UCR member Janet Kobren costs KPFA $400,000

KPFA graphicKPFA figure on web

The November 14, 2015, Local Station Board (LSB) meeting saw a new low in the sleazy politics department of this year’s LSB election. [REMINDER: ballots are due 12/4; if you don’t have one, request a duplicate here].

The board heard allegations by board member Janet Kobren that KPFA had misappropriated a $400,000 bequest from a listener that she claimed should have gone to Pacifica national. Kobren is currently running for re-election to the local station board.

Kobren’s slate, United for Community Radio, has been publicizing the allegation for weeks, “as part of a dirty politics play to win seats on KPFA’s local board,” noted Kate Gowen, a current LSB member. Kobren, who also sits on the Pacifica National Board, had used her PNB authority to obtain records in the national office pertaining to the recent bequest. She then brought a motion before the cash-starved Pacifica Board to take the $400,000 from KPFA and give it to Pacifica.

But Kobren’s case, when presented at the KPFA LSB’s meeting, failed to hold up, even from the very documents she submitted as proof. Kobren’s argument turned on the fact that the bequest check had been made out to the Pacifica Foundation and not explicitly to KPFA. This was proof, she claimed, that it should have gone to Pacifica national office — despite multiple references to KPFA in the documents, and despite the check and related correspondence having all been mailed to KPFA addresses.

Quincy McCoyQuincy McCoy, KPFA’s general manager

KPFA general manager Quincy McCoy noted that because Pacifica stations derive their nonprofit status from the Pacifica Foundation, “checks will come in as Pacifica because of that. The foundations that I’m dealing with now . . . that check will show up for $30,000, the check’s going to be made out to the Pacifica Foundation. It’s not going to be made out to KPFA. It’s been going on like that for years.”| LISTEN to McCoy’s statement here.

SaveKPFA‘s Margy Wilkinson also pointed out that KPFA’s website instructs anyone wishing to make a bequest to KPFA to make out the check to the Pacifica Foundation. But Wilkinson, who was Pacifica’s interim executive director at the time the bequest was received, recognized there was some ambiguity as to the intended recipient of the donation. “I asked that both the national office and KPFA to research and find out whether this donor had ever before given money to Pacifica or to KPFA. We discovered that . . . she had never made a donation to Pacifica and had over many years made donations to KPFA.” Wilkinson also said that correspondence with the estate’s trustee — which was not included in Kobren’s documentation — further established that the donor intended the money for KPFA. | LISTEN to Wilkinson’s statement.

“Before the check arrived,” wrote LSB member Brian Edwards-Tiekert and chair of the Pacifica financial committee in a letter to his LSB colleagues, “KPFA and Pacifica management reviewed the documents and correspondence associated with the gift, spoke with the people handling the estate, and pulled up the donor’s giving history. They came to what was (in my opinion) the correct decision — that the gift should be allocated to KPFA . . . .  The way this was handled was above-board,” he added. “Pacifica management took a reasonable position — that an unrestricted gift from the estate of a KPFA donor, sent to a KPFA address, attached to correspondence that directed by name to KPFA, should be allocated to KPFA.” | READ Edwards-Tiekerts’ letter.

SaveKPFA's Margy Wilkinson, former Pacifica iED and current KPFA boardmember running for reelectionSaveKPFA’s Margy Wilkinson, former Pacifica iED and current KPFA boardmember running for reelection

Both McCoy and Wilkinson told the board that, exercising due diligence to clarify the donor’s intent, there were numerous consultations between Wilkinson, Pacifica’s CFO Raul Salvador, McCoy, KPFA’s business manager, and representatives of the estate. Given the weight of the evidence, Wilkinson said she concluded that the bequest was indeed intended for KPFA.

Kobren admits ignorance

In contrast to the care shown by KPFA management, Kobren admitted during the LSB discussion that she failed to do even the most basic investigation to resolve the ambiguities in the documents she obtained. She confirmed that she never spoke to anyone involved in the decision – neither the Pacifica acting executive director, nor the general manager, nor the business manager, nor the Pacifica CFO, nor the national board treasurer, nor any representative of the trust. She also admitted that she failed to look at the practices of bequests and gift-giving to determine whether it was unusual for donations intended for KPFA to be earmarked as “Pacifica.”

Calling Kobren’s actions “shoddy” and “unethical,” LSB secretary Craig Alderson said that “what’s happened is that she’s picked documents out of context and presented it to the board as conclusory — as evidence that there’s skulduggery afoot, that the board needs to take action. And she has not taken minimal actions to interview the people involved and to investigate this in a way that is responsible.”| LISTEN  to Alderson’s statement.

