July 11, 1996
Mr. Lester Latney
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
901 E Street NW
Washington DC 2004-2006
Dear Mr. Latney:
We are filing this complaint with your office concerning prima facie violations of federal broadcasting laws by the Pacifica Foundation, operators of the Pacifica Radio network and owner of radio stations KPFA, WBAI, KPFK, KPFT and WPFW. Like all recipients of federal broadcasting funds, Pacifica is obliged to obey certain laws in order to maintain its eligibility for continued funding. That the management and board of directors of Pacifica have wilfully and knowingly violated these laws is the basis for this complaint.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has been charged by Congress with administering the federal funds, promulgating the federal laws and establishing the guidelines for public radio's governing and advisory boards. As the Inspector General of the CPB, it is your obligation to enforce these rules and regulations and to take appropriate action when they are violated.
You are aware that members of Take Back KPFA , the Pacifica Accountability Committee in Los Angeles and concerned former programmers and former programmers and listener/sponsors of other Pacifica stations, including WBAI in New York and KPFT in Houston, have already expressed their concerns about the secrecy with which the national board of Pacifica Radio conducts its business, as well as the nature of its relations with the advisory boards of its stations. In both of these areas, it would appear that Pacifica Radio has violated federal broadcasting regulations.
We are also aware that a preliminary investigation into the first of these concerns was initiated by a former member o be in executive session.
At the board's subsequent and most recent meeting in Los Angeles in March of this year, only 45 minutes were held outside of executive session. Therefore, excluding the "public comment" section, a total of only 1 hour and 45 minutes of the board's last two meetings have not been in executive session. This is a particularly serious problem since Pacifica's national board serves as the governing board for the foundation's five stations and meets only three times a year.
Moreover, since February, 1995, Pacifica Board Secretary Mary Tilson has refused to make minutes of the Board's meetings public, saying that she has been advised by Pacifica's legal counsel that such documents are for the use of the board and are not subject to public inspection.
As for the matter of the station advisory boards, the Pacifica Executive Committee sent a memo to those boards, commanding their members to obey the dictates of the national board or resign, an order that directly contravenes the intent of the law to maintain a separation between governing boards and advisory boards. In addition, the memo, which was circulated June 12, 1995, orders the advisory boards to freeze their membership, again, an action constituting a prima facie violation of the rules.
Having pursued, without success, other methods of persuading Pacifica to abide by the laws governing it, the Coordinating Committee of Take Back KPFA wrote to Jack O'Dell, national chair of Pacifica, on May 1, 1996, with a list of specific questions relating to what we believe are Pacifica's violations of the federal regulations that it is required to obey. Copies of this letter, (APPENDIX A) were also sent to Ms. Scott and to Pacifica's law firm in Washington, D.C.
In order to avoid any confusion or unwarranted delay by Mr. O'Dell, Ms. Scott or their lawyers, we included in the content of the letter the text of the federal laws that apply to public broadcasting stations and networks that receive public funds.
We gave them three weeks to reply. To date, there has been no response. Therefore, we have no recourse but to file this complaint with your office and to ask that you take immediate action to bring Pacifica into compliance with the law that your office is mandated to enforce.
The specific violations we wish to call to your attention are:
(1) Violation of the open meeting law: According to a draft of the minutes of the Pacifica National Board meeting on June 24, 1995: "There was confusion about finance meetings - clarified that all finance committee meetings of pacifica are in exec. session unless notified.[sic]" (APPENDIX B)
(2) Violation of the open meeting law: On September 30 and October 1, 1995, the Pacifica National Board met outside of Houston. According to the printed agenda for that meeting, only one hour of the two-day session was scheduled to be held in executive session: the Auditor's Report, at 9am on Oct. 1. (APPENDIX A1)
There was nothing on the Sept. 30 agenda that should have been discussed in executive session, according to the law. However, apparently in keeping with the June 24 decision, the Finance Committee Report, as well as a "Presentation on CPB and risk factors" were closed to the public, as was also a discussion of a document provided to each board member containing an analysis of the Pacifica stations' Arbitron ratings. The reason given by the acting chair, Cecilia McCall, for holding that portion of the meeting in executive session was that "personnel matters" would be discussed.
Following a "public comment session" that was pushed up from 5 p.m. to 2 p.m. in the schedule, the chair announced that the board was going into executive session. TAKE BACK KPFA representative Jeffrey Blankfort informed the board members that the decision to close the meeting was a violation of CPB Guidelines. After providing the board with a copy of the guidelines, he and the other visitors left the meeting.
The following morning, Blankfort and other guests were again barred from proceedings which, according to the schedule, contained a "Program Committee Report," "Managers reports on program change - 10 minutes each," a half-hour "Personnel Committee Report," a "Technical Committee Report," and "Evaluation of the meeting and scheduling of future meetings and conference calls." The visitors were told that the schedule of the meeting had been changed, and that the reason the proceedings were being held in executive session was that "personnel matters" were still being discussed.
According to the law cited above, "If any such meeting is closed pursuant to the provisions of this paragraph, the organization involved shall thereafter (within a reasonable period of time) make available to the public a written statement containing an explanation of the reasons for closing the meeting." In our letter to Mr. O'Dell, we requested that Pacifica make this statement available to us.
