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


  1. There is a still-deeper problem, which is largely invisible to most Pacificans:

    Pacifica has for some considerable time self-defined as a progressive-left political entity, other considerations being derivative of that identity.

    As such its character is defined, both with respect to personnel and audience, as idealistic-fringe political.

    Idealistic-fringe people, whether of the left, right, or whatever, are by definition non-pragmatists who are passionately devoted to their ideals.

    They have, therefore, an overwhelming tendency to fractionalized impotence – there is no respect for, let alone commitment to, the practical, the pragmatic, to making things work.

    This sort of ‘idealism’ confuses, for example, organizing a demonstration where people shout, wave placards and ‘express themselves’ as ‘making things happen.’

    Idealism of this sort is fundamentally impotent. It constitutes a form of idealized froth which, in time, deliquesces or is blown away by the winds of change.

    A part of the internal rage of the organization derives from the frustration of ‘idealists’ who, because of their ‘idealism’ are incapable of grasping their core limitation.

    Unable, because of their ‘idealism’ to affect the world they want/need so desperately to affect, they consciously and unconsciously turn upon one another.

    Might an external force alter this dynamic?

    In theory, yes, but in practical terms, any pragmatist would do a mind-blink-quick analysis and conclude that it would be a time-and-energy sink of Herculean dimension, and that time and energy are far more practically devoted elsewhere.

    Thus, no one rides to the rescue of the ‘idealists’ who snarl, snap, and hurl excrement at one another.

    It seems to me, at least, a fairly straightforward matter, the absurd complexity of the details notwithstanding.

    Of course, I’m only a simpleton, a simple-minded…

    ~ ‘indigopirate’

  2. Interesting that those who were insiders don't see any future for the station. They also have more integrity than currently-serving administrators, both at the station and national level.

  3. That you, Indigo, simple in your theorizing of idealism...

    Idealism is the driving force that wins conflict, not pragmatism. The latest science of why people kill and how they die, what they really fight for and how they radicalize deals with values. Not the flag and the apple pie, but deeply held beliefs about how things are - how to handle money, what can and can not be done with one's property, the right to keep putting gas in your guzzler...very fundamental and obscure sentiments. Step on one accidentally, and an angry man will try to kill you, skirt around one very carefully, and an angry mob will never riot or take up arms. We are deep in the unknown unknowns territory for you here, Indigo.

    At the most basic level that everyone can understand, it was the idealism of those who followed Gandhi that got the Brits out of India and ended racial segregation in the South. There is also the darker side of idealism in action in totalitarian states and in every bloody revolution and in the popular support that Nazis had in Germany under Hitler. Are you aware that the membership in the national socialist german workers party kept growing and never decreased all the way until the end in Spring 1945? There were more Nazis in Germany in January 1945 than at any time previously?

    Idealism is the prime mover in the constellation of motivations that elevate human existence above that of animals. Pacifica has a very rich heritage upon which to draw, what they need is a paradigm shift to switch to a viable financial model, but before we get into that, the big question, Indigo, is what YOU bring to the table?

    What kind of programming did you listen to on Pacifica, before the economic pressures started destroying it? Do you really think that Summer Reese is the answer? Or do you have a fetish for the Great Helmsman, a Great Statesman, who with common sense, dedication and drive will lead us out of darkness? Are you a closet totalitarian? Notice how in all your posts you had not offered a single idea of how to proceed?

    Regarding paradigm shifts, it is still possible to turn around BAI. In the late 1970's a mid sized clothing company that was just trying to break into manufacturing of designer clothing has lost its facilities to rioters and arson during the New York's famous blackout. The family that owned this business took the 300 grand insurance settlement, borrowed 250 grand more, and with no reserves launched into a television, print and radio advertising campaign that promoted their line of clothing. In 12 months that company turned a 300 million profit (600 fold return on their investment) and survived as a designer brand until about 1990. So, paradigm shifts and success are still possible at Pacifica, but they will need to bring in outside professionals, which they can still do once there is unity on their national board and they could think outside the box, and so far, none of the current BAI/Pacifica leadership has...

    So, Indigo, you seem enamored of traders, I will leave it to you to figure out, which of the major 1980's designer clothing brand I used in my example (c'mon that story was famous at the time!).

    1. I'm sure you're absolutely right, Brooser :)

      ~ 'indigopirate'

  4. Some facts on Summer Reese (from save KPFA perspective) and why she was fired and the first mention of the fact, that her employment contract was only signed by two of the board members and was NOT ratified by the full board, hence non-enforceable.

    1. I would not but much trust in SaveKPFA, it's, more than anything, a propaganda sheet for the Siegel faction. To be fair, Pacifica in Exile is the minority's counterpart, but—while both are slanted—I find the former to be more so.

    2. Thanks for that, Brooser Bear. The item is accessed on the site from the menu at the top of the homepage, & there's no date of original posting but the last update is given as 9 April.

      You're right to draw attention to Summer Reese's employment relationship with Pacifica Foundation Radio. The entirety of what SaveKPFA says on the matter is in the form of a Q&A:

      "Did Reese have an enforceable contract? The employment contract that Reese’s supporters are circulating portions of was never approved by her employer, the Pacifica National Board – it was signed by only two board members without the rest of the board’s knowledge or authorization."

      That explains why the agenda of the 6 March National Board referred to Ms Reese as Interim Executive Director, whereas the alleged contract submitted to the court by the plaintiffs (Reese supporters) gives her post as Executive Director, albeit on six months probation starting 30 January this year.

      So obvious points are these:

      1) SaveKPFA say her employer was the Pacifica National Board (PNB) but I remember reading somewhere that it was in fact Pacifica Foundation Radio (PFR). Sure enough, its website,, always refers to PFR as the employer (see 'Jobs' section; also the press release on the homepage announcing the hiring of Bernard Duncan as Interim Executive Director).

      I presume PNB is simply the body of sentient (or not so) human beings who are authorised to do things on behalf of the legal personality that is PFR.

      2) The purported contract submitted to the court shows that it was between Ms Reese & "Pacifica Foundation", & it is signed by Ms Reese & two officers of the PNB, the acting Chair (Heather Gray) & the Secretary (Richard Uzzell); the last two support Ms Reese in the current dispute. (page 36 of the PDF)

      SaveKPFA assert, as quoted, that a contract was "never approved" by the PNB, & the document was signed "without the rest of the board’s knowledge or authorization". You also made a point about the PNB ratifying what had been signed. Question is, is any of this relevant? That is, were the two office-holders already authorised to sign on behalf of PFR, be it in virtue of either their office or a prior decision of the PNB?

  5. Arlene Engelhardt is not a good guy. Reese was part of her Pacifica National Board, when KPFA's Morning Show was sacked. Many see it as a politically based retaliation, cancelling for financial reasons a KPFA show that brought in most pledges. Hear her interview here:

    Review the Internet info on Brian Edwards Tiekert and the controversy behind the cancellation of the KPFA Morning Show and make your own decision. Reese appears a part of the Engelhardt entourage.