[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. details ]
What’s happening at Pacifica? | PDF to print
After years of mismanagement, a new majority on the Pacifica National Board began making changes in early 2014 to rebuild the network’s programming, finances and infrastructure. One of their actions was to end the employment of interim executive director Summer Reese by a vote of 11-7 on March 13. Four days later, Reese broke into the Pacifica National office next door to KPFA and refused to leave, blocking the chair of Pacifica’s board from the premises and access to the financial records it contains. Reese has been sleeping there with a very small group of supporters, and making wild allegations against KPFA that she never raised in any venue before her termination. Pacifica’s board has appointed a new interim ED, and hundreds of listeners and staff have signed this letter demanding Reese leave. | open letter to Reese in PDF format
Why did the Pacifica National Board fire Summer Reese?
National members say they’re bound by confidentiality on this question. But here is some publicly available information about Reese’s tenure:
• During the year that Reese was in control of Pacifica, it ran a $1.5 million dollar deficit, with the largest cost overruns at the unit Reese directly supervises, the Pacifica National Office.
• During her tenure, Reese was a strong promoter of programming critics describe as “snake oil”: she pushed stations to carry fundraising specials by HIV denialist Gary Null, and to use their fund drives to market questionable health products in a manner so transparently commercial it drew criticism from the Ombudsman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
• Reese drove out managers and staff around the network, including Andrew Phillips, the popular manager responsible for bringing UpFront to KPFA’s airwaves.
• Pacifica’s bylaws give KPFA’s elected Local Station Board the power to create a pool of candidates for the general manager position, but Reese failed to hire from a pool KPFA’s board unanimously agreed on in November 2013, effectively leaving her with unilateral control of the manager position at KPFA.
• Reese unilaterally cancelled the board elections that Pacifica’s bylaws required to be held last year (later, she sought board approval for calling them off).
• Reese has a history of involvement with right-wing anti-tax groups. She has publicly admitted that she doesn’t have a Social Security number, and refused to tell a reporter whether or not she pays income tax.
Did Reese have an enforceable contract?
The employment contract that Reese’s supporters are circulating portions of was never approved by her employer, the Pacifica National Board – it was signed by only two board members without the rest of the board’s knowledge or authorization.
Why can’t Pacifica just send in the police in to arrest Reese?
It can, but it hasn’t yet. Pacifica’s chair, Margy Wilkinson, says she has been trying to exhaust all other means of re-establishing control of the Pacifica National Office.
How did Reese become Pacifica’s executive?
Reese came up through Pacifica’s system of elected boards. She was chair of the Pacifica National Board that supported Pacifica’s move to purge the long-running Morning Show from KPFA’s airwaves. When the hired executive responsible for that action departed, authority defaulted to Reese as board chair under California law.
What’s happening with KPFA’s books?
Local control over finances is something that KPFA’s listeners and staff fought for and won 15 years ago. For several months, Pacifica, the corporation that owns KPFA, has been repeatedly borrowing money from KPFA’s accounts on short notice, and given no reconciled accounting of the outstanding balance owed to KPFA. In March 2014, Pacifica asked to take away control of KPFA’s financial records from KPFA’s business manager. With the support of KPFA’s elected treasurer, she declined. (Read the treasurer’s statement here and see KPFA’s financial statements here). To clarify: Pacifica’s accountants have free access to KPFA’s financial records – but they are not permitted to remove them from the building. Because Reese has barricaded herself in her former office at Pacifica, KPFA’s staff and elected board members do not have free access to financial records in Pacifica’s offices, so moving them to Pacifica would mean losing access to them.
What’s happening with Pacifica’s audit?
All five Pacifica stations are behind schedule on reconciling their books from fiscal year 2013. This has delayed progress on getting an independent audit for that year. Reese’s lockout of some staff and board members from the Pacifica National Office has made it more difficult to correct this situation.
What is the financial situation at Pacifica and KPFA?
