Important Pacifica bylaws vote begins, as a financial crisis threatens KPFA and the rest of the network

KPFA’s future is on the line. It’s owner, the Pacifica Foundation, is on the brink of financial collapse after years of dysfunctional governance. A group of listeners and staff from all 5 stations petitioned for a vote to change Pacifica’s governance structure. Their complete proposal at Rethinking Pacifica.

All Pacifica members may vote on the bylaws amendment proposal, and ballots are arriving TODAY. Look for your ballot from vote@simplyvoting.com or nes@pacifica.org writing for “The Pacifica Foundation.” KPFA has posted the details of what to do if you don’t receive a ballot. 

A simplified structure + skilled board membersIf passed, Rethinking Pacifica ’s proposed changes will do away with Pacifica’s chaotic and costly governance system by creating a new 11-member “transitional” national board. That board would be made up of 6 of these at-large directors and at-large alternative directors , drawn from the ranks of radio professionals and progressive activists. The remaining 5 directors would be elected by each station’s listeners and staff. 

  • Judy Graboyes, accounting manager for affordable housing and community development lending, musician/activist
  • Bob King, retired UAW president, social justice activist, lecturer at Univ. of Michigan, former researcher at UC Berkeley.
  • Walter Riley, civil rights lawyer, past work with NAACP, CORE, SDS, Black Panther Party, BlackLivesMatter, Global Exchange, Haiti Emergency Fund 
  • Norman Stockwell, publisher of The Progressive, former coordinator at WORT (Madison, WI), work with Free Speech Radio News and Democracy Now!, and member, National Federation of Community Broadcasters and the GrassRoots Radio Coalition
  • Terri Burke (alternative) has been executive director of the ACLU of Texas, and served on boards of Planned Parenthood of West Texas, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, and Nonprofit Management Center of West Texas.
  • Louis Vandenberg (alternative) is a former KPFK producer, and manager of Pacifica affiliate KUCR (Riverside, CA) 

Who endorses the bylaws change? Nearly a thousand listeners and staff from Pacifica’s 5 stations (KPFA, KPFK, KPFT, WPFW & WBAI) are publicly supporting the bylaws change. Some of them are Larry Bensky , former national Pacifica correspondent | Mitch Jeserich & Diana Martinez , KPFA’s Letters & Politics | Heidi Boghosian , executive director, The Muste Foundation; co-host of WBAI’s Law & Disorder Radio   William Fletcher, Jr., writer/activist, host of WPFW’s Arise! Sonali Kolhatkhar, KPFK’s Rising Up with Sonali | Matthew Lasar , Pacifica historian, author of  Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network  Carol Spooner , former PNB member (2002-2004) and a drafter of the original bylaws | Sasha Lilly, KPFA’s Against the Grain | Peter Franck , past president, Pacifica Foundation (1980-1984) | Brian Edwards-Tiekert, KPFA’s Upfront | James & Coleen Nagel , KPFT’s Howlin the Blues | Philip Maldari, KPFA’sSunday Show | Aileen Alfandary , KPFA News co-director | Ian Masters, KPFK’s Background Briefing , and many others |  SEE endorsers list  

Can we finally fix Pacifica? Rethinking Pacifica argues that a smaller, more skilled board will be able to take on the challenges confronting Pacifica, such as paying off the $3.25 million dollar loan that the national board took out KPFA’s building and other properties to pay off a lawsuit against WBAI. 

The bylaws change will succeed only if at least 10% of listener members and 25% of staff members participate, and if a majority of those vote yes. Please share this widely and encourage those who are members of all five Pacifica stations to vote.

For background on Pacifica’s crisis, please see our last newsletter , as well as articles earlier this month in The Los Angeles Times and Berkeleyside. 

QUESTIONS? Please email us at votesavekpfa@gmail.com 

Changes on the horizon at Pacifica, as a financial crisis threatens KPFA and the rest of the network

KPFA listeners and staff are deeply concerned about the worsening financial and governance crisis at the 5-station Pacifica network, including the mortgaging of KPFA’s building in Berkeley to pay off the debts of New York station WBAI.

The Los Angeles Times has just published an investigative article by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Hiltzik, which looks into Pacifica’s financial and governance problems.

A recent audit shows Pacifica with an operating deficit of $4.6 million, writes Hiltzik, who adds that “the chief drain on Pacifica’s resources has been WBAI,” including a $1.8 million debt for its unpaid antenna rent.

The national board has refused to deal with WBAI’s financial problems, instead voting in 2018 to mortgage KPFA’s building and other property for an ill-advised $3.25 million loan.

KPFA’s studios were built by donations from Bay Area members, who did not intend them to bail out a failing New York station. Payments on that $3.25 million loan are now coming due, and threaten to tank station budgets. A balloon payment for the balance is due in April 2021.

When WBAI could not meet its payroll multiple times last fall, Pacifica’s then-interim executive director John Vernile sounded the alarm. But after making changes at the station to reach more listeners and save money, a dysfunctional Pacifica National Board ousted him and put WBAI back into the hands of those who have mismanaged it for years.

Structural change? Court orders Pacifica bylaws vote

An Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered Pacifica to put bylaws changes proposed by a group of KPFA & KPFT members to a network-wide vote.

