Pacifica: putting the pieces back together

pacifica logoLast month, we reported on the dire state of the books at Pacifica, the nonprofit that owns KPFA. Pacifica’s new CFO Raul Salvador and board chair Margy Wilkinson (a member of SaveKPFA) found an operation in disarray, after being locked out of the network’s National Office next door to KPFA for two months by ousted executive Summer Reese. Bookkeeping entries had not been made for nine months, and there were unpaid bills lying in large, unorganized stacks, some of which were slated to be shredded until Wilkinson intervened.

After weeks spent reconstructing financial data, Pacifica’s new staff have now issued the most complete network financial statements since Pacifica’s 2012 audit.

Stiffing pension to pay consultants

moneyThere was massive overspending at the National Office, which, according to a report from Pacifica National Finance Committee chair Brian Edwards-Tiekert “produced the largest loss the Pacifica National Office has posted since the height of Pacifica’s civil war in 2001.”

Adding injury to injury: while last year’s leadership was running up large bills with temp agencies, consultants, and law firms, they were skipping payments to the pension fund for Pacifica workers, and holding on to payroll taxes that were supposed to go to the IRS.

The good news: the overspending and deficits appear to have leveled out. So far this year, the network is basically breaking even, and there are more savings on the horizon. If Pacifica is able to restore its eligibility for Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding, it should run a healthy surplus. (CPB funding was suspended in 2013 over compliance issues, cutting the network’s revenues by over $1 million per year). | READ financial report, Excel financial spreadsheets (balance sheets, income statements, consolidated monthly sheet)

Crisis management

The biggest challenge facing Pacifica’s new leadership are the angry creditors they have inherited from the Reese era — several of which have initiated lawsuits.

But there is progress on this front as well: new interim executive director Margy Wilkinson negotiated a 21-month interest-free payment plan with an attorney who had been suing Pacifica over unpaid bills. And in early September, the Pacifica National Board voted to approve a 0% interest loan of $156,000 to cover an unpaid tax bill it inherited and head off further penalties. The loan comes from Aris Anagnos, co-founder of the Los Angeles Peace Center and the Humanitarian Law Project, as well as a long-time supporter of Pacifica’s KPFK in Los Angeles. (You can learn more about Anagnos by listening to this interview with him on KPFK). Anagnos had asked that the discussion of the loan and his name both be made public — to inspire other major supporters to join him in helping Pacifica through its current difficulties.

Now that Pacifica’s financial records are getting cleaned up, Wilkinson reports that it’s getting easier to push back on some claims by creditors. Recently, she talked down a vendor threatening to sue over money Pacifica had already paid.

Still unresolved is the money owed to Pacifica’s pension fund, and lawsuits over unpaid bills, including one from a temp agency Pacifica used heavily last year, and another from Free Speech Radio News, which was forced off the air in mid-2013 after Pacifica stopped making payments for its daily newscast.

RELATED STORIES:  Fixing Pacifica (includes financial report) | Lawyer representing board minority jumps ship | Finally, local control at KPFA

KPFA listeners stick around for Uprising at 8AM

uprisingThe new 8AM lineup featuring award-winning Pacifica programmer Sonali Kolhatkar‘s Uprising Radio is doing well. Uprising follows Upfront with Brian Edwards-Tiekert at 7AM. Since the program began in late May,audience retention from the hours of 7 to 8 has improved.

KPFA’s interim general manager Richard Pirodsky said he put Kolhatkar’s show in the 8AM slot for just that reason — to solidly keep KPFA’s audience listening during peak drive time of 7 to 9AM, and it appears to be working. The previous morning hosts have been given airtime in the afternoon.

Pirodsky delivered a report to last Saturday’s LSB meeting describing his reasoning, and asking critics to take a step back and consider the needs of KPFA’s entire listening community. | LISTEN to iGM’s report, READ iGM’s report, LISTEN to LSB meeting: part a, part b, part c

SaveKPFA’s Margy Wilkinson elected PNB chair, Tracy Rosenberg finally off the board

margywilkinsonThe Pacifica National Board (PNB) met February 7-10 in Washington, DC. After a close election, Margy Wilkinson, a member of SaveKPFA and former chair of KPFA‘s local board, became Pacifica’s new chair.

Margy is a long-time union activist who is also involved with Grandmothers Against War and is an active volunteer in the Berkeley public schools. Over her two years as chair of KPFA’s local board, she demonstrated a real knack for bringing calm and civility to an often acrimonious setting. Here’s hoping she can keep it up at the PNB!

In related news, this year’s PNB no longer includes Tracy Rosenberg, the board member who engineered the destruction of KPFA’s Morning Show in 2010. She reached the end of her term limit. Filling her seat on Pacifica’s Finance Committee will be worker representative Brian Edwards-Tiekert — one of the Morning Show hosts she encouraged Pacifica to lay off (he was re-instated with full back pay and now hosts UpFront).

