KPFA Lockout: Spontaneous Reaction or Planned Management Coup?
by Chris Thompson, East Bay Express

As the battle for control of KPFA continues, evidence continues to mount suggesting that Pacifica began preparing for its showdown with the community radio station more than a month before the lockout. In addition to hiring a consultant specializing in corporate downsizing and a security firm that boasts of its ability to keep order during labor difficulties, Pacifica executive director Lynn Chadwick even took the step of shipping up boxes of old tapes from the Pacifica archives in Los Angeles ten days before the lockout.

According to KPFA news codirector Mark Mericle, it was early June when Pacifica officials began importing managers from other stations, consultants from companies that handle labor problems, and archived tapes of lectures and music which could be played in case of a lockout. On June 7, Chadwick brought "human resource consultant" Gene Edwards to the station, ostensibly to review personnel files. According to his associates, Edwards has a long history of advising companies in the process of terminating employees en masse; for several years in the mid-'90s, Edwards developed "employee transition" programs for the consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison, a subsidiary of the giant temporary employment agency Adecco. Lee Hecht Harrison specializes in downsizing firms and coordinating mass layoffs. Advertises the Lee Hecht Harrison Web site under its "Individual Career Transition" program: "our consultants help your managers prepare for the [layoff] notification process and manage their changing environment; we create special career centers when large numbers of employees are affected by downsizing; and our team provides overall guidance to management on the sensitive issues related to termination and career transition."

Two weeks after joining the Pacifica team, Edwards hired a new, considerably tougher security company, according to KPFA news codirector Aileen Alfandary. On June 26, the Oakland-based corporate security firm IPSA International installed six armed plainclothes guards at the station. Only one guest was permitted into the station at a time, and the menacing presence of gun-toting muscle in the lobby created such a tense atmosphere that some staff reported being physically ill from the stress. It was the IPSA security team that hauled programmer Dennis Bernstein off the air and precipitated the present crisis.

IPSA President Russ Owens has an impressive list of credentials: after walking a beat as an Oakland cop, he rose through the ranks of the security community to become a consultant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the director of security, worldwide sales and services, for IBM, where he developed the security plan for the Atlanta Olympics. IPSA vice president of consulting Lloyd Bastian has also served with IBM and the Department of Justice. One of IPSA's specialties is security during labor trouble. "During hostile terminations, our protection specialists provide a virtual safety net," reads the IPSA Web site. "They can help diffuse an emotionally charged environment and bring about a sense of calmŠ No national security company can match our success when it comes to effectively handling the security function during the termination of a potentially dangerous individual."

When Pacifica first sat down to talk with KPFA staff in the early days of the crisis, Chadwick was being advised by the foundation's longtime legal counsel, the Los Angeles firm of Mitchell, Silberberg, and Knupp (MSK). Now in its ninetieth year of business, MSK boasts more than a hundred attorneys practicing in all areas of business law for clients all over the world. MSK's Web site lists a roster of victories against organized labor, including "extensive union avoidance work in communications, apparel, publishing, financial services, and health care industry," and an incident in which they "guided a company with approximately 400 employees through an economic strike by the Teamsters Union, and ultimately obtained decertification of the union."

Finally, according to Susan Stone, the director of KPFA's drama and literature department, Pacifica archivist Mark Torres began shipping boxes of old tapes of music and interviews up to the KPFA studio ten days before the lockout, tapes that are now being played on the air.

Pacifica spokesperson Elan Fabbri declined to comment about the archives and did not return repeated phone calls regarding the foundation's multiple consultants. Dennis Bernstein, however, has plenty of bitter words for Pacifica's all-star lineup. "[Pacifica chair] Mary Frances Berry talks reconciliation from Washington, while her on-site team is completing their takeover of the station. They hire a hostile termination lawyer and a hostile termination police force, all the while alternately calling for talks and vilifying us," he says.

If the plans of Pacifica's leadership are rolling out as it expected, it may be facing some unexpected pressure from the Pacifica board. The last week of arrests, rallies, and "free speech" campsites, as well as the enormous level of bad publicity the conflict has generated, has begun to take its toll on the board, raising the discomfort level of Chadwick's supporters and emboldening those who had misgivings from the start. At the board meeting in June, Pacifica director Pete Bramson moved for a vote of no confidence in Chadwick but couldn't get a second. If a meeting were held tomorrow, he could probably get one from Rabbi Aaron Kriegel, a Pacifica director from Los Angeles station KPFK.

On July 14, the first day of the lockout, Kriegel fired off an e-mail to the rest of the board. "I just heard Lynn Chadwick on Democracy Now when she said that her authority to act in the manner that she acted last night comes from the Pacifica Governing Board," Kriegel wrote. "I never agreed to the heavy-handed tactics displayed yesterday, and I never will. If she finds authority from me and others who represent my position on the board, then we have been manipulated. Many of us, under no circumstances, would have agreed to the display that was evident last night."

