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

Not again! Why can’t Pacifica stop trying to censor its staff?

If you thought the drive to censor KPFA’s workers was past, think again. Pacifica has released new versions of its “employee handbook” for both paid and volunteer workers, according to KPFAWorker.org, which threaten them with termination for posting criticism of the network on their personal social media pages or private websites, or even speaking to the press.

Free speech radio won’t be so free if the Pacifica board majority has its way: “It’s shamefully obvious,” one worker tells KPFAWorker, “that Pacifica’s board majority wants to remove its workers’ voices from the conversation about the network’s future,” continuing the pro-censorship agenda begun under former Pacifica director Arlene Engelhart. Even though the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employees have the right to post criticism of their employers, Pacifica is “so out-of-touch that it is attempting to institute a policy that is illegal on its face,” says one of the blog’s sources.

Under pressure, Pacifica agreed to allow comments on the draft paid and unpaid handbooks until May 28. As a member of Pacifica’s community, you can send your response to: pacifica.handbook@hotmail.com; please cc votesavekpfa@gmail.com.

Jon Fromer, Presente!

Jon Fromer

Jon Fromer

Singer, labor activist, and award-winning TV producer Jon Fromer passed away the morning of January 2nd. For decades, he and his guitar were fixtures at pickets and demonstrations in the Bay Area. Among the many causes he took up in his incredible 66 years: KPFA.

Jon played a key role in the group that first started meeting to set up SaveKPFA; even after his diagnosis with stomach cancer, he still came, guitar in hand, to support KPFA’s workers at demonstrations in front of Pacifica’s offices. Here’s an audio tribute to Jon that Brian Edwards-Tiekert put together for the Pacifica Evening News. You can learn more about Jon’s work here.

LSB supports bylaws changes to make boards smaller; rejects censorship

Good news from KPFA’s local board meeting on December 1: members voted to support Pacifica bylaws reforms which would reduce the size of the Local Station Boards from 24 to 16, and Pacifica National Board from 22 to 17. These changes, if accepted by a majority of the other local boards, will save the network money and begin to streamline governance.

Board members also discussed the initiating role of KPFA staff in the highly successful fundraiser for Pacifica’s WBAI, hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. In a tremendous show of solidarity, all five Pacifica stations pitched in for a national day of fundraising November 15, raising over $180,000 to keep WBAI from going off the air.

“It was really beautiful,” said Pacifica/KPFA board member and Letters & Politics producer Laura Prives. “We can survive if we do good radio.” | LISTEN to Prives audio, followed by interim manager Andrew Phillips thanking KPFA’s staff (2 min)

The meeting’s last hour wasn’t quite as inspirational. Board member Andrea Prichett of the United for Community Radio (UCR) slate brought a resolution targeting the staff website, KPFAWorker.org. Prichett, backed by Pacifica treasurer Tracy Rosenberg and staff rep Anthony Fest, has been conducting what some have called a “witch hunt” against the website for months.

“They don’t seem to understand either the First Amendment or labor law, under which such worker organizing is protected concerted activity,” according to one KPFA staffer, who preferred to remain anonymous, given the station’s history of firing outspoken workers.

Board member Dan Siegel, a civil rights attorney affiliated with SaveKPFA, eloquently laid out the movement history that Prichett and her allies were missing, respectfully asking her to withdraw the motion. SaveKPFA-affiliated board member Conn Hallinan, who ran the journalism program at UC Santa Cruz for two decades, said Rosenberg’s and Prichett’s lack of understanding of free speech and differences of opinion was “stunning” as well as “scary — since we’re talking about KPFA.”

The resolution went down to defeat, though every UCR-affiliated board member continued to support it.

LISTEN to Siegel on organizing history (2 min audio) &  Hallinan on free speech (1:30 min). You can also listen to the entire LSB meeting here: part 1 (public comment, iGM report, treasurer’s report) | part 2 (Pacifica bylaws) | part 3 (free speech and workers’ rights)

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.]

Surprising developments at the PNB meeting in Berkeley

PNB meeting audienceKPFA 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.”

6-10AM weekday fundraising averagesKPFA 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. Sasha Lilley at PNBPacifica 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?

Mitch Jeserich at PNBSaveKPFA 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.”

margy with crowdKPFA’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!

Support KPFA’s fund drive

kpfa logoRight now, the most important thing you can do to fight cuts to the programs you care about is to donate to KPFA’s Summer Mini-Fund Drive currently underway so the station stays in the black.

