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

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.

KPFA’s budget in the black; challenges remain at Pacifica

KPFAclockKPFA is doing well right now, with an upcoming budget under consideration by the Local Station Board (LSB). But problems elsewhere in the Pacifica network continue.

Financial support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for all five Pacifica stations is being withheld, after the network was cited in an audit for “insufficient accounting practices, misreported revenues and failure to comply with CPB rules on open meetings and financial transparency,” according to Current, an online magazine covering public broadcasting published by American University. At the same time, CPB ombudsman Joel Kaplan published a series of two reports (here and here) about questionable fundraising practices at Pacifica’s New York station, WBAI.

In our last issue, we reported that Pacifica’s interim executive director Summer Reese, who also serves as chair of the Pacifica National Board (PNB), had unilaterally put KPFA’s interim general manager Andrew Phillips on leave, even after KPFA’s elected LSB passed two resolutions overwhelmingly objecting to her actions, and hundreds of listeners signed this petition.

Radio historian Matthew Lasar interviewed Phillips, who makes it clear that Pacifica’s move to oust him is thoroughly political. “For about a year, remembering that I was employed by Arlene Engelhardt at Pacifica, I basically did her bidding,” Phillips told Lasar, saying he “realized over time that what she’d expected and what she implemented was the wrong strategy.” He explains why in this frank and revealing interview.

Pacifica’s Reese, whose supporters currently control the PNB, is also refusing to initiate this year’s bylaws-mandated elections, in what appears to be an attempt to prevent members from exercising their right to elect new leadership. Listeners have been signing this petition, initiated by Grassroots KPFK, urging that the election process be started immediately.

Meanwhile, layoff notices went out to all staff Pacifica’s WBAI in New York City last month. The station has long been running huge deficits, a situation compounded by unwise changes in programming and a declining listener base. “The status of Pacifica’s ability to cope with the situation is unclear,” writes Matthew Lasar in his RadioSurvivor blog. The cuts, which must be negotiated with the staff union, AFTRA, are expected to save $900,000 a year, according to Current.

In better news, the Pacifica Radio Archives, a separate unit at the network that preserves historic recordings, has won a $128,000 grant from the National Archives and Records Commission to save over 1,600 tapes in a project called “American Women Making History and Culture: 1963-1982.”

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.]

Pacifica’s long-awaited audit shows where the money goes

get out of bed with scott walkerPacifica’s audited financial statements for the years ending September 2010 and 2011 have finally been released. You can download the reports at Pacifica’s website. The independent auditor raises “substantial doubt” that Pacifica can continue as a “going concern” without making changes in the way it operates.

The audit shows that of the network’s five stations, KPFA is the wealthiest, with net assets of $3.2 million. KPFK in Los Angeles is the only other station in the black. The rest are underwater. Worst of all is WBAI in New York, which has been operating under Pacifica-installed management for nearly four years. WBAI has a current net worth of NEGATIVE $3.3 million — with a deficit of $750,000 in 2011 alone.

You can also see from these audits that Pacifica’s National Office raises very little of its own funds. The lion’s share of Pacifica’s budget — $2,001,298 — comes from imposing a “levy” on the 5 stations (KPFA, KPFK, KPFT, WPFW and WBAI), of which KPFA pays roughly one quarter.

Where’d Pacifica’s $2 million go? The National Office doesn’t produce any programming of its own, but it carries personnel costs of about $1.1 million — mostly in management-level salaries. And it’s been spending increasing amounts on “legal fees.” In 2010, legal fees came to $328,433. In 2011, they grew to an astonishing $538,417. Some of it has been spent on expensive lawyers fighting legal actions sparked by Pacifica’s heavy-handed tactics at its member stations. In addition, SaveKPFA’s review of legal bills reveals that Pacifica has paid attorneys up to $500 per hour to come up with legal strategies for obstructing the KPFA recall election currently underway, and blocking dissident board members’ legal right to inspect records (such as legal bills).

Since 1999, the costs of supporting Pacifica’s national bureaucracy has grown from 9% to 20% of the network’s total income. To give some perspective, the National Office’s budget is twice the size of either KPFT or WPFW, and it’s nearly the same size as each of the other three stations (KPFA, KPFK and WBAI). 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 executive salaries and costly, unproductive board meetings. KPFA could operate much more easily if it did not have to pay 20% of its listener contributions to Pacifica.

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 JeserichAgainst the Grain co-host Sasha LilleyKPFA 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!

For background, read Brian Edwards-Tiekert‘s open letter on layoffs and our report on Pacifica’s demand for $1 million in cuts at the stations.

Lively picket at Pacifica’s National Office demands firing of anti-union lawyers

KPFA’s paid and unpaid staff turned out for a picket on a sunny afternoon last week in front of Pacifica’s national office to show their outrage with the network’s hiring of Jackson Lewis, the nation’s premiere union-busting lawyers.

