Saturday, March 15, 2014

Letter from Tracy Rosenberg


You are receiving this as a subscriber to Carol Spooner's KPFA and Pacifica updates mailing list. Carol has kept this list up for many years, but for reasons of family, health and changing times has asked me to pick up where she left off. My intent is to occasionally send updates about news, events, elections and other things that may be of interest. Carol is a long-time friend and I feel very honored to try to be as reliable and honest a source of information as she has been for so many years.

Well, I thought I would have some great news for you as on March 13th, after a tremendous effort, the severance pay owed to about two dozen laid-off workers from WBAI, who were sadly laid off in August of 2013, was paid off in full. Pacifica has been carrying their medical and health benefits for 8 months, while negotiating with the SAG-AFTRA bargaining unit and trying to dig WBAI out of 10 years of mismanagement and neglect topped off with eviction by hurricane. No one was sure whether the severance would be the challenge that couldn't be met, but it was and it was a source of tremendous relief.

However it turned out there was nothing to celebrate. In one of the infamous Pacifica insanity purges, the new board of directors (dominated by folks affiliated with New York's Justice and Unity Caucus and Berkeley's Save KPFA), reacted to the good news by firing the executive director. The new executive director appears to be 70-year old Margy Wilkinson.

Whatever one's feelings about individual personalities, what this means is that yet again, reckless power-based struggles about control are going to cost the listeners and cost the Pacifica stations a whole bunch of money. Money that won't be spent on expanding into digital technologies and new website platforms, promotion, expanding listeners and community engagement, taking care of aging equipment, and finding and cultivating new, subversive and dynamic programming.

The new national board, seated less than six weeks ago, has encumbered the struggling network with a $315,000 obligation to buy out a 3-year employment contract signed just a little while ago. The formal employment contract delineated causes for termination and capped severance pay, but in their goofiness the new board, meeting without any legal counsel or human resources advisors, claimed that contract was "void" and instead relied on a poorly drafted offer letter that did not cap severance pay at all, leaving them and the stations liable for the full amount. They did this in order to avoid having to perform a performance evaluation prior to termination or cite a cause for the firing. It's a shocking breach of fiduciary duty.

The board refused a request by the sane people on the board for general counsel (the network's lawyer) to be consulted only moments before. Given the financial pressures on the organization (exacerbated by 3 of the 5 stations recently missing their February fund drive goals, all but KPFK in Los Angeles and amazingly, WBAI in New York), it seems likely the board's action will result in the forced sale of one or more real estate assets, which consists of buildings in Berkeley, Los Angeles and Houston, Texas.
This latest return to the days of constant lawsuits draining the foundation due to reckless behavior by the national board will not be welcome news to many.
The motion was made by Dan Siegel's employee at the law firm Siegel and Yee, Jose Luis Fuentes, who joined the Pacifica National Board less than six weeks ago. He is not believed to have had more than one conversation with the executive director prior to February 10th.

The foundation remains under CPB audit status and the latest turmoil is likely to further delay over a million dollars in funding to the stations that is being held due to governance errors by the board of directors with posting timely notices for the very many board and committee meetings.

Subscribers should be deeply concerned about the irresponsibility and recklessness on display. Pacifica spent many years (with many of these same people on the board of directors) paying off a long series of employment litigations based on exactly what is happening here: ignoring signed contracts, failing to update personnel policies, ignoring complaints of harassment, and generally behaving like a human resources train wreck.

What you can do: For now, the most helpful thing is to shoot off an email to saying that you don't appreciate the board blowing your pledge money on personality disputes instead of investing in KPFA and the network. They're not representing you by playing power games, preventing stable leadership (it's only 20 months since the last ED was dispatched and by exactly the same people) and burning up scarce resources that were donated for radio, not for lawsuits.

We can reverse this insanity. That's the good part of listener democracy (and there's a lot of bad parts), but at least we have that. We fought for it so we could say no when the organization's leadership takes a really bad turn. This is a bad turn. I hope it's just a hairpin curve on the road back to sustainability but that depends on you.

I know this executive director well. She hasn't been perfect, but she is young and energetic and dynamic and she was just about the best thing I had seen at Pacifica for a very long time. She gave me hope that there really would be a Pacifica for the next generation. I still want to believe that. With your help, there can be.
All these long years, I have believed Pacifica Radio was an idea worth fighting for. I still do.

Tracy Rosenberg
KPFA Listener Rep 2007-2013

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