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

Fixing Pacifica

Margy Wilkinson

Margy Wilkinson

Pacifica is the nonprofit that owns KPFA and 4 other radio stations across the country. When this summer started, it was in chaos. Recently-terminated executive Summer Reese had barricaded herself in Pacifica’s offices, blocking elected board members’ access to Pacifica financial records. Her supporters were suing to reinstate her and throw some elected members off Pacifica’s board. And vendors whose bills Reese had left unpaid for more than a year were starting to file lawsuits to collect.

SaveKPFA‘s members and representatives have been hard at work to put things to rights. In May, long-time civil rights attorney (and SaveKPFA member) Dan Siegel took on Pacifica’s legal woes, winning a court decision that rejected each and argument by Reese’s supporters, and securing a court order that forced her to leave the building.

By late June, Pacifica’s chief financial officer, Raul Salvador, whom Reese had also locked out, had re-secured access to all of Pacifica’s accounts and electronic records. In July, Pacifica Board Chair (and SaveKPFA member) Margy Wilkinson became Pacifica’s de facto executive director, a job she’s doing on a volunteer basis while she works to get a permanent replacement into that position.

In a recent report, Wilkinson described an office left in complete disarray. “The staff in the national office is working hard. They are 5 (plus me) at this point – trying to locate files, reconstruct financial records, getting papers in their proper places, fielding calls from anxious vendors and trying to get a fix on how much money we owe and how many bills we can pay.”

The silver lining: by volunteering her time, leaving some recently-vacated positions unfilled, and whittling away at unnecessary bills, Wilkinson has already made significant cuts to spending at Pacifica’s national office. Wilkinson also reports progress resolving union/management conflicts at WPFW in Washington DC, and on making major reductions in the rental costs for the antenna of WBAI in New York, Pacifica’s most financially-distressed station.

Financial committee chair reports

pacifica logoThe new chair of Pacifica’s national finance committee, KPFA staff representative (and SaveKPFA member) Brian Edwards-Tiekert, has issued a report on the state of Pacifica’s books. “Most of Pacifica’s cash transactions (deposits and wire transfers, especially transfers between Pacifica’s stations and the national office) have not been recorded in its accounting system since the beginning of the fiscal year (October 2013). Beginning with the National Office takeover in March 2014, all payrolls went unrecorded. There is some evidence that inappropriate and unauthorized payments were made during this time.”

“Meanwhile,” Edwards-Tiekert’s report continued, “it appears few spending controls were in place at Pacifica: during a period when the Pacifica National Office was adding staff and raising salaries, it was also racking up large unpaid bills with vendors, attorneys, and consulting firms — the folks now working in the national office have discovered unpaid bills going back to last year that were never disclosed to the board, many of which were never recorded in Pacifica’s accounting system either. The poor state of the books makes it difficult to determine which past-due bills need to be prioritized. Two vendors have filed lawsuits against Pacifica to collect on what’s owed to them.”

But, Edwards-Tiekert added, he has confidence in the people working to clean things up. Their top priorities: completing a long-overdue audit to help secure the release of Pacifica’s Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants, and publishing long-overdue financial statements for the current fiscal year so that Pacifica can take stock of what it needs to do to bring its budget into balance and start catching up on unpaid bills.

RELATED STORIES:  Pacifica: putting the pieces back together (includes financial report) | Lawyer representing board minority jumps ship | Finally, local control at KPFA

Some still clinging to the past

Reese using a bolt cutter to break into Pacifica's offices

Reese using a bolt cutter to break into Pacifica’s offices

[UPDATE 4/9/14 @10:05 am: The national board minority’s attempt to get a Temporary Restraining Order to allow Reese to keep her job has been DENIED by the Alameda County Superior Court. More news as we have it.]

Pacifica’s former interim executive director, Summer Reese, remains barricaded in her former office, which she broke into with bolt cutters four days after the elected Pacifica National Board voted 11-7 to end her employment. In violation of California law, she’s still illegally blocking elected members of Pacifica’s Board of Directors from entering the premises to look at financial records.

Over the past week, Reese made moves to sabotage Pacifica’s funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by complaining to the organization’s Inspector General about financial problems that either took place while she was running the organization, or that she failed to fix during her tenure. Reese has also signed a lengthy declaration as part of vague, rambling lawsuit against Pacifica brought by her supporters on the national board (Carolyn Birden, Janet Coleman, Heather Gray, Kim Kaufman, Luzette King, Janet Kobren, Janis Lane-Ewart, Manijeh Saba and Richard Uzzell).

