Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tracy on the debt issue, response to the CAB letter

A communication  from Pacifica Treasurer Tracy Rosenberg  to Jim Dingeman, followed by an earlier one to which this one refers:

Hi Jim,

A couple of things: some of your money section isn't quite right. The severance is an issue of course, but WBAI also owes at least $95,000 in legal fees for the Bernard White case (recently dismissed, but the bill remains) and arguably perhaps some additional legal fees beyond that. In addition, $30,000 is owed to WPFW-FM for a $115,000 bailout in the last few months as only $85,000 was repaid from the last fund drive.

The current financial state, if I understand things correctly, is that there is about $25,000 left in the bank, the aforementioned $30,000 owed to WPFW and a tower payment of $45,000 and a payroll all due on the last day of November. So nothing is quite self-sustaining yet and WBAI will have to borrow a sum of $50,000 - $75,000 sometime in the next week from another station to get to December, when the brief fundraiser planned is unlikely to generate enough to pay that back and cover December and January expenses as well. So yeah, you do need help and not just a little of it.

It's not for me to volunteer that KPFA will loan you 75K and I'm not going to do that here, but we have to stop underestimating the stress it is causing through the whole network. Unless we can get commitments from all of the other stations that they will reserve a certain amount of money to helping to get WBAI through the next six months (and I think we can assume another $300-400K or so will be needed on top of what WBAI can raise on its own), then I'm not sure we're having a reality-based conversation about giving it 6 more months.

We went through this with BAI's budget at the finance committee. Yes, we're a lot closer to sustainability if we hypothetically start at $0 than we have been in a decade. But we *aren't* starting at $0. And management had no solution for that and I can't say that I do either, which is why I'm not willing to kick in the teeth any possible solution before we've even looked at it.
And I find it really weird that other people are willing to.

You tell me that KPFA and KPFK will each dig up another $200K to support WBAI through this transitional period and oky-doky we have a deal. You find a bequest for a quarter million and maybe we have a deal. But you say "give us a little help beyond the $3.3 million little help we've already gotten", and I'm not sure where exactly that's coming from. If WBAI had cut its expenses down to $90,000 a month in 2006 when Pacifica still had money in the bank, then hey, sure absolutely, no problem. But it took six more years after 2006 and in those six years, a whole bunch changed - in Pacifica and in radio as a whole.

So I think the honest process goes: tell us *how* to get through those six months you want. It can't just be a one-way demand of the other 4 stations.


Previous communique:

Hi Jim,
Here are my answers. I understand they may not be adequate. I do not have direct access to the books at WBAI.

What is the exact grand total of debt owed by Pacifica ?
I have not seen an accounts payable document since the spring of 2012. At that time, the total debts were about 1.6 million, about 1.2 million at the national office, about 200K at WBAI and the remainder divided between KPFA and WPFW. KPFK and KPFT were largely debt-free at that time. The majority of the national office debt was to Democracy Now and at that time totaled about $800,000. $100,000 was owed to FSRN, and the balance was largely owed to attorneys, primarily KPFA labor lawyers and the White and Hicks cases. I have recently received a legal bills breakdown and can confirm that the Hicks case has been largely paid, there is still a large unpaid balance in the White case of approximately $90,000 and KPFA has legal bills of $120,000 or so remaining unpaid. My understanding is that Democracy Now is probably owed around 1.4 million by now, and FSRN, as we know is owed $200,000. I don't believe there are any other large outstanding debts.

What is the contribution of WBAI in specifics in regards to this ?
WBAI has not paid more than 1/2 of its shared services portion for most of the past decade. Usually it has not even paid a quarter. Had WBAI been able to do so, the amount missing would have more than covered all of the outstanding debt as the book receivable to the national office from WBAI is more than $3.5 million dollars (over 12 years). Essentially, although all of the stations are financially tight at this time, the Pacifica debt problem is the cost of subsidizing WBAI's operations and "waiving" their share of the network expenses pretty much since the beginning of democratization. The financial structure for the network depends on expense-sharing. When one station consistently does not pay their share, the structure does not hold. Even 1/2 of the unpaid amount would have prevented the significant assumption of debt, but for political reasons, no PNB and no executive director felt able to cut WBAI's costs significantly over the year.