PLEASE NOTE: this fund drive is the last chance you have to become a KPFA member or renew your membership in time to vote in the upcoming general elections. SaveKPFA will be fielding a set of candidates, and we’ll need your vote. But you can’t vote if you haven’t donated, so please pledge at least $25 now!

This weekend: Come to PNB meeting to demand no more cuts!

It’s been three years since the Pacifica National Board met in Berkeley — and the first time the board has had to face our community since Pacifica killed the Morning Show, claiming financial necessity. The board is coming here this weekend.

At this moment, Pacifica is trying to impose $300,000 in new cuts on KPFA. KPFA’s manager estimates this would entail cutting 7 to 8 positions. He hasn’t specified which, but it would be enough to eliminate Letters & Politics, Against The Grain, UpFront and Hard Knock Radio — nearly every daily program produced at our radio station.

These cuts are completely unnecessary. KPFA’s financial statements show that, as of June, KPFA’s bottom line is slightly better than budget, and the station is on track to run a six-figure surplus by September 30, the end of the fiscal year. (See this Pacifica audit story for a fuller picture of the network’s finances.)

The 22 members of the Pacifica National Board need to hear from KPFA listeners, when they meet July 20-23 at Berkeley’s Durant Hotel, 2600 Durant Avenue (@Bowditch in Berkeley | MAP). Pacifica hasn’t posted an agenda yet, and sadly, it looks like the board may spend most of its time in “executive session,” behind closed doors. Some of these board members refused to even read KPFA listener emails earlier this year.

SO PLEASE JOIN US AT THE BOARD MEETING SATURDAY AFTERNOON, 7/21 — that’s when we expect the board to have open sessions and take public comment. Come then and you’ll meet up with KPFA staffers like Letters and Politics host Mitch Jeserich, Against the Grain co-host Sasha Lilley, KPFA News anchor John Hamilton, and many other SaveKPFA supporters who will be at the meeting.

There is also an OPEN RECEPTION for the board at the station Friday night, 7/20 from 7-10pm. (Address: KPFA, 1929 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley) Please attend if you can – you’ll be able to talk directly with PNB members there!

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

Noted Tracy Rosenberg endorsers withdraw support, YES on KPFA recall endorsers list growing

David Barsamian, host of Alternative Radio, who was initially listed as an endorser of the “no” recall campaign, now says that it was a “total error on his part.” He told KPFA staff that he retracted his endorsement once he found out more about the issues.

KPFA staffer Davey D of Hard Knock Radio, in response to a listener query, has also said he did not take a position against the recall.  Nevertheless, his name still appears on the anti-recall site as a staff endorser.

Meanwhile, the YES campaign is adding endorsers daily, including (titles & organizations for ID only): Paul George, Peninsula Peace & Justice Center; Gloria Frym, writer; Jane Heaven, KPFA producer/host, Vic Bedoian, Pacifica Evening News reporter; Eric Klein, former Flashpoints tech producer; Andrea Turner, Pacifica board member; Richard Walker, radical geographer; Charlotte Sáenz, community artist & educator; Kathleen Weaver, poet, translator; Steve Early, labor journalist; Summer Brenner, author of Richmond Tales; David Martinez, filmmaker; Iain Boal, social historian of the commons; Cal Winslow, labor historian, author, Rebel Rank and File; Cathy Campbell, President, Berkeley Federation of Teachers, and many others. | ADD YOUR ENDORSEMENT HERE | SEE THE ENTIRE YES ON RECALL ENDORSERS’ LIST

Pacifica National Board votes to “wind down” use of union-busting law firm Jackson Lewis

“It took hundreds of letters, over two thousand petition signatures, a picket from KPFA listeners and staff, and two strong resolutions from the local boards of KPFA and Los Angeles sister station KPFK,” said KPFA board chair Margy Wilkison, “but we got Pacifica to at least back away from employing those union-busters at Jackson Lewis.”

She’s referring to the fact that the Pacifica National Board passed a measure in closed session to “wind down” its current employment of the firm, which Pacifica hired on retainer earlier this year. The motion allows Jackson Lewis to complete work on three cases the firm is currently handling for Pacifica, as national board member Dan Siegel reported to the Local Station Board on May 5. | LISTEN to Siegel’s report (2 minutes of audio)