Not coincidentally, on the day those board members filed suit against Pacifica, they also filibustered a meeting of the Pacifica National Board that was intended to retain counsel for the foundation — an apparent attempt to sabotage the foundation’s ability to defend itself. National board members reported that the litigants were so disruptive in the closed portion of the meeting that they prevented the board from even approving its agenda before its mandatory adjournment time.

Terminated interim executive Summer Reese and her supporters have been generating prodigious amounts of misinformation, from wild allegations of corruption that she never raised before her termination, to breathless reports of police interventions that never actually occurred. The treasurer of the KPFA local station board has released a statement rebutting Reese’s charges of financial improprieties. All of KPFA’s financial information is publicly available.

SaveKPFA has prepared a concise Q&A that cuts through the smoke and deliberate obfuscation that seem to be a standard part of Reese’s game plan. The Q&A is also available as a PDF flyer you can download and distribute.

What you can do: Join the over 600 Pacifica network staff and listeners who have signed this open letter demanding Summer Reese leave peacefully. Signatories include former Pacifica National Affairs correspondent Larry Bensky, community activist Ying Lee, KPFA’s UpFront’s Brian Edwards-Tiekert, former Pacifica board chair Sherry Gendelman, KPFA’s Aileen Alfandary, labor journalist David Bacon, Alameda County School superintendent Sheila Jordan, KPFA’s Philip Maldari, former KPFA GM Jim Bennett and former KPFA iGM Andrew Phillips.

Comments by petition signers have been pointed. Listener Benjamin Balthaser wrote, “I am embarrassed by the actions of Reese and hope the station returns to its mission of providing critical and informative programming.” Lee Block wrote, “Pretty selfish of you to bring down the whole network because you feel dissed. You’re as bad as a Koch Brother.”

“This destructive behavior serves no purpose,” noted listener Saraswathi Devi. Listener and Free Speech Movement activist Lynne Hollander Savio captured the conclusion many observers have reached: “Unbelievable behavior, which just confirms the wisdom of the Board’s decision.” You can add your own name and comments here. | DOWNLOAD PDF FLYER OF OPEN LETTER

 

PNB dismisses interim ED

Original KPFA radio dial, circa 1949

Original KPFA radio dial, circa 1949

In a short announcement posted March 13, the Pacifica National Board (PNB) reports that it has ended the employment of controversial interim executive director Summer Reese. New board chair Margy Wilkinson sent this longer message to the network’s general managers explaining the change, asking that it be forwarded to staff. She confirms that an new interim executive director will be in place soon.

Wilkinson was elected Pacifica chair last month after new delegates from each local station took their seats on the PNB, following annual elections from the five Pacifica local station boards. The memo also notes that the national board is turning its attention to urgent needs in the network’s infrastructure, and that a report Pacifica is required to make for continued funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was submitted on time this year. Last year, the CPB withheld its funding to Pacifica due to “shortcomings in its accounting and operations,” according to the online magazine of public broadcasting, Current.

BREAKING: At our publication time, there are reports that Reese had forced her way into the Pacifica National Office in Berkeley and was refusing to leave. Several SaveKPFA supporters are on the scene — more details as we get them.

It’s time to reverse the network’s decline

wbai Reese was chair of the Pacifica board in 2011, 2012, and 2013. During the last 18 months, she was also the network’s interim executive director. Under Reese’s tenure and that of her close ally, former Pacifica treasurer Tracy Rosenberg, the network’s problems grew exponentially.

Pacifica’s independent news service, Free Speech Radio News, was forced to close because Pacifica failed to pay $200,000 owed to it. Over a million dollars is still owed by Pacifica to Democracy Now!

At New York’s WBAI, Reese fired or drove out two program directors, and gave huge blocks of airtime to vitamin entrepreneur Gary Null, whose peddling of questionable supplements brought attention from the CPB Ombudsperson’s office after listener complaints that the station’s fundraising was “ethically-challenged,” and whose position denying HIV has angered many in the AIDS activist community.