KPFA is currently in the black, with enough listener support to maintain itself. But overall, the Pacifica Radio Foundation, which owns KPFA’s license, is not doing well. You can see the most recent independent audit here. Pacifica has dipped into KPFA’s bank accounts and taken money to pay corporate bills. For many years KPFA has been the “cash cow” for the rest of the Pacifica stations and units, including the Pacifica National Office. KPFA “loaned” Pacifica $1.5 million at the conclusion of the lawsuits in 1999-2002 era. The network still owes KPFA $1.4 million, even as it dips into KPFA’s funding without accountability.
Since then, KPFA has frequently helped other units to make payroll or for other expenses—for instance, paying $18,000 for payroll at WPFW last year. Pacifica National has also frozen $150,000 of KPFA’s investments as collateral for a Line of Credit that Pacifica has done nothing to pay off, and withheld KPFA’s last three payments from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The Pacifica National Office operates rent-free out of a property KPFA paid for and continues to maintain. KPFA also pays for the satellite link that Pacifica uses. KPFA’s cash crunch largely comes from the fact that Pacifica is not paying off what it owes KPFA.
Is there financial accountability at KPFA and Pacifica?
In late 2008, KPFA and Pacifica both received $375,000 checks from the same donor. These were endowment gifts, meaning KPFA and Pacifica were allowed to spend the interest, but not the principal. Shortly thereafter, Pacifica spent its principal — all $375,000 of it. Meanwhile, KPFA’s check went stale during a window when nearly all the financial staff at KPFA and Pacifica turned over. The donor was happy to cut a new check — until they found out what Pacifica had done. They then put the endowment fund into the care of the San Francisco Foundation, which will manage the investments and cut KPFA checks for the interest.
Pacifica is billing its five stations (including KPFA) $25,000 per year each to replenish the endowment it spent down. But it does not appear to be depositing the money it collects in that endowment account. In other words: Pacifica’s taking a pot of money it was never supposed to spend, spending it twice, and making the stations pay for it.
We believe that Pacifica is also currently trying to get the San Francisco Foundation to release all or part of the $375,000 endowment it is holding for KPFA’s benefit, so Pacifica can spend that too. Pacifica has witheld all the paperwork on the San Francisco Foundation account from KPFA’s Business Office, keeping KPFA in the dark about how its endowment is performing. It wasn’t until KPFA’s new local board treasurer requested to see the paperwork that KPFA had any information at all about how its money was being managed.
How much does KPFA pay to the national Pacifica network?
Since 1999, the costs of supporting the Pacifica administration has grown for 9% to over 20% of the network’s total income. Pacifica was meant to be a coordinating body to provide support and reduce costs but it has become the opposite of that. It produces no radio programs, but spends huge sums on high executive salaries and costly, unproductive national meetings, as shown in its most recent independent audit. KPFA could operate with a balanced budget if it did not have to pay almost 24% of its listener contributions to Pacifica. During these hard times, we need to preserve quality radio and reduce administration and overhead.
Who represents the KPFA staff?
Paid staff at KPFA are represented by the Communications Workers of America, Local 9415. While unpaid staff at KPFA do not have collective bargaining rights under existing labor law, many are strong supporters of labor rights for themselves and coworkers, and are working in solidarity to save KPFA (see this short labor history of KPFA for details). Both paid and unpaid staff are voting members of the Pacifica Foundation, and together elect 6 representatives to their 24-member local station board. Four Bay Area labor councils passed resolutions in support of KPFA’s staff. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution in support, as has Berkeley’s Labor Commission. The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to support mediation of the conflict, but Pacifica has been unwilling.
What is SaveKPFA?
SaveKPFA is a coalition of listeners and staff (both unpaid and paid) working to support the nation’s first listener-sponsored radio station, KPFA 94.1FM, based in Berkeley, California. We seek to rally progressive support for the station. A group of listener and staff candidates affiliated with SaveKPFA hold two-thirds of the positions on KPFA’s elected Local Station Board, which meets monthly.
Who supports SaveKPFA?
Many prominent left activists, academics, writers, artists, community activists and elected officials, as well as listeners and staff (both paid and unpaid) have endorsed SaveKPFA. SaveKPFA has received an outpouring of support from people who are extremely concerned about the future of KPFA, including listeners, elected officials and educators.
