of a mysterious Pacifica National Board election that remains shrouded in mystery. Ms. Wilkinson admits that she has no experience of the kind required for the position she was rushed into, so, as she returned to her Chair position, that has been handed over to Bernard Duncan. Or has it? There is no end to the confusion as this scenario plays out. In the meantime, Pacifica is on shaky ground, and it ain't just generated by the fast spins of Pacifica's late founder, Lewis Hill.

See what you can make of it—here is Ms. Wilkinson:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Only tell me what I want to hear...

You may have heard here an audio clip of Michael Haskins fading down and out a statement by Gary Null that was critical of Pacifica and WBAI. Null was broadcasting from his own studio, otherwise I seriously doubt that Haskins would have done this, because the two have seemingly developed a "rapport" when united in pitching for funds. 

That is part and parcel of Haskins' modus operandi, I don't really believe that he holds Berthold Reimers in high esteem, but whoever occupies the top position at WBAI is assured Haskins' loyalty. There are many names for that sort of thing, but "boot licking" is among the politer ones, so that's what I'll call it.

All WBAI workers have a mandate to respect the station's listeners. That includes listening to what they have to say and showing them common courtesy. When Haskins wants listeners to buy a product or become a so-called "buddy," he is quick to sing the praises of WBAI, the station that carries no commercial advertising, offers programming not likely to be heard elsewhere on the dial, and values free speech. Of course, WBAI does advertise products and services for sale, they just call them "premiums," but he is right about the uniqueness of some of the station's programs—he just leaves out an important fact: much of what is heard on WBAI in any given 24-hour period can not to be heard elsewhere, because it is radio of the lowest order, radio that other stations don't consider fit to air. As for free speech? Well, that sounds great, but it, too, is a lie.

Caller Abbey is not alone when it comes to having been a victim of hypocritical intolerance, nor is Haskins the only WBAI host who tries to stifle rather than discuss criticism of the station or its management. He, however, has gained prominence, thanks to Reimers and his own unabashed self-promotion. He is particularly touchy these days when truth surfaces and his fairytales are challenged. One truth is, of course, that he has low tolerance for serious criticism.   Here's what happened when Abbey Smith called him this morning. Notice that he vehemently denies cutting anybody off and even goes so far as to falsely claim that WBAI is not technically equipped to do so!

Is Summer an Honest Abe?

Summer Reese is the Pacifica Foundation's Abe Lincoln

by ERIC C. JACOBSON Tuesday, Apr. 08, 2014 at 2:07 PM 
ECJLA@AOL.COM (310) 204-0677 PO Box 67674, Los Angeles, CA 90067
Los Angeles Indymedia : Activist News *
Is the Pacifica Foundation Board Trying to Dissolve the Foundation's Five Station Union, Place Each Station's Broadcast License under Local Ownership, Sell WBAI into the Commercial Marketplace and Distribute the Proceeds as "Endowments" to the Remaining 4 Stations?
The destiny and character of the venerable non-profit Pacifica Foundation is now in the hands of the Honorable Ioana Petrou, a California Superior Court judge in Alameda County. The first hearing (for a temporary restraining order) in Pacifica Directors for Good Governance v. Pacifica Foundation Radio will be heard on Wednesday April 9, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. in Department 15 of California Superior Court for the County of Alameda. 

The non-profit Foundation owns a small but proud network of progressive radio stations, founded, legally chartered and headquartered in Berkeley, California (back in 1946 by a pacifist and World War 2 conscientious objector Lewis Hill) and now comprised of 5 stations located in 5 cities (Berkeley, Los Angeles, Houston, New York City and Washington) in 3 states and the District of Columbia. Over 100 other community radio stations affiliated with Pacifica also carry its programs. 

The Pacifica Foundation's 1946 founding mission statement commits it to (in a small nutshell) delivering educational radio programming oriented to peace, social justice and conflict resolution, wide-ranging political, cultural and artistic expression, and to "the full distribution of public information". 