Last week, Pacifica finally paid the severance it legally owned to 19 WBAI employees Reese had laid off over 6 months ago. Of the $140,000 paid, $50,000 came from KPFA’s funds.

At KPFA, Reese abruptly transferred general manager Andrew Phillips last year to the program director job at WBAI, then would not let him do the job he’d been tapped for. Reese also failed to appoint a new KPFA general manager as required by the bylaws, even though the Local Station Board hiring committee had interviewed and chosen four acceptable candidates.

Supporting cooperative programming

FSRN logo

After receiving new non-Pacifica funding, Free Speech Radio News, is back online trying to create an economically-viable model – one SaveKPFA believes is likely to be far superior than the replacement, Feature Story News, which Reese put on the air in place of FSRN last year.

There have been many complaints about the quality of FSN’s reporting. “This is not the kind of radio KPFA listeners should be paying for with their hard-earned dollars,” noted KPFA local board member Donald Goldmacher, producer of the film Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?

Other Pacifica stations benefit from a number of shows that originate on KPFA, including Against the Grain, Letters & Politics, and Voices of the Middle East and North Africa. “Sharing programming resources is a good way for Pacifica stations to support each other and bring in new listeners,” adds Goldmacher.

KPFA also assists other Pacifica stations by sharing the premiums that it creates through the station’s public speaker series managed by long-time events coordinator Bob Baldock. These premiums, which feature writers and activists such as Naomi Klein, Michelle Alexander, Gabor Maté and others, generate tens of thousands of dollars during pledge drives each year across the network.

 

Pacifica board takes action on election, WBAI crisis

wbaigraphicIn its new configuration, the board took several notable actions. It passed a motion that will put long-overdue board elections into motion. Pacifica’s bylaws required it to hold elections in 2013, but Pacifica’s executive director Summer Reese failed to hire anyone to run them, and that year’s board ratified her inaction by voting to postpone elections — effectively extending many of their own terms.

National board members also brought more transparency to discussions over what to do about long-suffering Pacifica station WBAI in New York City. After years of running massive deficits, the station was dealt a near-lethal blow when Superstorm Sandy flooded the building it broadcast from, rendering WBAI homeless in the middle of a fund drive. WBAI made sweeping layoffs last year, and has been struggling to catch up on unpaid bills.

The Pacifica National Board held a public discussion with FCC attorney Melodie Virtue about the implications of entering into a Public Service Operating Agreement (PSOA) in which another organization would temporarily take over responsibility for running the station and paying its bills. It also allowed the audience to ask her questions, and make comments. Eventually, the board approved a motion to hold off on entering into negotiations over a PSOA contract while it solicits an alternative plan from WBAI’s elected Local Station Board, and asks Pacifica’s management to come up with more detailed information on the station’s financial performance and prospects for the future. | READ about WBAI: Village Voice, Current, Radio Survivor

Meanwhile, on its 14th anniversary of February 11, Free Speech Radio News has relaunched its website and begun filing stories from around the globe. The independent newscast had gone off the air last fall after Pacifica’s national office failed to pay over $200,000 in fees owed to it.

Pacifica in crisis: WBAI on the brink

wbaigraphicThis week, Pacifica management laid off two-thirds of the staff at KPFA’s sister station WBAI in New York. The station will no longer have a local newscast; it’s unclear whether it will have any paid programmers at all. Pacifica’s interim executive director Summer Reese broke the news over WBAI’s airwaves, reports the Pacifica Evening News (2 min audio).

WBAI has long suffered from poor management, severe deficits, and the high costs of operating in New York City, as shown in Pacifica’s latest audits (to find out how this is connected with KPFA, read the last story in this newsletter).

Former WBAI and current KPFA programmer Doug Henwood delved into WBAI’s history for the New York Observer. Radio historian Matthew Lasar gave his perspective in Radio Survivor. Other coverage included Democracy Now!, the New York Times,  the Village Voice and Fishbowl NY.

Last fall, Superstorm Sandy flooded WBAI’s studios. KPFA’s staff spearheaded a network-wide emergency day of fundraising for the station — clocking over $185,000 in one day — enough to help WBAI move to temporary studios, but not to pull it out of its downward spiral. WBAI slipped further behind on the $50,000-per-month rent payments for its transmitter site on the Empire State Building, and in May began missing payrolls for its workers.

