KPFA listeners and staff filled the July 20-23 meeting of the Pacifica National Board (PNB) in Berkeley past capacity, spilling into the hallway during public portions of the meeting. Listeners came from all over the broadcast area — Santa Rosa, Petaluma, San Jose, Oakland, and even Fresno and Los Angeles.
Dozens spoke up eloquently during public comment, opposing more cuts at KPFA, criticizing Pacifica’s current leadership, and challenging Pacifica Treasurer Tracy Rosenberg on her unproven budget claims.
“We need quality programming in order to keep listeners and subscribers,” long-time listener Ellen Jennings told the board. “I don’t believe KPFA can survive without quality programming such as UpFront, Letters & Politics, Against the Grain and the KPFA News team.”
KPFA staff passed out this flyer explaining how further cuts to KPFA would hurt the entire network. One of several unpaid programmers who spoke, Glenn Reeder, said that austerity measures like the layoffs Pacifica was proposing “don’t improve institutions in the red — investing in people does.” Many of those present had already read the recent independent audits of Pacifica, showing a healthy KPFA, but massive financial problems in the mismanaged Pacifica National Office and at WBAI, the network’s New York station.
Listener Kate Gowen said that the conflict around the station had “laid bare two very different visions of what KPFA should be, and how the role of the National Board is to be defined.” Programmer Sasha Lilley told the board it would not solve Pacifica’s financial woes by cutting paid staff, because that would result in a loss of income and listenership, as happened the last time.
For many on the national board, it was the first time they’d seen KPFA’s listeners or staff face-to-face. And what a difference it made! Here are some major developments from the weekend’s meeting.
Victory: layoffs less likely at KPFA
Pacifica management had been trying to impose $1 million of cuts on its stations, and had been pressuring KPFA to reduce staffing by $300,000 – which could cost the station 7 to 8 positions, enough to take several programs off the air. Pacifica management was insisting on the cuts even though KPFA is on track to have a six-figure budget surplus this year.
On the first day of its four-day meeting, the PNB took up a resolution by KPFA staff rep Laura Prives that called on Pacifica’s executives to disclose how much they wanted each station manager to cut, and to explain the rationale for demanding those cuts. Incredibly, Tracy Rosenberg and her board allies voted against this straightforward, sensible resolution, and as a 10 to 10 tie, it failed. The next morning, a lengthy resolution from Rosenberg that gave a free hand to Pacifica to cut wherever it wanted, also failed by a 10 to 10 vote
But then, things changed. During public discussions, it became clear that Pacifica’s executives — Arlene Engelhardt, the executive director, and LaVarn Williams, the CFO — couldn’t explain why they decided the stations should take $1 million in cuts. They had done no analysis on how layoffs might hurt fundraising efforts, and couldn’t articulate any plan for financial recovery. Public testimony from KPFA’s listeners and staff against further cuts was compelling and seemed to sway some board members.
On Monday, the PNB overwhelmingly passed a resolution by KPFA representative Dan Siegel calling on station managers to assess their individual financial situations, and submit financial plans for timely payments of all their bills. This is an important step forward for local control.
Siegel says the resolution commits Pacifica to a budget process that relies on “station management to monitor and control their budgets. This is just the first step. Somehow the National Office allowed $2 million in unpaid bills, including about $1.5 million to Democracy Now!, to accumulate,” said Siegel. “We have to figure out a way to pay off these bills without undermining the functioning of our stations. The third priority is to finally deal with WBAI’s $800,000 in annual rent, which has weighed down the entire network for years. I am pushing for a quick solution that involves moving to a cheaper location in New Jersey, Queens or Brooklyn, and use of a different broadcast tower,” Siegel added.
So long, Arlene Engelhardt?
SaveKPFA readers will remember Arlene Engelhardt: she’s the heavy-handed Pacifica manager who killed the Morning Show — at the time, KPFA’s most popular program and the station’s biggest fundraiser — and then refused pledges of over $60,000 from KPFA listeners who wanted to help. LaVarn Williams is the network’s CFO.
After a long, closed-door session, PNB chair Summer Reese read this statement: “At its meeting on July 22, the Pacifica National Board decided to open searches for the positions of Foundation Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer. The contractual terms of the incumbents, Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt and Chief Financial Officer LaVarn Williams, conclude on November 30, 2012. The Board invited Ms. Engelhardt and Ms. Williams to apply for new terms in their positions.”
KPFA’s local board chair Margy Wilkinson commented after the meeting: “We’ll need to talk about what this means, but I’d like to think that a majority of the PNB recognize that Pacifica is in terrible shape and these two executives cannot provide the leadership to begin to solve the problem. We’ll have to keep talking but I’m feeling better about Pacifica than I have in a long time.”
This good news is due to the hard work, persistence and support of the thousands of you who have signed petitions, sent emails, joined protests, and attended meetings. Thank you!
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