Since the mid-1960s Pacifica has increasingly functioned as an outlet where dissent and counter-cultural ideas and trends are aired. Frequently, it is the only place where truth can be found in an over-the-air broadcast medium, such as during the run-up to the infernal Iraq war, when virtually all other broadcast media outlets faithfully parroted the deceitful "party line" of the Bush Administration, the neo-conservative propaganda apparatus and the military-industrial complex. 

Pacifica's public trust and mission precludes it from operating as a private business (selling commercials, accepting corporate underwriting, etc.) and it relies almost exclusively on the response of listeners who are asked to donate to the station during broadcast fund drives multiple times a year. Only about 80,000 listeners in the 5 station signal areas do. (Pacifica also receives a small grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, when it can meet CPB's criteria.) 

This places Pacifica in a state of perpetual financial precariousness, given the high cost of running and maintaining broadcast facilities and putting out non-mainstream programming with reasonable production values. For this reason non-paid programmers far out-number paid programmers on Pacifica stations. Especially considering that imperative, the quality of Pacifica programs is fairly good, and quite faithful to its idealistic mission statement (although, alas, mostly undiscovered by the general public). 

In addition, the popularity of the 5 stations with their "locals" varies, and some station's listenerships are more responsive during pledge drives than others. In recent decades, for example, funds raised from listeners to Pacifica's stations KPFK in Los Angeles and KPFA in Berkeley have been employed to underwrite the operations of Pacifica's New York City station WBAI (which Pacifica's National Board and local WBAI managers saddled with prohibitively expensive leases and salary commitments to paid staff in recent decades). This became controversial even for a Foundation that takes very seriously the collectivist ideal that "we are all in it together". 

Paradoxically, over the years the Foundation's broadcast licenses (sitting as they do in prime "real estate" on the FM dial) have become exceeding valuable, and may be collectively worth a quarter-of-a-billion dollars or more - IF and only if they were to (somehow) be "liberated" from the Foundation's founding non-profit charter and sold on the commercial marketplace. 

At issue before Judge Petrou is the legality of a series of boat-rocking actions by a narrow majority of Pacifica National Board of Directors members that are so hasty and reckless relative to the best interests of the Foundation, its constituency of listener-sponsors that support it financially and general public, as to beg the question of what is motivating them. 

Most prominently, these actions include the attempt to terminate the Foundation's (recently permanently hired) Executive Director, Summer Reese, who is widely credited with having an excellent record of stewardship since mid-2012 when she began serving in the same position on an interim basis. Among Reese's most important achievements has been stabilizing the financial woes at WBAI, Pacifica's New York City station. 

Ms. Reese rose in the Pacifica ranks from yeoman service as an elected member of the Local Station Board at KPFK beginning in 2007 (the Foundation's Los Angeles station). Between 2011-2013 Reese served as Chair of the Pacifica National Board and so impressed her colleagues that they appointed her interim Executive Director in mid-2012 and subsidized her moving expenses from Los Angeles to the Bay Area where the Foundation's headquarters are located (in Berkeley). In November 2013 the Pacifica National Board (PNB) agreed to enter into a 3 year contract with Ms. Reese (upon completion of a routine background check) at a salary of $105,000 per year, and in January 2014 the PNB (satisfied with the results of the background check) executed a 3 year employment contract with Ms. Reese. 

The PNB underwent personnel changes beginning in February 2014, shifting the balance of power against the faction that had approved Ms. Reese's promotion from "interim" to permanent Executive Director. The narrow majority then clumsily attempted to terminate Ms. Reese's employment on March 13, 2014 (during the last 15 minutes of a telephonic Board meeting), and sent out a press release claiming they had done so, which the New York Times (credulously) published. 

As has been fairly widely reported, Ms. Reese refused to comply with the reckless actions of the narrow Pacifica National Board majority faction that purported to terminate her, declared their action to be legally invalid, in breach of her contract, and (along with concomitant actions) a dire threat to the best interests of the Foundation. 