(3) Violation of open meeting law: On March 8-10, 1996, Pacifica held its next National Board meeting at the Le Montrose Hotel in West Hollywood. Although it had been announced on KPFK, its Los Angeles station, that the three hour meeting Sunday morning would be held in public session, only 45 minutes of the board's proceedings that day were, in fact, open to the public.
Furthermore, while Pacifica spokespersons announced, in advance, that the majority of the weekend meeting would be spent in a "retreat," the agenda for March 10.
(APPENDIX A2) indicates that Pacifica's board committees did, in fact, meet and discuss business during that time. In the open session, reports were made by the Development, Personnel, Technical and Program Committees summarizing their committee meetings which had been held earlier.
(4) Violation of open meeting law: Pacifica continues to hold all of its committee meetings in executive session.
(5) Violation of advisory board law: The Pacifica Foundation's national board has also chosen to modify the by-laws of the local station advisory boards, which is a prima facie violation of CPB Guidelines and federal law and contradicts the intentions of that law, which says that the station advisory board "therefore must be distinct from the governing body. . .[there must be] a clear demarcation between the governing board and the advisory board...."
On July 12, 1995, the Executive Committee of the Pacifica National Board sent a memo to its local station advisory boards (APPENDIX A3) entitled "Re: Interim Board Guidelines, from which the following is extracted:
"In light of the vast changes that are to occur at all stations, the Executive Committee of the Pacifica Foundation National Board believes it is necessary to issue an interim set of guidelines that supersede the local station by-laws so that you will have a clear understanding of our expectations of your role during this period.
"We feel it necessary to remind you that the local Station Board is responsible to the National Board and, in fact, serves at the will and direction of the National Board. The local station Board of Director's main responsibility is to carry-out the directives of the National Board and abide by its decisions.
"[T]he Local Advisory board is, hereby, directed not to take action that will impede the plans of the station staff. Members of any local Board who do not feel that they can assist Pacifica in its present mission are advised to resign. If there are indications that actions are being taken collectively or individually to countermand the policies, directives, and mandates of the Pacifica Board, the Board will take appropriate steps.
The second and third paragraphs in the extract are clearly prima facie violations of both the letter and the spirit of the law.
(6) Violation of advisory board law: Page 2 of the June 12 memo contains the following sentence: "MEMBERSHIP TO LOCAL ADVISORY BOARDS IS FROZEN UNTIL NEW GUIDELINES ARE APPROVED BY THE OCTOBER [Pacifica] BOARD MEETING...." (emphasis in original). This is a prima facie violation of the law segregating the governing board from the advisory board.
We were disappointed to learn the fate both of Mr. McConville and his inquiry into these violations last year. We are asking that your office immediately re-open that investigation as required by the duties of your office and keep us informed of your progress in a timely manner.
This letter is being sent to you by certified mail and by fax, with copies sent to Pacifica Chair Jack O'Dell, Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott, John Crigler at Pacifica's Washington law firm of Haley Bader & Potts, all of the Pacifica Advisory Boards, the California Coalition for the First Amendment, Representatives Ronald Dellums, in whose district Pacifica is based, and Ed Markey, ranking Democrat on the House Telecommunications Committee which, we understand, has oversight of the CPB.
We look forward to hearing from you.
TAKE BACK KPFA Coordinating Committee: (actual signatories)
Take Back KPFA P.O. Box 13557, Berkeley, CA 94712 (510) 464-4629
In addition, the following individuals asked that their names be affixed to this letter:
Phillip Ajofoyinbo, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFK
Jan Bauman, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Tania Bedford, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Joe Bryak, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Astenu Brown, Former Program Host, KPFK (4 years)
Ken Carr, Former Producer/Host, KPFK (10 years) , Former Member of Pacifica National Board
Steve Conley, Former Staff Employee, Former Programmer, KPFK
Pat Benson Duldoloo, Former Programmer, KPFK
Mary Fowler, Former Staff Member, KPFK
Ronald G. Davis, Founder, S.F. Mime Troup, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet, Artist, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Lyn Gerry, Former Producer, Volunteer Staff Member (8 years), U.E. Union Steward, KPFK
Joshua Greenland, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Werner Hertz, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Thom Irwin, Former Listener/Supporter, KPFK
Ruben Lizardo, Former Chair, KPFK Station Advisory Board
Ann Maddox, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFK
William Mandel, Former Programmer/Host (37 years), KPFA
Bob Marsten, Former Staff Member, KPFK
Raymond Meyer, Former Listener/Support, KPFA
Lorraine Mirza, Former Producer/Host, News Reporter, KPFK
Kiilu Nyasha, Former Programmer/Host, KPFA
Stephanie Peek, Artist, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Nancy Peters, Editor, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Richard Pfeffer, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Mitch Ritter, Former Volunteer, Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Donovan Seley, Former Listener/Supporter, KPFA
Karole Selmon, Former Programmer, KPFK, Former Employee, Pacifica National Archives
Ron Wilkins, Former Producer/Host (12 years), KPFK, Former Member, Pacifica National Board. (4 years)
Avis Worthington, Writer, Former Listener/Sponsor, KPFA
Steve Zeltzer, Former Labor Programmer/Host, KPFA
cc: Rep. Ronald Dellums, Rep. Ed Markey, Jack O'Dell, California Coalition for the First Amendment, Haley Bader & Potts, Station, Pat Scott
Cover letter to Congress Member R. Dellums