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.
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.
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.