Labor journalist Steve Early addressed the crowd, describing how Jackson Lewis operates to undermine unions and predicting that both the political and financial costs to KPFA could be devastating. Unpaid staffer Tina Bachemin brought a statement of solidarity, noting that Pacifica is part of the “bitter struggle that’s going on now across America to smash unionism and wage war against workers.” Listeners, many of them union members, also showed up in force, angry that their donations are going to anti-union consultants.| SEE PHOTOS here, and LISTEN TO KPFA News report

Meanwhile, KPFA itself is struggling, as every fund drive in the past year has come in below target. And last week, a lightning strike knocked Pacifica station KPFT in Houston off the air for two days. Repair to the station’s transmitter will be expensive. You can help with a donation here.

Pacifica hires nation’s #1 union-busting law firm, Jackson Lewis

News broke this week that the Pacifica National Board majority voted to hire a notorious anti-union legal firm, Jackson Lewis, which the AFL-CIO has named “America’s number one union-buster.” Pacifica is the corporation that owns KPFA.

The nonprofit American Rights at Work notes that “under its polished veneer lies a for-profit union-buster…one of the oldest and largest” such firms in the nation. Jackson Lewis brags about helping employers maintain a “union free environment,” as well as mastering “concerns” with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including targeting workers who take medical leave. That’s according to sources cited by KPFAWorker.org, which published the story after union-represented workers at KPFA began receiving letters from the firm.

SaveKPFA has heard from many KPFA listeners who are extremely troubled that their donations will go to pay more anti-union lawyers. Bay Area attorney Sheila Sexton told us that “Jackson Lewis really is evil — there is no hyperbole here. I am a union lawyer and Jackson Lewis are true union busters. There are decent management firms out there who respect collective bargaining — Jackson Lewis is not one of them.” | READ MORE research into Jackson Lewis (PDF) by SFSU Professor John Logan

What the *&#@?* is going on with Pacifica?

“The move brings back memories of the struggle against Pacifica management over a decade ago,” writes KPFAWorker.org, “in which Pacifica hired anti-union consultants, installed armed guards, and eventually locked out its staff and shut down the station.” The hiring of Jackson Lewis comes on top of the more than $100,000 that Pacifica has charged to KPFA for other anti-union legal consultants.

Listener CJ Fandel wrote of the news: “This is beyond the pale! What in the world is going on with the Board of Directors!?” We’re trying to find out: SaveKPFA has sent this letter to each Pacifica national board member asking them if they support spending listener donations on Jackson Lewis. We’ll let you know the results.

What can you do? As an individual, sign this petition sponsored by KPFA’s union workers, demanding that Pacifica drop Jackson Lewis immediately. If you are a union member, KPFA’s union asks that you also work with your local or labor council to pass a resolution against the Jackson Lewis hire.

And please inform friends and family who are in the listening areas of the other Pacifica stations — KPFK in Los Angeles, WBAI in New York City, KPFT in Houston, and WPFW in Washington, DC. Ask them to renew their membership or become members of their local station. Members giving at least $25/year have voting rights. Governing board elections will occur at all five Pacifica stations this fall, creating an opportunity for positive change.

Democracy when? Still no ballots and paychecks bouncing

Still nothing from Pacifica on when ballots will go out in the  recall of Tracy Rosenberg. As a reminder: Pacifica’s own rules for recall elections required it to send out ballots no later than December 30, 2011. That’s nearly 6 weeks ago!

One thing Pacifica’s delay has accomplished (probably by design): it’s bought Rosenberg time to build a campaign machine, and for the Pacifica-imposed interim manager at KPFA to start using station resources to support her efforts.

Thank you to those who have signed the online petition (over 1100 currently) or written letters to Pacifica demanding an impartial recall supervisor. SaveKPFA is also considering legal options for forcing Pacifica to comply with its own rules.

Now Pacifica’s bouncing paychecks, too
KPFAWorker.org has published an email from KPFA’s union, CWA Local 9415, sent to Pacifica management. The message spoke to two issues: bounced paychecks and the network’s illegal withholding of retirement contributions. Several employees across Pacifica’s stations — including one at KPFA — took their paychecks to the bank in January and got nothing to show for it but a bounced check fee. There’s been no explanation from management to staff about why it happened, or what Pacifica is doing to prevent a recurrence. Bouncing paychecks is a criminal offense.

This comes on the heels of revelations by KPFA’s union last fall that Pacifica had been diverting workers’ contributions to their retirement plans in order to pay other bills. At the time, Pacifica promised workers it would 1) catch up on payments to their accounts — which it eventually did, 2) pay them the legal minimum interest rate on the catch up payments — which it hasn’t yet, and 3) make timely contributions in the future. On that last point, KPFA workers report that their retirement accounts should have had two deposits from Pacifica in January — they’ve had none.