The PNB elected Tony Norman as its vice chair. He is an attorney who has previously served as chair of the local board of Pacifica station WPFW in Washington, DC. As secretary, the PNB elected Cerene Roberts, a delegate from New York City’s WBAI, and as assistant secretary, Adriana Casanave from Houston station KPFT. | LISTEN to the PNB meeting: agenda, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Financial results: KPFA beating budget, Pacifica lagging

KPFA’s most recent fund drive turnaround seems to have had a big impact on the station’s bottom line. On February 23, Pacifica distributed first-quarter income statements for the network. Brian Edwards-Tiekert (now serving as KPFA’s staff rep on the Pacifica National Board) reported the statements “show KPFA outperforming its budget to the tune of $115,000 in just three months. The main driver is KPFA’s fund drives — the statements show that KPFA brought in $154,348 more listener support than budgeted” before the most recent drive even started.

“The bad news,” said Edwards-Tiekert, “is that KPFA appears to be the only part of Pacifica doing well. First, a caveat: there appear to be some accuracy problems with the numbers that the Pacifica National Office distributed. As things stand, however, every other station in the network appears to be racking up deficits right now. The worst losses are coming from the Pacifica National Office, which appears to be over-spending its budget by roughly $80,000 per month. Pacifica’s current management has not made clear what is driving the over-spending.”

Late last year, Pacifica’s board allowed the contracts of then-executive director Arlene Engelhardt and then-CFO LaVarn Williams to expire. The chair of that board, Summer Reese, is currently also acting as the network’s interim executive director.

Why I’m Supporting SaveKPFA in KPFA’s Board Election

Brian Edwards-Tiekert speaking with listeners

By Brian Edwards-Tiekert

This month, KPFA is going through what will probably prove to be one of the most important elections of its 10-year experiment with democracy. I’m supporting the candidates listed at www.savekpfa.org, along with many other endorsers, because what’s at stake is the survival of KPFA as we know it.

Right now, KPFA is slowly recovering from a near-mortal blow. When Pacifica purged The Morning Show two years ago, it removed KPFA’s biggest fundraiser from the air. To compensate, the station had to increase the amount of days it spends in fund drives by 30%–a sure recipe for dropping listenership and diminishing pledge totals.

Then, Pacifica racked up hundreds of thousands in legal fees—some from the country’s most notoriously anti-union law firm, Jackson Lewis—and stuck KPFA with most of the bills.

Thanks to heroic fundraising efforts by KPFA’s staff, the generosity of KPFA listeners who kept donating, some of them under protest, and to a fortuitous bequest gift, we’ve made it this far—barely.

And, against the odds, we’ve started to re-build.

Thanks to our union, several of us won reinstatement after Pacifica’s purge. With support from local management, we launched UpFront—KPFA’s new 7:AM program. Since day one, we’ve been the station’s top fundraiser—and thanks to the boost in morning fundraising, KPFA’s fund drives are now raising more money per day, and ending sooner. Meanwhile:

  • ·A SaveKPFA campaign forced Pacifica to ditch Jackson Lewis—which should prevent further inflated legal bills.
  • ·Another SaveKPFA campaign fended off a move by Pacifica management to impose another disastrous round of cuts on KPFA.
  • ·Now, the Pacifica National Board has apparently seen the light—they decided to let go of the two executives who carried out the Morning Show purge in the first place.

KPFA is still extremely fragile, but we are headed in the right direction. And that is largely thanks to the fact that we’ve had SaveKPFA boardmembers supporting us every step of the way.

The dividing line on KPFA’s board is this: austerity vs. growth.

On the growth side: SaveKPFA thinks the way to build KPFA is by building great programs that attract large audiences so there are more people to give come pledge drive. We already know what success looks like: KPFA’s two newest daily programs, Letters and Politics and UpFront, are also its two largest fundraisers, bringing in far more than they cost to produce. Together, those two hours account for over a third of KPFA’s fundraising. Building on those successes with more cutting-edge programming is the key to strengthening KPFA.

As for austerity: this year, its champions are calling themselves “United for Community Radio.” Of course, they never use the word “austerity” – but rest assured, when you hear them call for “financial responsibility” and “supporting unpaid staff”, it translates to firing KPFA’s unionized programmers and parceling out the airtime to their allies. Some of them are philosophically opposed to paying people to produce daily shows–they’d rather KPFA sound like a volunteer-run local-access cable station. Others have axes to grind with specific programmers on KPFA’s payroll, and use the station’s finances as a pretext – which is how The Morning Show got targeted, despite the fact that it was the station’s biggest fundraiser.

