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

The truth about KPFA’s financial records, from the station’s treasurer

KPFA-radio-dialThis is a statement released on 4/2/14 by KPFA’s elected Local Station Board treasurer, Barbara Whipperman.

“The business manager at KPFA is working on a complicated reconciliation of the KPFA financial records. The complications center around the records of income from credit card donations, many thousands of records. There are statements from credit card processing companies involved, as well as the monthly bank statements.

“The temporary controller from the national office wanted to take all records out of the KPFA office, saying she would complete the reconciliation in the national office. Neither the business manager nor I (KPFA LSB treasurer) agreed to this. In other words, we refused to turn over this function to the national office.

“There has been no refusal to prepare for the necessary audit, the preparations are under way. As treasurer, with many years experience in this kind of work, I have been assisting the business manager where possible. Any claim that all the other stations are completely ready for the auditors is completely false, and those in the national office who are
saying so, know that it is not true.

“I have personally examined the records in the KPFA business office. All records are complete and in order, in preparation for and up to the reconciliation to the bank statements, which, as I have said is well under way.”

Barbara Whipperman
KPFA LSB listener representative and Treasurer

FLYER: An open letter to Reese | FLYER: What’s happening at KPFA & Pacifica?

It’s all there: KPFA’s financial reports

Reese and her supporters — most notably Rosenberg — have responded to Reese’s termination by fabricating stories of corruption at KPFA, including the bizarre charge that KPFA has kept its finances secret.

For the record: KPFA’s most recent FINANCIAL REPORTS are publicly available here, and show the station outperforming its budget for this year. Also, if anything were being concealed, responsibility would lie with the person in charge — which, for the past year and a half, has been Reese.

If  wild accusations are landing in your email box, you may want to remember that Rosenberg was formally censured by KPFA’s Local Station Board for misappropriating subscribers’ email addresses. Even though the board called on her to destroy then, these addresses may still be in Rosenberg’s possession. If you are receiving unwanted emails, you may wish to file a complaint with Rosenberg’s email provider, Salsa Labs, or with the Federal Trade Commission — the directions are in this story about Rosenberg’s deceptive email practices.

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.

KPFA exceeds funding goals, but isn’t out of the woods yet

bannerKPFA’s staff report the station beat its Summer Fund Drive goal by a tidy $10,000. (If you didn’t get a chance to give, you can still do so online). But with Pacifica’s financial problems intensifying, KPFA’s budget could be threatened.

KPFA’s fundraising success over the past year is partly a result of former manager Andrew Phillips‘ decision to buck Pacifica and put former Morning Show staff Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Laura Prives back to work in the mornings, producing UpFront, along with KPFK’s Sonali Kolhatkar. UpFront has consistently been the station’s biggest fundraiser since the first day of its existence. According to an analysis by KPFA staff, the total pledged during fund drives increased by $220,000 in the 12 months following the introduction of UpFront — all without adding a single day of fundraising.

The better fundraising means KPFA’s Local Station Board (LSB) was able to approve a budget for next year that starts to roll back cuts begun in 2010. The LSB-approved budget restores some funding to KPFA’s Apprenticeship Program, sets aside money for the professional development of KPFA’s unpaid staff, and invests in long-term off-air fundraising strategies, so that the station can shorten its fund drives. The budget passed last Saturday’s LSB with an overwhelming, cross-factional majority — but one KPFA board member voted against it.

Who could that be? The sole vote against approving KPFA’s budget was from Tracy Rosenberg, who also happens to be Pacifica’s treasurer and is at the heart of the network’s mismanagement. KPFA’s budget still needs approval by the Pacifica National Board. Rosenberg and some of her allies participated in a boycott of the LSB’s last budget meeting in an attempt to deny the LSB a quorum.

ACTION ALERT: Sign this petition supporting KPFA’s budget

Last year, under similar circumstances, Rosenberg unilaterally made changes to KPFA’s budget in her role as network treasurer AFTER local board approval. “We can’t let that happen this year,” said Local Station Board member Jack Kurzweil. “KPFA is not the network’s piggy bank. Our listeners give money to keep our local station strong.”

IF YOU AGREE, PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION to the Pacifica National Board demanding that Pacifica respect local control and approve KPFA’s budget in the form adopted by our KPFA Local Station Board — with funding increases for the Apprenticeship Program intact. SHARE the petition with friends, and ask them to circulate it. Together, we can protect KPFA.

If you’d like to listen to the audio of August 10 Local Station Board meeting where the KPFA’s budget was discussed and voted on, you can find it here: part 1 (public comment, manager’s report); part 2 (budget discussion)

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.]

Rosenberg faction walks out of LSB meeting in attempt to spike budget

What’s Tracy Rosenberg doing with the extra time her lawsuit has bought her? While chairing Pacifica’s Finance Committee, she led a new charge to get Pacifica to impose massive staff cuts on  KPFA and other stations.

This Saturday, August 4, Rosenberg led her Independents for Community Radio faction in a quorum-busting walkout from KPFA’s Local Station Board (LSB) meeting, with the explicit goal of blocking the board from approving KPFA’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Without an approved budget, Rosenberg could use her position as Pacifica treasurer to draw a budget up for KPFA — and impose layoffs that way.

These 6 board members joined Rosenberg in walking out: Anthony Fest, Cynthia Johnson, Janet Kobren, Henry Norr, Akio Tanaka and Kate Tanaka.

KPFA is projected to end the current fiscal year with a surplus, so its 2012/2013 budget contained no staff cuts. The station’s budget was calculated according to guidelines in a resolution, authored by KPFA delegate Dan Siegel and overwhelmingly passed in late July at Pacifica‘s National Board meeting in Berkeley. The resolution directed general managers of all 5 Pacifica signals to assess their stations’ current financial situation within a week, and if a station were on budget, there would be no need for cuts.

Saturday’s LSB meeting was under-quorum by one vote, after Rosenberg and her 6 colleagues walked out. With the budget’s approval due that day, and no guarantee of further extensions, the remaining 12 board members voted unanimously to approve the budget. A provision of Roberts’ Rules of Order allowed the members present to act without a quorum on any urgent or important matter, and then seek ratification at a later meeting. | LISTEN to audio of the LSB meeting: PART A | PART B

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!