What are SaveKPFA’s goals?
As in the fight to save KPFA and the network in 1999, we oppose the Pacifica Board imposing its own agenda on KPFA. We have dedicated ourselves to building the station, raising funds and producing events. We are committed to seeking common ground with other listeners and staff who share our concerns about the state of the station. We need to save this precious resource.
Who ordered the Morning Show removed in 2010? Why cut the station’s biggest fundraiser?
Pacifica’s executive director, Arlene Engelhardt [whose contract has since not been renewed], without consulting local KPFA management, laid off the Morning Show’s staff on November 9, 2010 and told them not to continue broadcasting even though they were being paid through December 8, 2010. She cancelled all unpaid staff Morning Show segments too, and cancelled the November fund drive. She then ordered piped-in shows from sister station KPFK in Los Angeles, the hosts of which declared their solidarity with KPFA’s Morning Show staff. Those then in power at Pacifica national declared war against KPFA’s workers and listeners by eliminating good programming, ignoring demands for local control, and engaging in financial mismanagement, including paying over $115,000 (at last count) for anti-union consultants. That is, until listeners and staff forced Pacifica to fire the union-busting firm it had hired.
Why did you try to recall Pacifica treasurer Tracy Rosenberg?
Rosenberg was Engelhardt’s most ardent public defender. She drew up the secret layoff list that got the Morning Show cancelled, has been the driving force behind Pacifica’s illegal moves to prevent SaveKPFA-affiliated reps from taking their seats on the national board, and was censured by KPFA’s local board for her misappropriation of KPFA subscribers’ emails. Rosenberg got the recall vote count stopped on a technicality. For more, read our archived page, FAQ on the recall.
What has replaced the Morning Show?
On December 20, Engelhardt appointed a crew of unpaid staff to host a new 8 AM show, nearly all of them affiliated with the board faction that supports Pacifica management, and moved Democracy Now! to 7 AM. Some guests boycotted the 8 AM replacement show, as have many unpaid staff (see for instance, these letters from David Bacon and Ramsey Kanaan, as well as other statements). Web audience statistics — which are, generally speaking, a good analogue of total audience — show the listenership has plummeted to about a third of the level it was before November 9. The new programming amounts to a loss of $8000 a day, which KPFA has had to make up by extending on air fundraising by a total of 3 weeks in 2011. In 2012, interim manager Andrew Phillips moved Democracy Now! back to 8am and instituted UpFront (with Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Sonali Kolhatkar) at 7am. Fundraising has picked up considerably.
What earlier cuts had KPFA made?
Beginning in Fall 2008, KPFA’s management and Local Station Board began proposing budgets that provided for orderly staff reductions in the face of the economic crisis sweeping the country, and the accompanying drop-off in listener donations However, Grace Aaron, then-Pacifica chair and acting executive director, blocked those reductions, forcing KPFA to spend down its reserves.
Was KPFA doing anything to address its financial situation before these layoffs were imposed?
Yes, over the past year, KPFA management has closed open positions, every department at KPFA has cut its budget, and most paid workers have taken hours cuts. In cooperation with local managers, KPFA’s union helped those who reduced their hours participate in an innovative “Work Sharing Unemployment Insurance Program,” established by the state legislature that pays benefits to individuals whose hours have been reduced, helping employers avoid layoffs. In 2010, those measures had already reduced KPFA’s personnel spending by 20%. KPFA also created an incentive package for voluntary layoffs, under which seven employees left the station’s payroll altogether. When Pacifica came in, it cut only two people: Aimee Allison and Brian Edwards-Tiekert, both of whom were already part-time employees (and Pacifica was forced to reinstate Edwards-Tiekert with full back pay). So the only “savings” from the Morning Show cancellation was one part-time staff salary.
Why did Nora Barrow-Friedman leave KPFA?
