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