KPFA’s “on leave” interim manager transferred to WBAI 

wbai

Reese has transferred KPFA’s interim general manager Andrew Phillips to WBAI as its new program director, and both spoke for 2 hours on WBAI’s airwaves last Friday, saying the majority of WBAI’s daytime lineup would be replaced by pre-recorded programs. Reese said WBAI was one of four financial units within Pacifica that don’t have the money on hand to make their next payroll. Over the past year, Pacifica has borrowed money from KPFA several times to pay expenses elsewhere in the network.

Appointing Phillips to program WBAI is a turnabout for Reese. In April, she placed Phillips on leave over the objections of KPFA’s local board and staff, pending the outcome of an investigation into unspecified allegations. His new position seems to indicate that either Phillips has been vindicated, or Reese never cared about the allegations in the first place — she just wanted him out of KPFA.

In a revealing interview after Reese removed him, Phillips indicated KPFA should return a Morning Show-like two-hour program — that’s something that would not go over well with Reese’s supporters on Pacifica’s board, like Tracy Rosenberg, the architect the of decision to cut the Morning Show in the first place.

Network unites in emergency fundraiser for WBAI

When Superstorm Sandy hit New York, seawater reached up to the second floor of the building that houses Pacifica station WBAI in New York. The flooding ruined the building’s wiring and interrupted a fund drive at WBAI, leaving the station broke, homeless, and unable to raise money to get back on its feet. In a tremendous show of solidarity, all five Pacifica stations joined resources for a national day of fundraising to save WBAI on November 15th. The goal was to raise $150,000 to keep WBAI from going dark. The total raised surpassed $180,000.

wbai graphicThe emergency fundraiser was initiated by Letters and Politics host (and SaveKPFA endorser) Mitch Jeserich, who formerly worked on WBAI’s morning program. KPFA interim manager Andrew Phillips, who was formerly WBAI’s program director, executive-produced the broadcast. Pacifica interim executive director Summer Reese applied the political will necessary to get a national broadcast off the ground. SaveKPFA endorsers Laura Prives and Brian Edwards-Tiekert made major contributions to planning and executing the broadcast as well. KPFK in Los Angeles provided a fully-staffed call center to take the the pledges flooding in from around the country, and programmers from across the network contributed their very best to make the day a rousing success. Kudos to all involved!

Of course, WBAI suffers from deeper problems than Superstorm Sandy: it’s locked into unaffordable leases on its studios and transmitter site, running its fund drives far too long, reaching a fraction of the audience it should in a metropolis like New York, and racking up serious deficits. But the emergency fundraising effort initiated from KPFA will prevent WBAI from going dark immediately, and will hopefully lay the groundwork for permanently stabilizing the station. You can still make a contribution here.

Why this vote matters

Dan Siegel“The result of these elections could determine whether Pacifica survives or continues its slide into bankruptcy,” writes Pacifica National Board member and SaveKPFA activist Dan Siegel in Counterpunch.

“Pacifica has always been fractious, back to when KPFA was founded as its first station in 1949,” he continues, going on to describe the network’s current leadership as “inept and politically sectarian.” That leadership, he writes, “has brought the Foundation to its knees. It has spent down all its reserves, incurring cumulative deficits of $5.7 million in the last four fiscal years, according to its 2012 audit report.” | READ Siegel’s article and this overview of Pacifica’s audit

9/13/12: Last day to join KPFA to vote in fall elections

Changing the dynamic at Pacifica Radio is up for a vote in this fall’s election for Local Station Board members at KPFA and the other four Pacifica stations. In order to participate in these upcoming elections, you need to be a member of your local Pacifica station as of Thursday, September 13. The minimum membership contribution is $25 between Sept 13, 2011 and Sept 13, 2012.

At KPFA, if you haven’t made a donation between those dates, you can do so  by paying online with a credit or debit card at https://secure.kpfa.org/support. A pledge by itself is insufficient; you must actually have paid your pledge by close of business September 13 to be eligible to vote. So please don’t delay!

If you aren’t in the Bay Area, you can support Pacifica stations that you listen to in other areas. If you are a New York City listener, become a member of Pacifica’s WBAI. In Los Angeles, it’s Pacifica’s KPFK. In Washington, DC, jazz and public affairs fans alike pledge to Pacifica’s WPFW. And in Houston, Pacifica’s outlet is KPFT.