Ms. Reese reported back to work immediately upon her return to Berkeley from Foundation business, removed a lock from the front door, entered her office (along with her staff) and kept and secured possession of the vital records and accounts of the Foundation. Remarkably, for the most part Ms. Reese has been able to continue discharging the duties of her office despite a nasty campaign of sporadic harassment by members and allies of the narrow rogue PNB majority. The Pacifica Foundation offices Ms. Reese, her mother and supporters are occupying share a building with Pacifica's Berkeley station, KPFA, where Ms. Reese's nemesis, new PNB chair Margy Wilkinson (whose own elevation to that post is in dispute) works. 

Ms. Reese has the unstinting support of 9 members of the PNB who have coalesced in the Pacifica Directors for Good Governance (PDGG) group, the plaintiff in the pending Alameda County Superior Court lawsuit before Judge Petrou. Their lawsuit seeks, among other things, to enjoin the Board majority from breaching Ms. Reese's employment contract. 

So, what (on earth) is really going on? It turns out to primarily involve "battle fatigue" on the part of a small group of aging baby boomers involved with Berkeley's Pacifica station KPFA and their counterparts on the PNB, who have given up on the Pacifica Foundation's union of 5 stations in one national network. A case in point is Carol Spooner. She was the lead plaintiff in one of the two main "listener lawsuits" that succeeded in "taking back Pacifica" during the last major crisis involving the Foundation at the turn of the 21st century. 

Ms. Spooner and her allies wrested control of Pacifica Foundation away from a self-perpetuating Board of opportunists who really were aiming to denature Pacifica's heritage and essence, put it into service of what the late, great Alexander Cockburn called "the neo-liberal inferno" and remake Pacifica into a benign Democratic-establishment-friendly left-of-center version of National Public Radio. Ms. Spooner then spent the next half-decade immersed in enervating factional conflicts with others who competed for power within the new framework of democratic governance for Pacifica enshrined in complex bylaws adopted following the final seizure of Pacifica in 2002 from the "ancient regime".

Ms. Spooner spelled-out the (burn-out driven) thinking of her and (presumably) her allies at KPFA (the Foundation's Berkeley station) in a published article in 2012, found online here: 

In it she (astonishingly) calls for the Pacifica Foundation to dissolve its 5 station union, transfer its valuable broadcast licenses to the governing bodies of its constituent stations, sell WBAI into the commercial marketplace and distribute the proceeds as "endowments" to the remaining 4 stations. Suffice it say this is a very radical and almost certainly legally untenable proposal (given the trust and fiduciary responsibilities of any Pacifica Board of Directors to maintain fidelity to the founders' non-profit mission and the charitable nature of Pacifica's acquisition of WBAI), and would come as a shock to the vast majority of the 80,000 listener-sponsors at the 5 stations. Most Pacifica station listener sponsors like the idea of Pacifica being a small but proud "national progressive radio network" and want to build that network up, not shatter it to pieces. 

The Pacifica Foundation's bylaws do include (qualified) provisions allowing 10% of Pacifica's approximately 80,000 listener-sponsors to petition for a membership-wide vote to dissolve Pacifica, which in turn would require a majority vote of the 80,000 donors. This is a political "non-starter" within the Pacifica community, and even if it weren't, attempting to "liberate" any of Pacifica's 5 stations from their founding non-profit charter would be legally (essentially) impossible. 

For example, Pacifica acquired its New York City station WBAI (in 1960) as a charitable gift from philanthropist Louis Schweitzer. Schweitzer's stated purpose was "to liberate a single element of mass media technology on behalf of the public" and thereby enhance "the free marketplace of ideas." . The law treats such charitable bequests as perpetual and although a court could permit subsequent stewards of such a donated property to divest themselves of it, under the "cy pres" doctrine, the most they could do is transfer it to another strictly non-profit organization equally devoted to the donor's charitable purpose. In sum WBAI cannot legally be sold into the commercial marketplace in the unimaginable event a majority of Pacifica listener-sponsors voted to do so. 