Nora’s hours were reduced at Flashpoints as part of an earlier round of budget cuts. She then decided to quit. When similar hour cuts hit other programs, like the Morning Show and Hard Knock, the staff members working on those programs chose to share the hours reduction so no one person took too large a hit. Single-staffed shows such as Living Room, also took hours reductions, while others, such as the KPFA Evening News took cuts by attrition (did not fill vacant positions). Against the Grain had its hours cut twice (the only show to be cut twice). See this piece for more details.
Are there currently legal actions against Pacifica?
There are currently no lawsuits related to the terminations on the Morning Show. However, after Pacifica illegally threw out the votes of three staff members in a bid to swing an election in favor of the board group it favors, three staff members — Brian Edwards Tiekert, Mitch Jeserich and Lewis Sawyer — filed a legal petition seeking to correct Pacifica’s violations of California state law. Pacifica’s vote-tampering happened after the initial vote count. Pacifica was able to do this because each ballot is printed with a numerical code identifying the voter — so much for the secret ballot!
Pacifica’s actions were a clear violation of state laws protecting the rights of members in membership organizations. Pacifica has no business spending listeners’ money defending such patently illegal actions. The aggrieved staff members spent three weeks trying to convince Pacifica to correct its actions without involving the court. They waited until the last possible moment — two days before new board members were to be seated — to file a legal petition. The judge issued a preliminary injunction in the workers’ favor, Pacifica conceded, and by court order, Lewis Sawyer was seated on the local advisory board. The attorney who represented KPFA’s workers was Peter Smith, a Democrat who works in a bipartisan law firm that specializes in elections law.
In March, 2012, news broke that Pacifica had hired Jackson Lewis, an anti-union legal firm which the AFL-CIO has called the nation’s “number one union-buster.” Pacifica claims that it has been “forced” to spend KPFA’s listener donations defending its employment actions.
Why are there many confusing websites for KPFA supporters?
SaveKPFA-affiliated representatives now constitute a new majority on the local station board, seated in December 2010. KPFAWorker.org is the site to go to for news from staff, both paid and unpaid. A group called Independents for Community Radio, which did not win a majority on the local board, has been purchasing dozens of similar web domain names in hopes of confusing the public, offering to sell those names back to SaveKPFA, which represents the majority. Likewise, the same group is pouring all sorts on information on the internet, but to paraphrase Daniel Moynihan, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”
Did SaveKPFA “steal” its name, as is alleged by some on the internet?
No, this is a myth perpetuated by a handful of people who were part of a long-defunct early 1990s group. The words “save” and “KPFA” or “Pacifica” have been used by many activists over the last decades. Many of us organizing and supporting today’s SaveKPFA were centrally involved in these movements. We chose the name SaveKPFA with great respect for these broad collective efforts.
Does SaveKPFA support Democracy Now! and FSRN?
Yes. We believe Democracy Now! and Free Speech Radio News are among Pacifica’s most important programs. Both are now independently produced and Pacifica is supposed to pay for their content with money it draws from KPFA and the other Pacifica Stations. We believe both DN! and FSRN can be fully supported if Pacifica national trims its bureaucracy and high manager salaries, and conducts more effective fundraising campaigns, to ensure we have funding for national programming. Supporting DN! and FSRN should not come at the expense of KPFA’s locally-controlled news and public affairs programs. That’s what our opponents have proposed.
How can I help return local control to KPFA?
• Sign up for SaveKPFA’s email list on the top right of SaveKPFA.org’s home page (news only, 1-3 times a month, and you may unsubscribe any time).
• Check out our what you can do page (the Morning Show petition is now closed, but you can read its listener comments here).
• Endorse SaveKPFA. (See list of endorsers here.)
• Friend us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
• Write to KPFA & Pacifica management. The movement to change the network may take some time, but speaking up is one of the most important actions you can take. Your voice matters!
• Attend a KPFA benefit and/or give regularly to KPFA, including a note with your subscription that you support locally-controlled programming, respect for the station’s staff, and the restoration of the Morning Show. (Note: If you give outside of fund drive times or if you attend a KPFA event, 100% of your money goes to KPFA, none to Pacifica. For more, see Pacifica historian Matthew Lasar’s article here.)