Their incumbents have had two years to prove exactly what they stand for. When our union protested impending cuts, they came to counter-protest. When Pacifica fired the entire staff of The Morning Show, they supported it (at least one of them, it turned out, had been pushing behind closed doors to have Pacifica cut us).  When Pacifica hired the nation’s most notorious union-busting law firm to fight us, they publicly defended it. When KPFA’s local management proposed a balanced, no-cuts budget, they boycotted a meeting to block its passage – even though KPFA was running a surplus.

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, and they don’t all necessarily understand what they’ve signed up for. But the first thing they’ll do once they’re on KPFA’s Local Board is vote to send their 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.

Again, the record speaks for itself: For four years, the “United for Community Radio” (UCR, ICR) precursor slates have been in a majority coalition on the Pacifica National Board. They, and the executives they’ve installed, have left Pacifica a hollowed-out wreck: with millions in unpaid bills, corporate law firms baying at the door, a finance office now incapable of handling even simple payroll transactions, workers’ own contributions to their retirement accounts undeposited (for several months now), donor checks meant for KPFA intercepted and kept away from the station for months.

Now is the chance to turn things around: Next year’s boards will choose a new manager and program director for KPFA, as well as a new Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer for Pacifica. It’s a chance to put the entire Pacifica network on the right track – if SaveKPFA scores a solid win.

KPFA elections have low turnout, and tend to be decided by relatively small margins, which means every vote counts a lot. Please spread the word to KPFA members to vote for the candidates listed at savekpfa.org. And if you’re a voter yourself, return your ballot now so you don’t forget.

For the first election ever, Pacifica is not allowing any in-person ballot drop-offs—you have to mail your ballot.  That ballot has to arrive at the ballot-counting location in New York by December 11. It will be competing with holiday mail traffic to get there, so send it now.

Brian Edwards-Tiekert is co-host of KPFA’s UpFront, which airs weekday mornings at 7:AM. He’s served two terms as a worker-elected representative on the KPFA Local Station Board. [This essay originally appeared in Fog City Journal.]

KPFA’s fund drive beats its goal by $45K, budget has surplus

KPFA’s Summer Mini-Fund Drive was the first in recent memory to finish on time, and on goal. Ahead of goal, actually: by the time the pledge room closed at 7 PM last Thursday, KPFA had exceeded its $285,000 goal by a whopping $45,000 — bringing in a total of $330,000. More donations continue to trickle in online. A hearty congratulations to all, and a big THANK YOU to everyone who pledged!

What accounts for the turnaround? For one thing, good news. On day two of the fund drive, word got out via this SaveKPFA newsletter and elsewhere that the Pacifica National Board had declined to renew the contract of Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt, the executive who killed KPFA’s Morning Show.

This was also the first full fund drive with UpFront — the new 7 AM news collaboration that returned former Morning Show co-host Brian Edwards-Tiekert to a morning timeslot. Just 10 weeks old, the program, co-hosted by Edwards-Tiekert and KPFK’s Sonali Kolhatkar, delivered KPFA’s top pledge totals, bringing in nearly $50,000 over the course of the mini fund drive.

Donate to KPFA now, so you can vote this fall. If you didn’t give during the drive, you can still show support for KPFA’s new direction by donating online at www.kpfa.org. In order to vote in this fall’s general election for representatives to KPFA’s Local Station Board, you must have given at least $25 in the year ending August 30, 2012.

KPFA’s local board chair urges YES vote

Original KPFA radio dial, circa 1949

Original KPFA radio dial, circa 1949

“Let me paint a picture of where KPFA is now — because it should concern all of us — no matter which side we’re on,” writes Margy Wilkinson, chair of KPFA’s local board in an open letter to listeners. Wilkinson cites evidence of the dramatic loss of listenership following Pacifica management’s purging of the station’s most listened-to program, the Morning Show, produced by a crew of young, diverse journalists. What follows is a tale of stunningly undemocratic dirty-tricks, financial mismanagement and anti-union maneuvers that have caused KPFA listeners to demand an immediate change in Pacifica’s management — starting with the recall of Pacifica treasurer Tracy Rosenberg. | READ WILKINSON’S  ENTIRE LETTER

Send a strong message to Pacifica by voting YES on the recall

Pacifica treasurer Tracy Rosenberg claims that she “saved” KPFA from bankruptcy, but as KPFA News co-director Aileen Alfandary writes in an open letter released today, “a close examination of that claim shows it doesn’t hold water.”

Alfandary continues: “Virtually the entire reduction in staffing in 2010 was from union members who took voluntary layoffs. When the dust settled, and Pacifica was forced to rehire Brian Edwards-Tiekert, the only involuntary layoff that occurred in 2010 was that of the other Morning Show co-host who had been paid for a grand total of 27 hours a week. It’s absurd to claim that this small salary saved KPFA from bankruptcy. It’s quite the contrary. The reduction in fundraising from purging the Morning Show cost us dearly and drove listeners away from KPFA.” | READ ALFANDARY’S ENTIRE LETTER HERE