Yet in recent interviews Ms. Reese has recounted a stunning conversation she had on this subject with Dan Siegel, the Oakland, California lawyer who brought another of the lawsuits in the "take back Pacifica" mobilization of ~2000, and who has been a protagonist in Pacifica's factional wars ever since (particularly those occurring at KPFA). In August of 2013 Mr. Siegel endorsed Ms. Spooner's proposal although they differ on some "fine points". See an exchange between Mr. Siegel and Ms. Spooner found here:

And according to journalist Paul Derienzo found here ( ) Mr. Siegel told Ms. Reese that he (Siegel) would "sell WBAI to save KPFA", the Berkeley station. The article also quotes former KPFA Local Station Board (LSB) member and Reese supporter Tracy Rosenberg who states that "there is a 'rumor'" (one Ms. Rosenberg says she believes is true) "that 'a small segment of the board has been in negotiations with an entity associated with Comcast news channel MSNBC to take over WBAI's license.'" Hmmm. 

Although Mr. Siegel is no longer on the PNB (due to Bylaws provisions precluding any candidate or holder of public office from participating in Pacifica governance and Siegel's current candidacy for mayor in Oakland), Ms. Reese's main antagonist on the PNB majority is Dan Siegel's law partner Jose Fuentes, the member who made the motion for her termination at the very end of the March 13, 2013 telephonic Board meeting. Given the close relationship between Siegel and Fuentes, it is reasonable to assume that Fuentes and his colleagues in the Board majority are likely pursuing Ms. Spooner's outlandish "game plan". 

But given the manner in which the members of the narrow Board majority have kept their evident radical intentions rather surreptitious to this juncture, the issues framed for Judge Petrou to hear April 9, 2014, are more prosaic. 

As to some of those: PDGG is seeking to restrain the Board majority from breaching Ms. Reese's contract. And it is not seriously disputed by anyone that the Pacifica Foundation Board terminated Ms. Reese without stating any reason and without any "progressive discipline" in breach of the (in sum) just cause termination provisions of her contract. 

The validity of the Board's 11-7 vote on March 13 to terminate Ms. Reese is also at issue. The Pacifica National Board has 22 members. The Board did not provide notice to its own members that Ms. Reese's termination would be voted upon at the March 13th meeting, and took the vote with 4 members absent and without hearing the objections of the Board's own counsel who believed the firing to be non-compliant with both applicable law and Ms. Reese's contract. 

Nor has the current Pacifica National Board produced minutes of most of its (ultra-frequent) meetings since taking power in February of this year, although they belatedly did so for the March 13, 2014 telephonic meeting. 

The above actions and irregularities alone seem to amply justify Ms. Reese's description of the Pacifica National Board majority as "rogue". What responsible steward of a financially-strapped non-profit Foundation exposes the organization to damages on the order $300,000 dollars (for a wrongful termination) literally weeks after permanently hiring a chief executive? Even taking factional "PNB politics" into consideration it is unfathomable that a former minority (immediately upon taking majority power) would wish to behave so recklessly towards the Foundation's most important employee. 

Although there are numerous collateral issues, the current schism at Pacifica really is about much more than the left's traditional "two progressives three opinions" syndrome or "crabs in a barrel pulling each other down" tendencies. Ironically enough (for a network dedicated to pacifism), the fundamental issue is a mini-version of the one that precipitated the American Civil War, namely the right of secession of the constituent parts of the federal union: 

Summer Reese and her supporters (like Lincoln and his supporters) are determined to preserve the Foundation's 5 stations in the Foundation "union" and safeguard its non-profit founding heritage. 

As Carol Spooner's blueprint states, the goal of Ms. Reese's detractors and opponents is essentially to dissolve the Foundation and re-constitute each station as separate fiefs (under the control of the current rogue Board members). And (presumably not wishing to preside over stations struggling to make ends meet) the rogue Board members evidently plan to try to cannibalize the Foundation's NYC station WBAI (whose broadcast license is worth at least 50 million dollars) and distribute fractional proceeds to the other 4 stations as (in Carol Spooner's phrase) multi-million dollar "endowments". Ahem. 