Details are at RethinkingPacifica.org, including a news blog about developments. The proposal is endorsed by Larry Bensky, former national Pacifica correspondent | Heidi Boghosian, executive director, The Muste Foundation; co-host of Law & Disorder Radio | William Fletcher, Jr., writer/activist, host of WBAI’s “Arise!” | Peter Franck, past president, Pacifica Foundation (1980-1984) | Matthew Lasar, Pacifica historian, author of Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network | Carol Spooner, former PNB member (2002-2004) | and hundreds of others

If approved, the bylaws would create an 11-member board, 5 directors elected by station listeners and staff, and 6 directors who are well-known radio professionals and community leaders, among other changes. You can read their biographies here.

KPFA has posted a timeline of the vote. Ballots are due to be sent on February 18 to all members. Stay tuned for more information.

Support KPFA’s work

The staff at KPFA came together for live coverage of the historic impeachment hearings last week. Please take a moment to thank them by renewing your membership or making a donation.

Or attend an upcoming KPFA benefit talk, such as journalist E.J. Dionne (February 27), economist Richard Wolff (February 28), and SUNY professor Gretchen Sorin (March 11). See all upcoming events at KPFA’s website.

VERY SERIOUS DEVELOPMENTS AT PACIFICA

Dear Pacifica Radio Members of KPFA, KPFK, KPFT, WBAI, or WPFW,

As you may have heard, last Monday Pacifica’s interim Executive Director, John Vernile, went to WBAI in New York City. He laid off the employees, and cancelled local programming, replacing it with curated programs from all around the network called “Pacifica Across America.” You can listen to it online at www.wbai.org.

Understandably, many WBAI listeners are upset and do not understand what happened or why.

The Pacifica National Board will be voting very soon on whether to ratify Mr. Vernile’s actions — the PNB appears to be split down the middle — 11 to 11. They are being inundated with upset and angry messages from WBAI listeners. They need to hear from the rest of us who do not want to lose our stations or see the whole Pacifica Network go down. 
You can reach them by email at pnb@pacifica.org

Some background info: In April of 2018 Pacifica took out a $3.25 million loan to payoff a judgment against Pacifica for WBAI’s unpaid rent for their broadcast tower on top of the Empire State Building and to break the lease. That loan is secured by everything Pacifica owns, and it comes due in full on April 1st, 2021. So far, there is no clear plan to come up with the funds to pay it off. In that context, Pacifica’s move to stop the financial bleeding at WBAI makes painful sense.

Here is a message I sent to the PNB this morning. Perhaps you could use it for some ideas for your own messages in support of Mr. Vernile’s actions.
Dear PNB Members,

I urge you to vote to support John Vernile’s very painful, difficult and courageous actions at WBAI last Monday. 

I believe the best hope for Pacifica now is strong and stable executive leadership with a cohesive board to back him up. The lender (on the $3.25 million loan) is watching Pacifica carefully, and very worried about their loan, I am sure. Seeing that strong action has been taken to stop the bleeding at WBAI, and seeing that the board supports that action, would be reassuring to them. Then, I believe John Vernile would have a reasonable chance to negotiate with them about extending the term of the loan. Without that, I would not be surprised to see them foreclose on their loan (as is their right under multiple conditions we have not been able to fulfill so far).

We, the whole network, have done our best for WBAI. It wasn’t enough, and has exhausted the reserves and resources that are necessary to get the rest of our stations on a better footing.

The audits tell the story, and I’m sure the lender carefully reads them. As of the last audited financial statements (9/30/17) WBAI owed $4 million in inter-division payables to the National Office and the other Stations. That included unpaid Central Services and other funds advanced to WBAI to cover expenses. WBAI’s total net deficit as of that date was ($6.6 million), including $2.36 million in accrued rent. 

You can see for yourself here: https://www.pacifica.org/finance/audit_2017.pdf

Ten years before (as of 9/30/07) WBAI’s interdivision payables were $502,389, and they had a net deficit of ($99,603). See for yourself here: https://www.pacifica.org/finance/audit_2007.pdf

That is a total loss of $7.1 million over the past 10 years at WBAI.

The individual station info is in the “Supplemental Information” at the back of the audits.

Both Hurricane Sandy and the Empire State lease took a terrible toll on WBAI. 

The rest of the network did the best we could to help WBAI … the national office cut everything they could, and more. I say more because for a couple of years there they didn’t have the staff or money to do critical things like do the audits (the 2017 audit was filed 2 years late!).

We (the rest of the network) sold the National Office building (paid for by KPFA listeners as part of the mortgage on the KPFA building). 

We (the rest of the network) loaned them money. We (the rest of the network) picked up as much of the slack as we could with national expenses and increased Central Services payments. We (the rest of the network) got them a new transmitter. 

And, finally, we (the rest of the network) mortgaged the KPFA, KPFK, and KPFT buildings (and everything else we own, including intellectual property at the Archives, all our furniture, fixtures, equipment, etc.) to get the loan to payoff Empire State and break the lease.

But our financial condition continues to deteriorate across the network. Listenership and donations continue declining. We have to change. We have to keep WBAI on the air with programs from elsewhere, while we strengthen the rest of our stations. Then, if the lender gives us a couple more years, we can reinvest in WBAI and bring back local programming … stronger and better I hope.So, again, I strongly urge you to support John Vernile. Our lender is watching. It is important for any negotiations with them that John have the strong backing of his board for stabilizing Pacifica and turning things around. Without that, I really do fear that all will be lost.

Best wishes and many thanks,
~Carol Spooner
(PNB Member 2002-2004)

QUESTIONS? Please email us at votesavekpfa@gmail.com