Jeff Blankfort's Remarks to the CPB
Presentation by Jeffrey Blankfort, Take Back KPFA
before the Board of Directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Washington, May 19, 1997,
in support of Audit Report No. 97-01, the Compliance Audit of Pacifica Foundation, Berkeley, California.
My name is Jeffrey Blankfort. I am a member of the Coordinating Committee of Take Back KPFA, a group of more than 700 present and past listener/supporters of the station, as well as past programmers, technical staff and volunteers. Today, I am here to speak for them in urging you to approve the Compliance Audit of the Pacifica Foundation as it has been presented to you by the Inspector General, Mr. Armando Arvizu.
Although I'm pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you, this is not a happy occasion. I have been a long-time listener and frequent subscriber to KPFA, and have contributed to it in other ways when it was more of a community-based operation than it is at present. In addition to working on several programs, I was a frequent on-air guest, and for many years assisted the hosts of KPFA's morning show in their quest for interesting guests.
Our filing of the complaint with the CPB was undertaken as a last resort. We first wrote to Jack O'Dell chair of the Pacifica Board, on May 11, 1996 asking for an explanation as to why Pacifica, co- incident with its hiring of Pat Scott as Executive Director, had begun holding the major part of its board meetings in executive session, which, we advised him, was a violation of CPB Guidelines. In addition, we complained about the board's attempts to dictate policies and priorities to the advisory boards of Pacifica's stations.
After we and others had been excluded from all but token segments of Board meetings in Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, and having received no reply from Mr. O'Dell, we took our complaint to the CPB, since your mandate from Congress includes the responsibility of ensuring that laws contained in the Federal Communications Act are obeyed by the funding recipients.
It is clear to us, as it is now to the Inspector General, that Pacifica, a recipient of more than a million dollars of public broadcasting funds annually, has not been complying with those laws.
The Inspector General's audit substantiated our allegations: Pacifica's closing of its board and committee meetings constitutes a violation of both the letter and spirit of Section 396(k)(4) of the federal Communications Act as interpreted by the CPB's Open Meeting Requirements. And its interference with the work of the local advisory boards violates both the letter and the spirit of Section 396(k)(8) as interpreted by the Corporations' Community Advisory Board Requirements.
The Board agendas clearly show that at any three-day meeting, only part of the half-day Sunday morning session was public. In fact, at the meeting in Los Angeles in March of 1996, only 45 minutes of the deliberations were in public (which I taped).
Pacifica has said, and the Inspector General has agreed, that some of Pacifica's closed meetings in Los Angeles, Washington, New York and Galveston, in fact, "retreats." If this is the case, then the Pacifica Board has not properly met since October 1995, as defined by the Communications Act, since one hour sessions three-times a year cannot be considered legitimate governance. Pacifica cannot have it both ways. Either they held board meetings or they held retreats. Whatever they called, them, however, they weren't open,
I should point out that KQED, the largest public broadcasting entity in the San Francisco Area, opens both its board and committee meetings to the public, and advertises them in the local press. It doesn't like to do so, but it does. It's the law and it's a good one.
I call your attention to several documents, in addition to the board agendas You saw in the IG's report that the National Board in a memo of July 12, 1995, threatened local advisory members, telling them to resign if they didn't agree with Pacifica's newly revised mission, or "the Board will take appropriate steps."
Two recent memos indicate that Pacifica is still dictating to the local boards but now there are signs of resistance.
In the first, earlier this month, the WBAI advisory board chair reports that the National Board had made "important decisions" reducing the number of representatives "from the Local Boards to the national from two to one..." This significant by-law change, increasing the power of the national office at the expense of the local stations, was done, without any advance notice at Pacifica's last meeting which was held in Galveston, 50 miles away from its Houston affiliate, KPFT. At that Sunday morning session, open to the public, it wasn't on Pacifica's published agenda.
In another memo, dated April 5,1997, entitled "Recommendations" the chairs of the local advisory boards complained to Pacifica, that: "It is misleading and dishonest for Pacifica to infer that fundraising by LAB members is required by federal mandate." Misleading and dishonest? That described virtually every communication from Pacifica management over the last two years.
Before the hiring of the present Executive Director, the greater part of Pacifica's meetings were public. Not only were its minutes available, but the board's meeting "book," as well. I have here the last such "book" made available. It was given to me by the Foundation secretary, Mary Tilson, at the February, 1995 meeting in Berkeley. This was among the documents denied to the Inspector General on his visit to Pacifica. Now, not only are the minutes not available for public scrutiny, the members of the local advisory boards cannot see them as well! If these meetings were open as Pacifica claims, why are its minutes kept secret? And what is Pacifica trying to hide?
Pacifica's Finance Committee meetings have also been closed to the public. After noting in its minutes of June 25, 1995 (a copy of which we obtained from an internal source) that "Some guests wished to attend the Finance Committee meeting, the Board had gone on record with the statement that "all Finance Committee meetings of Pacifica are in Executive Session unless otherwise indicated."
There is no way that such a statement can be construed as being within the exceptions to the "open meeting" provisions as defined in the law. That Pacifica has held subsequent finance committee meetings behind closed doors is indicated on the agenda of the closed Saturday, September 26, 1996 board meeting, held in New York.
In defiance of the IG's report and of this meeting today, Pacifica is planning to disobey the open meeting regulations at its upcoming meeting in Oakland. According to the agenda, enclosed in your packet, Pacifica's Finance Committee will meet between 8:30 and 12:30 on Saturday morning, June 14, to discuss the foundation's "Current financial status and preliminary budgets for FY97-98."
While there may be some aspects of a finance committee meeting that might fulfill the exceptions to the opening meeting requirement, a discussion of budgets does not.
Budgets are the bottom line for any business operation, profit or non-profit, and Congress, knowing this, required that the financial discussions of broadcasting organizations receiving taxpayers money be open to the public.
Pacifica's response to the Inspector General's report has been to blatantly deny the truth revealed by Pacifica's own agendas and internal documents and to question the professional qualifications of the Inspector General.
From the comments by Pacifica spokespersons in the media, it is clear that they think they can get away with it. According to one such spokesperson, quoted in the Oakland Tribune, "When we go to ... [the Inspector General's] bosses, these things will be cleared up." We trust this will not be the case. and that you will approve the Inspector General's audit.