As stated, this is NOT how the "cy pres" doctrine works. And given the power current Board majority members would exercise at their local stations (post-restructuring), this radical plan would further violate the founding purposes of Pacifica itself whose mission statement (in its very first sentence) defines it as an "educational part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any member of the Foundation." 

The ability of current members of the PNB to exercise more formidable executive power (alone) at their local stations, which would attend the infusion of such multi-million dollar "endowments" (made possible by the hypothetical sale of WBAI into the commercial marketplace), is clearly a "benefit" even if no current member of Pacifica achieved personal financial benefit. And I am not suggesting that current members of the PNB majority faction hope to secure any personal financial gain from their (passing strange) machinations. 

I do suggest that Carol Spooner's and Dan Siegel's pipe-dream is what explains the (otherwise inexplicable) decision of the members of the PNB majority to abruptly breach Ms. Reese's contract. The catalyst for this attack on the citadel of Pacifica's institutional integrity was to have been the ever-worsening financial woes at WBAI. Through extraordinarily diligent and difficult work, Summer Reese stabilized WBAI by making some very hard choices, including relocating broadcast facilities to less expensive quarters and (because there was no other choice given Pacifica's finances) letting go most of paid staff there last year. 

The very day the Board terminated her she had dispatched severance pay to the laid off WBAI staffers. In short, the Board terminated Summer not for any short-fall in performance, but because she had done her job too well and foiled the pretext the Board majority had planned to use to attempt to implement their (legally harebrained) scheme to break up the Pacifica union, sell WBAI into the commercial marketplace and direct the proceeds to the 4 remaining Pacifica stations. 

One last point about the democratic governance structure that emerged out of the turn-of-the-century litigious turmoil Pacifica experienced. Listener-sponsors (donors) at the 5 stations vote for Local Station Board representatives, and those LSB reps in turn elect delegates to the Pacifica National Board. 

I have voted in each election at the Los Angeles station (KPFK) over the past dozen years. Not one LSB candidate has ever advocated in their "platform" literature breaking up the Pacifica Foundation into constituent station parts, much less the idea of wholly or partially liquidating one of the 5 stations and distributing the profits to the other 4 stations. 

If anyone were to so advocate it is utterly inconceivable they would have been elected. Yet (without any such mandate whatsoever) 3 out of the 4 current delegates to the PNB from KPFK, my home station here in Los Angeles, have evidently joined forces with like-minded cohorts from KPFA, the Berkeley station, to lead this effort to destroy the institutional integrity of the Foundation they have an ethical and fiduciary duty to steward with fidelity to its founding mission and in good faith. 

It is a scandalous and shameful situation that will assuredly lead to increased turmoil in the form of recall elections and other legal challenges if the radical and reckless attempted ouster of Ms. Reese, who is far-and-away the most competent and effective leader the Pacifica Foundation has had since shortly after its inception, is not rescinded ASAP. 

Judge Petrou can save the Pacifica community a lot of future grief by restoring the status quo ante the Board majority's ill-conceived, ill-motivated and ill-fated attempted breach of Ms. Reese's contract. 

Eric C. Jacobson is a public interest lawyer in Los Angeles, California. In the past decade he has brought several "impact cases" aimed at enforcing the civil rights of California parolees and their family cohabitants and effecting a conversion from policies of "mass incarceration" to "mass rehabilitation". His legal commentaries have appeared in the Daily Journal and (on one occasion) in Counterpunch. His July 29, 2013 Counterpunch article advocated for a U.S. Justice Department prosecution of George Zimmerman for the violating Trayvon Martin's civil rights - namely Martin's federally protected constitutional right to travel to the store and back in an integrated neighborhood in Florida and retain his life.