Long-overdue changes at Pacifica give hope for network’s renewal

Margy Wilkinson, PNB chair, temporarily serving as Pacifica’s iED, in her office at KPFA

Late last week, the Pacifica National Board (PNB), the governing body of the nonprofit that owns KPFA, voted to end the employment of then-interim executive director Summer Reese.

Because the board did not immediately appoint a new interim executive director, the person in charge this week has been, per California law, the new PNB board chair, Margy Wilkinson. 

Margy served as KPFA’s Local Station Board chair before becoming a Pacifica board member. She has a long history as a labor, civil rights and anti-war activist, serving on the City of Berkeley’s Labor Commission, and as the chief rank-and-file bargainer for a union representing University of California employees. Wilkinson was elected to chair the Pacifica board last month, after new delegates took their seats and began setting a new direction for Pacifica.

Wilkinson reports that the managers of the five stations Pacifica owns are working with her to straighten out the network’s difficulty getting funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — something that festered for over a year under Reese, delaying nearly $1 million in payments.

Early in the week, Wilkinson told staff that she won’t accept pay, thinks it’s been a bad practice to move board members into management positions (which is how Reese came to power), and asked the PNB to appoint a qualified interim executive director quickly. Last night, the board met in executive session and issued a public report that it will offer the job to a specific individual, but for confidentiality reasons, it did not release the name.

Ex-manager locks out elected board members, KPFA staff

Elect reps Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Margy Wilkinson demand that terminated employee Summer Reese (in polka dots) leave the building

Wilkinson also reports that since Reese broke into Pacifica’s office last week by using bolt cutters to open the front door, she is sleeping in her former office and refusing to leave. Pacifica’s offices are in the KPFA building, provided rent-free to the network by KPFA.

UpFront co-host Brian Edwards-Tiekert, currently serving as a staff rep on the Pacifica National Board, said a handful of supporters of Reese blocked him and Wilkinson from entering the building: “As an elected member of Pacifica’s Board of Directors, I have a right under California law and Pacifica’s bylaws to inspect the premises, and look at financial records.”

In other words: this is a former manager locking out the elected representatives of KPFA’s workers and listeners. That’s consistent with Reese’s heavy-handed tactics when she was a manager: Reese purged more Pacifica employees than any interim executive director in recent memory.

Last spring, over the near-unanimous objections of KPFA’s staff and elected board, she drove out KPFA manager Andrew Phillips, who had won the respect of nearly everyone at KPFA. She also replaced every single member of Pacifica’s national staff, and forced onto the airwaves of some Pacifica stations heavy doses of snake oil from dubious fundraisers like HIV denialist Gary Null (thankfully, she’s not managed to get him onto KPFA.)