People want to know what are the specifics of the money owed to DN? What is the role of WBAI in all this?
See above. I do want to say the 2nd Democracy Now contract, which was signed on the identical terms to the first contract, was a negligent act by Ambrose Lane, corporate counsel Dan Siegel and the 2007 PNB that paid no attention to the significant decline in DN pledges nor to Pacifica's needs to invest in equipment and technology to stay relevant and competitive in the media landscape. Had WBAI been able to pay its portion of shared services, there is still a statement that $600,000 annually to DN may not have been the best use of money. However, WBAI largely did not pay shared services and Pacifica used the other stations share to cover the DN payments for as long as it could and when that became impossible because overall revenues started to slip, finally began to default on the payments to DN, largely in 2010 when KPFA stopped paying shared services as well due to operating deficits and the foundation posted its largest ever operating loss.

What is the amount of money owed to the NO from WBAI as regards to payment into Central Services?
The books say $3.5 million. I do not know how far back that balance sheet is going, but my guess would be it is to 2002.
How long has the non payment of the money to Central Services going on? How much has been owed by WBAI over a period of time? Is it ten years? 15 years what is the actual number?
From my understanding, in 2002, when the iPNB took over, the books largely had to be recreated, so I don't know that I am in a position to say anything about pre-2002 operations. If it helps any, at that time Pacifica had a much larger debt of close to $6 million dollars and was able to negotiate it down and pay off virtually all of it, so it is not impossible to climb out of a hole. What one needs to do is stop making it bigger. I am going to say $3.5 million over 12 years. I am not swearing as to the accuracy of that figure, but I am providing it as my best estimate. I will also say that half of it and fiscal stabilization going forwards would entirely mitigate the debt problem and the rest needs to be considered water under the bridge as it is simply the operating reserves we should have and don't and the investments in equipment and upgrades that we should have made but didn't.

Is the amount of money outstanding that is owed mainly due to WBAI?
Yes. KPFA played a role in 2009 and 2010 by running large deficits, but that was somewhat mitigated by their cash reserve and it was not until they spent up all that money and started defaulting on shared services to pay their bills that it impacted the rest of the network. The deficit spending was corrected on the fall of 2010 and back shared services paid in installments from Jan of 2011 to June of 2012. KPFK and KPFT have largely paid for themselves, although both stations do run small deficits from time to time. WPFW has sometimes added to the debts, but since the scale of the station is small, it has only made a small contribution compared to WBAI which is twice as large and runs much larger deficits. So I would have to say that yes it is mainly due to WBAI.

How has that money owed tracked over the years and what discussion or policy discussed to deal with it?
That's a harder question. One of the reasons Lonnie Hicks was removed as the CFO in January of 2009 was a perception that he was covering up the extent of the subsidies to WBAI. While I had no access to any PNB materials prior to 2010, I suspect that is true as many people that I knew on the board at that time profess to be surprised by what now seems to be common knowledge. The convention of releasing financial statements with the supposition that shared services payments are made (accrual accounting) contributes to the lack of clarity and Pacifica may want to consider a move to a cash accounting system if and when there is a competent CFO. In 2008, a balloon loan was proposed by Save KPFA'er Sherry Gendelman, then an interim ED, that would have provided an infusion of cash in return for a mortgage on KPFK's building and a large multi-million dollar payment due in 2013. It was defeated by one vote. Had it been approved, KPFK's building would have been repossessed earlier this year. Many people think that proposal was an admission that subsidizing WBAI on incoming receipts was about to fail. As it did. Grace Aaron hoped that management changes at WBAI implemented in the spring of 2009 would turn things around, but while they did improve slightly, it was not enough to compensate for the crazy fixed expenses and the station continued to lose money every year.

How is the outstanding debt impacting on policy?
The finance committee tried to acknowledge reality in 2011 and "officially" sanctioned WBAI to pay only 9.5% in shared services instead of 19.5% and trimmed the national office budget accordingly. That is part of the reason the overall deficit in 2011 was the smallest of the last five years at $600,000. We were optimistic about WBAI in 2012 (as revenue had been trending upward), but unfortunately the hurricane pitched WBAI into a catastrophe with no reserves, and I don't think anyone had any ability to deal with $500,000 just not being there. (The stations are on average presenting $10,000 in surplus - if we're lucky). WBAI did raise money in the spring of 2013 to replace the Fall 2012, but then couldn't continue to raise enough to also pay the spring 2013 expenses, which was the equivalent of two major fund drives back-to-back). The upshot is that whatever you would consider sound financial policy has had to come second to shifting money around constantly to meet emergencies and there are all kinds of reasons why that's a bad way to operate. Costs money, prevents planning, takes up time and leads to mistakes.

If there are documents, great.
I wish. If I did a great document search, I probably could find some helpful things squirreled away over the years, but my time right now doesn't allow for the great search. I hope this email is
reasonably helpful and I will stand by everything I say here.


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