But based on her one-sided presentation, Kobren induced the Pacifica National Board to vote, by 11 to 5, to instruct KPFA to turn the bequest over to Pacifica and to write the $400,000 out of its budget accordingly.

KPFA already spent almost $400K on Pacifica’s debts

The irony of Kobren‘s motion is that KPFA has already sent the money to other Pacifica stations to cover payroll, pensions, and other obligations. At the time the bequest was received, Pacifica owed KPFA $82,000 for overpayments in “central services” dues. Since 2013, Pacifica has also ordered KPFA to pay an additional $314,000 to cover liabilities of other stations. “KPFA did not spend this endowment on itself–the $400,000 (and more) has already gone to the rest of the network,” wrote Edwards-Tiekert. KPFA’s business manager, acting at the request of Pacifica, produced an accounting (which you can see in PDF or JPG) showing that KPFA since 2013 has paid or loaned the network a total of about $396,000 –a mere $4,000 less than it received from the bequest.

Thus, the practical effect of Kobren’s action — aside from being used to smear SaveKPFA‘s LSB members, fan divisions at the national board, and impugn the integrity of KPFA managers — is nil. Still, Kobren’s action ensures that if Pacifica ever somehow does receive enough money, it will never repay KPFA for the bequest’s $400,000. Kobren has caused that money to be lost for good.

“I would suggest that what is going on here,” said the LSB’s Donald Goldmacher speaking to Kobren and her UCR confederates, “is a very interesting attack for political purposes for your side to go out there and wave, ‘Oh my god, they’re stealing money from Pacifica!’ Well, guess what: Pacifica’s been stealing money from KPFA for years.”| LISTEN to Donald Goldmacher’s statement.

An open discussion at the local station board almost didn’t happen, as Kobren sought to move the discussion to executive session. SaveKPFA-affiliated board members fought to keep the matter in public session, arguing that KPFA members had a right to know what the complete story was. You can listen to the complete discussion about the bequest in the LSB meeting audio; most of it is in part 2. | LISTEN LSB meeting part 1, LSB meeting part 2

Coverage in today’s Daily Californian notes that some on Pacifica’s board are now talking about selling assets. SaveKPFA‘s Jose Luis Fuentes-Roman said he’d heard talk from others of selling KPFA’s building, and urged the board to pro-actively plan its finances before the network had no other choice.

An inside look at Pacifica from KPFA’s Brian Edwards-Tiekert

SaveKPFA-election-postcard-1“What’s at stake is the survival of KPFA as we know it,” writes UpFront host Brian Edwards-Tiekert, who also serves as Pacifica’s treasurer, in an open letter. “Pacifica, the nonprofit that KPFA is a part of, is teetering on the brink. Years of mismanagement at a national level has reduced stations that were once alternative media icons to shadows of their former selves, struggling to keep from going dark altogether.”

Edwards-Tiekert urges listeners to vote for all 7 SaveKPFA candidates named above. We reprint his LETTER ON KPFA by Brian Edwards-Tiekert: “Five years ago, it looked like KPFA was headed the same way. The old regime at Pacifica had just purged KPFA’s biggest fundraiser, The Morning Show. They had hired the country’s top union-busting law firm, Jackson Lewis, to fight us. But SaveKPFA led the charge to change Pacifica’s leadership, and prevailed. 

“Since then, we’ve recovered our financial stability – KPFA is now the only station in Pacifica that doesn’t have any debt. We’ve put a locally-hired management team in place at KPFA for the first time in years. KPFA’s rolled out popular new programs like Sonali Kolhatkar‘s Uprising and the program I work on, UpFront – both of which drew dramatically increased pledges. Meanwhile, KPFA’s new managers led an overhaul of KPFA’s website, have started experimenting in the growing world of podcasting, and, thanks to some windfall income and off-air fundraising initiatives, even started shrinking the amount of time KPFA spends in fund drives.

“That’s why I hope you’ll vote to keep SaveKPFA in the majority on KPFA’s Local Station Board.

BET and Aimee Nov 9

Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Aimee Allison doing their last Morning Show in 2010.

“The opposing slate, United for Community Radio, consists almost entirely of new faces. But the actions of the slate’s incumbents speak volumes.

“When Pacifica fired the entire staff of The Morning Show, they supported it. When Pacifica hired the nation’s most notorious union-busting law firm to fight us, they publicly defended it. When Pacifica’s disgraced former executive barricaded herself in her office for two months after being fired, they helped maintain the barricades – and block KPFA’s elected board members from access to financial records. One of their candidates for this year – Janet Kobren – even joined a frivolous lawsuit against Pacifica while sitting on its board (the lawsuit was tossed out of court).

