Fixing Pacifica

Margy Wilkinson
Margy Wilkinson

Pacifica is the nonprofit that owns KPFA and 4 other radio stations across the country. When this summer started, it was in chaos. Recently-terminated executive Summer Reese had barricaded herself in Pacifica’s offices, blocking elected board members’ access to Pacifica financial records. Her supporters were suing to reinstate her and throw some elected members off Pacifica’s board. And vendors whose bills Reese had left unpaid for more than a year were starting to file lawsuits to collect.

SaveKPFA‘s members and representatives have been hard at work to put things to rights. In May, long-time civil rights attorney (and SaveKPFA member) Dan Siegel took on Pacifica’s legal woes, winning a court decision that rejected each and argument by Reese’s supporters, and securing a court order that forced her to leave the building.

By late June, Pacifica’s chief financial officer, Raul Salvador, whom Reese had also locked out, had re-secured access to all of Pacifica’s accounts and electronic records. In July, Pacifica Board Chair (and SaveKPFA member) Margy Wilkinson became Pacifica’s de facto executive director, a job she’s doing on a volunteer basis while she works to get a permanent replacement into that position.

In a recent report, Wilkinson described an office left in complete disarray. “The staff in the national office is working hard. They are 5 (plus me) at this point – trying to locate files, reconstruct financial records, getting papers in their proper places, fielding calls from anxious vendors and trying to get a fix on how much money we owe and how many bills we can pay.”

The silver lining: by volunteering her time, leaving some recently-vacated positions unfilled, and whittling away at unnecessary bills, Wilkinson has already made significant cuts to spending at Pacifica’s national office. Wilkinson also reports progress resolving union/management conflicts at WPFW in Washington DC, and on making major reductions in the rental costs for the antenna of WBAI in New York, Pacifica’s most financially-distressed station.

Financial committee chair reports

pacifica logoThe new chair of Pacifica’s national finance committee, KPFA staff representative (and SaveKPFA member) Brian Edwards-Tiekert, has issued a report on the state of Pacifica’s books. “Most of Pacifica’s cash transactions (deposits and wire transfers, especially transfers between Pacifica’s stations and the national office) have not been recorded in its accounting system since the beginning of the fiscal year (October 2013). Beginning with the National Office takeover in March 2014, all payrolls went unrecorded. There is some evidence that inappropriate and unauthorized payments were made during this time.”

“Meanwhile,” Edwards-Tiekert’s report continued, “it appears few spending controls were in place at Pacifica: during a period when the Pacifica National Office was adding staff and raising salaries, it was also racking up large unpaid bills with vendors, attorneys, and consulting firms — the folks now working in the national office have discovered unpaid bills going back to last year that were never disclosed to the board, many of which were never recorded in Pacifica’s accounting system either. The poor state of the books makes it difficult to determine which past-due bills need to be prioritized. Two vendors have filed lawsuits against Pacifica to collect on what’s owed to them.”

But, Edwards-Tiekert added, he has confidence in the people working to clean things up. Their top priorities: completing a long-overdue audit to help secure the release of Pacifica’s Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants, and publishing long-overdue financial statements for the current fiscal year so that Pacifica can take stock of what it needs to do to bring its budget into balance and start catching up on unpaid bills.

RELATED STORIES:  Pacifica: putting the pieces back together (includes financial report) | Lawyer representing board minority jumps ship | Finally, local control at KPFA

Some still clinging to the past

Reese using a bolt cutter to break into Pacifica's offices
Reese using a bolt cutter to break into Pacifica’s offices

[UPDATE 4/9/14 @10:05 am: The national board minority’s attempt to get a Temporary Restraining Order to allow Reese to keep her job has been DENIED by the Alameda County Superior Court. More news as we have it.]

Pacifica’s former interim executive director, Summer Reese, remains barricaded in her former office, which she broke into with bolt cutters four days after the elected Pacifica National Board voted 11-7 to end her employment. In violation of California law, she’s still illegally blocking elected members of Pacifica’s Board of Directors from entering the premises to look at financial records.

Over the past week, Reese made moves to sabotage Pacifica’s funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by complaining to the organization’s Inspector General about financial problems that either took place while she was running the organization, or that she failed to fix during her tenure. Reese has also signed a lengthy declaration as part of vague, rambling lawsuit against Pacifica brought by her supporters on the national board (Carolyn Birden, Janet Coleman, Heather Gray, Kim Kaufman, Luzette King, Janet Kobren, Janis Lane-Ewart, Manijeh Saba and Richard Uzzell).

Not coincidentally, on the day those board members filed suit against Pacifica, they also filibustered a meeting of the Pacifica National Board that was intended to retain counsel for the foundation — an apparent attempt to sabotage the foundation’s ability to defend itself. National board members reported that the litigants were so disruptive in the closed portion of the meeting that they prevented the board from even approving its agenda before its mandatory adjournment time.