In response, Fabbri wrote an e-mail to community radio professionals across the country, assuring everyone that all was well at Pacifica. "Unfortunately, Rabbi Kriegel did not attend the first two days of our last board meeting and missed much of the discussion about the board's perspective on the situation at KPFA. His commentsŠrepresent only Rabbi Kriegel's views, not those of the rest of the board, who will be discussing this further with him."

But as the days wore on, Kriegel got less and less enthusiastic. "Reading about what's going on, I feel like a member of Bull Connor's troops, standing on the bridge to Birmingham and putting water cannons on Civil Rights protesters," Kriegel says. "If I had known that there were going to be arrests, I would never have supported that. And if I had the opportunity, I'd reverse the [present] policy. But I just don't have the votes."

Both board members and longtime Pacifica observers agree that Chadwick and Berry are scraping by with a slim majority. Of the thirteen members of the board, seven appear to reliably support Chadwick, while four members-Bramson and Jewelle Taylor-Gibbs from KPFA, Kriegel, and Rob Robinson from the Washington, DC station WPFW-oppose her. Two others-Robert Farrell from Los Angeles and Andrea Cisco from New York's WBAI-are reportedly undecided. (Several board members did not return phone calls.) Chadwick's majority, however, includes William Lucy, a man caught in a peculiar position. As a member of the national executive board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a close personal friend of Berry, Lucy has obvious loyalty to her and Chadwick. But as the National Secretary of the American Federation of State, County, and Federal Employees, Lucy also has strong labor ties. Observers say that the harder Chadwick pushes the station's unions, the more dubious Lucy feels.

"Will Lucy doesn't understand why he's even on the board," says one board member. "He feels trapped in an untenable situation and doesn't want to get involved. He didn't even come to the [June] board meeting. My sense is that he feels so compromised by this that the only thing he can do gracefully is be silent and nonresponsive. But the things that Pacifica is doing are so provocative to labor that he can't keep silent forever. I don't think he realizes just yet that Mary Berry is part of the problem."

Chadwick's most solid support appears to come from the board's two Texas representatives: David Acosta, a Houston certified public accountant, and Micheal Palmer, who wrote the now-famous e-mail about the possibility of selling KPFA. According to Nan Rubin, who has worked in community radio for thirty years, been a friend of Chadwick's for twenty, and sat on the WBAI advisory board for six, Palmer and Acosta are unwavering in pursuit of what they perceive to be their local station's best interests. "[Palmer] is such a menace-you can't go to Pacifica board meetings anymore and not be enraged," Rubin says. "From the very first day he came on the board, he has had no perspective about the national picture and what an incredible resource Pacifica is. From day one, all he's ever talked about is selling one of the frequencies. The rest of the board couldn't shut him up. And that other guy from Houston, David Acosta? He's just as bad. They don't want to hear about Pacifica as a national force. They hate New York and have absolutely no use for anything that comes out of WBAI." (Palmer and Acosta were unavailable for comment.)

As for the rest of the board, Rubin claims that the manner in which members have historically been appointed virtually guarantees that directors will be passive and detached. Up until a few months ago, most board members were selected by the advisory boards of each member station, but these groups usually confined the selection criteria to, "Who can go to the Pacifica meeting next September?" Yet the operating structure of Pacifica is not only incredibly complicated but torn between two irreconcilable impulses: the growing trend toward centralizing authority and finances in Pacifica's hands, and the ever-present tendency of individual stations to insist on editorial and programming autonomy. Incoming Pacifica directors sit down at board meetings and are promptly blindsided by fifty years of conflict and byzantine rules. Rather than ask questions and look stupid, Rubin says, they tend to sit still and defer to the judgment of the executive director.

"The way the board has historically been set up, there's no guarantee that you're gonna get anyone at all interested in how Pacifica works-or even competent enough to understand how it works," Rubin says. "It's never been a particularly cohesive group, and it hasn't really wanted to be in charge of everything that it actually is. Largely it's been made up of [representatives from] individual stations, who all share a parochial viewpoint. 'Do I represent Pacifica's interests, or the interests of my individual station?' That's a question that they haven't been able to answer."

On Monday, Pacifica and KPFA representatives agreed to sit down and talk with a federal mediator. But according to one member, as long as the board remains passive in the face of this conflict, Chadwick and Berry will continue their overall strategy of hunkering down and waiting for KPFA to make a mistake. Says the board member: "I think they'd feel very vindicated if someone committed a violent act, and they could blame the rest of KPFA. They're just waiting for their favorite writers in the media to decide that they're more sinned against than sinning, but they don't understand the degree to which they've alienated absolutely everybody, that nobody agress with what they're doing but them. They have honestly lost all perspective." ###

Alternet is a project of Independent Media Institute

Reproduction of material from any pages without written permission is strictly prohibited. Copyright © 1999 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved. AlterNet | 77 Federal Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Telephone 415 284 1426 | Fax 415 284 1414 | E-mail