“Does that mean everyone running on their ticket supports more of the same? Not necessarily. There are a lot of new faces in the election this year. But the first thing they’ll do once they’re on KPFA’s Local Board is vote to send their veteran slate-mates to the Pacifica National Board, where the real power lies. And those slate-mates will make their worst decisions behind closed doors in Executive Session meetings, where there’s very little accountability.

“The last time they were in control of Pacifica, they hired one of their board allies as executive director — and gave her the highest salary anyone’s ever made here. They ran a near-record deficit, and racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to consultants, temp agencies, and law firms – debt Pacifica’s still paying down today. They bungled basic compliance work and lost Pacifica nearly $1 million per year in funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. They skipped two years’ worth of contributions to our pension fund, in violation of our union contracts. They withheld money from employee paychecks that they never deposited with the IRS. And they left Free Speech Radio News –once our flagship daily newscast – unpaid for so long that they forced it off the air.
“I’ll be frank: things are really dicey for the Pacifica network right now. I don’t know if it will pull through, or in what kind of shape. But I do know that our chances are better if KPFA stays strong, and that means keeping a SaveKPFA majority on KPFA’s Local Station Board. Here’s what you can do:
vote-button-300x230“Help get out the vote. KPFA elections have low turnout, and tend to be decided by relatively small margins-which is why your actions are so important. Please:
  • Pass this email on to people you know who might be KPFA members.
  • Go to www.savekpfa.org to learn more about the SaveKPFA candidates.
  • Most importantly, return your ballot now so you don’t forget. Pacifica is not allowing any in-person ballot drop-offs this year – you have to mail it. Your ballot has to arrive at the ballot-counting location by December 4 – so send it now.
“In solidarity,
Brian Edwards-Tiekert
Co-Host, KPFA’s UpFront | Former Co-Host, The Morning Show
Staff Representative, KPFA Local Station Board and Pacifica National Board”

Move on KPFA

KPFAraises it pacifica spends it FOCUSMost of the other parts of the five-station Pacifica Radio network are in varying degrees of financial distress. It showed at a recent meeting of the Pacifica National Board (PNB) when, in a surprise move, the PNB grabbed a $400,000 bequest that KPFA received 7 months prior, and redirected it to the Pacifica National Office.
At issue: the bequest document was unspecific about what part of the Pacifica Foundation the $400,000 should go to, but all the correspondence from the estate named KPFA, and was sent to KPFA addresses.

Confused? “The Pacifica Foundation” is the legal name for KPFA and four other radio stations, because they’re all owned by the same nonprofit corporation.

After getting notice of the impending bequest, Pacifica’s management communicated with the estate, looked up the deceased donor’s giving history (she’d regularly given money to KPFA — and no other part of Pacifica — for years), and determined the money should be allocated to KPFA.

But seven months later, in a closed-door meeting called on short notice, the Pacifica board reversed that decision, passing a motion that moved the $400,000 to Pacifica’s National Office. (The discussion itself was mostly a moot point, as KPFA had already transferred the $400,000 – and more – to other stations in the network as bailouts and loans, so there is little immediate impact from the decision).

Two of the SaveKPFA members on the board, Margy Wilkinson and Brian Edwards-Tiekert, voted against the move. The third, Jose Luis Fuentes, was unable to attend the short-notice meeting. The sole representative from KPFA who voted to take the $400,000 (and also to keep the debate secret), was Janet Kobren – running on the United for Community Radio slate in the election currently underway. (Members of her slate have long championed replacing unionized staff at KPFA with volunteer-produced programming).

Changing leadership at the network

On October 14, Pacifica executive director John Proffitt stepped down after serving for less than five months. He gave no reason for cutting short his tenure with Pacifica. Pacifica National Board chair Lydia Brazon, who represents KPFK in Los Angeles, is now serving, unpaid, as interim executive director. Per a resolution of Pacifica’s board, this arrangement will last no longer than January 2016, when Brazon reaches her term limit on the board.

In Pacifica matters, a grain (or a ton) of salt may be helpful

Many of you have reported receiving far-out, conspiracy-laden and frankly laughable bulletins from various quarters in Pacifica Radio land. Please remember that back in 2011, United for Community Radio’s Tracy Rosenberg was censured by KPFA’s Local Station Board for misappropriating KPFA’s official subscriber list and using it for her own partisan purposes. If you receive such emails and never signed up for them, contact her provider, Salsa Labs at feedback@salsalabs.com to make a complaint. Let us know what response you get.