Terminated interim executive Summer Reese and her supporters have been generating prodigious amounts of misinformation, from wild allegations of corruption that she never raised before her termination, to breathless reports of police interventions that never actually occurred. The treasurer of the KPFA local station board has released a statement rebutting Reese’s charges of financial improprieties. All of KPFA’s financial information is publicly available.

SaveKPFA has prepared a concise Q&A that cuts through the smoke and deliberate obfuscation that seem to be a standard part of Reese’s game plan. The Q&A is also available as a PDF flyer you can download and distribute.

What you can do: Join the over 600 Pacifica network staff and listeners who have signed this open letter demanding Summer Reese leave peacefully. Signatories include former Pacifica National Affairs correspondent Larry Bensky, community activist Ying Lee, KPFA’s UpFront’s Brian Edwards-Tiekert, former Pacifica board chair Sherry Gendelman, KPFA’s Aileen Alfandary, labor journalist David Bacon, Alameda County School superintendent Sheila Jordan, KPFA’s Philip Maldari, former KPFA GM Jim Bennett and former KPFA iGM Andrew Phillips.

Comments by petition signers have been pointed. Listener Benjamin Balthaser wrote, “I am embarrassed by the actions of Reese and hope the station returns to its mission of providing critical and informative programming.” Lee Block wrote, “Pretty selfish of you to bring down the whole network because you feel dissed. You’re as bad as a Koch Brother.”

“This destructive behavior serves no purpose,” noted listener Saraswathi Devi. Listener and Free Speech Movement activist Lynne Hollander Savio captured the conclusion many observers have reached: “Unbelievable behavior, which just confirms the wisdom of the Board’s decision.” You can add your own name and comments here. | DOWNLOAD PDF FLYER OF OPEN LETTER

 

PNB dismisses interim ED

Original KPFA radio dial, circa 1949
Original KPFA radio dial, circa 1949

In a short announcement posted March 13, the Pacifica National Board (PNB) reports that it has ended the employment of controversial interim executive director Summer Reese. New board chair Margy Wilkinson sent this longer message to the network’s general managers explaining the change, asking that it be forwarded to staff. She confirms that an new interim executive director will be in place soon.

Wilkinson was elected Pacifica chair last month after new delegates from each local station took their seats on the PNB, following annual elections from the five Pacifica local station boards. The memo also notes that the national board is turning its attention to urgent needs in the network’s infrastructure, and that a report Pacifica is required to make for continued funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was submitted on time this year. Last year, the CPB withheld its funding to Pacifica due to “shortcomings in its accounting and operations,” according to the online magazine of public broadcasting, Current.

BREAKING: At our publication time, there are reports that Reese had forced her way into the Pacifica National Office in Berkeley and was refusing to leave. Several SaveKPFA supporters are on the scene — more details as we get them.

It’s time to reverse the network’s decline

wbai Reese was chair of the Pacifica board in 2011, 2012, and 2013. During the last 18 months, she was also the network’s interim executive director. Under Reese’s tenure and that of her close ally, former Pacifica treasurer Tracy Rosenberg, the network’s problems grew exponentially.

Pacifica’s independent news service, Free Speech Radio News, was forced to close because Pacifica failed to pay $200,000 owed to it. Over a million dollars is still owed by Pacifica to Democracy Now!

At New York’s WBAI, Reese fired or drove out two program directors, and gave huge blocks of airtime to vitamin entrepreneur Gary Null, whose peddling of questionable supplements brought attention from the CPB Ombudsperson’s office after listener complaints that the station’s fundraising was “ethically-challenged,” and whose position denying HIV has angered many in the AIDS activist community.

Last week, Pacifica finally paid the severance it legally owned to 19 WBAI employees Reese had laid off over 6 months ago. Of the $140,000 paid, $50,000 came from KPFA’s funds.

At KPFA, Reese abruptly transferred general manager Andrew Phillips last year to the program director job at WBAI, then would not let him do the job he’d been tapped for. Reese also failed to appoint a new KPFA general manager as required by the bylaws, even though the Local Station Board hiring committee had interviewed and chosen four acceptable candidates.

Supporting cooperative programming

FSRN logo

After receiving new non-Pacifica funding, Free Speech Radio News, is back online trying to create an economically-viable model – one SaveKPFA believes is likely to be far superior than the replacement, Feature Story News, which Reese put on the air in place of FSRN last year.

There have been many complaints about the quality of FSN’s reporting. “This is not the kind of radio KPFA listeners should be paying for with their hard-earned dollars,” noted KPFA local board member Donald Goldmacher, producer of the film Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?

Other Pacifica stations benefit from a number of shows that originate on KPFA, including Against the Grain, Letters & Politics, and Voices of the Middle East and North Africa. “Sharing programming resources is a good way for Pacifica stations to support each other and bring in new listeners,” adds Goldmacher.

KPFA also assists other Pacifica stations by sharing the premiums that it creates through the station’s public speaker series managed by long-time events coordinator Bob Baldock. These premiums, which feature writers and activists such as Naomi Klein, Michelle Alexander, Gabor Maté and others, generate tens of thousands of dollars during pledge drives each year across the network.