We, the undersigned staff of Pacifica Radio,
are writing to voice our concern about the management of Pacifica and its
impact on our station. We are paid and unpaid staff. Some of
us are long-time employees; some
have been at KPFA only a short time. We all work here because we love the medium of radio and honor the underlying principles, goals and perspective of Pacifica. However, we are growing increasingly concerned that the management of Pacifica is being conducted in a manner that is contradictory to its mission.
One year ago, when Nicole Sawaya was hired
as KPFA Station Manager, she assumed leadership of a staff that had been
demoralized by acrimonious union negotiations, hostility from some listeners
opposed to program changes, and fund drives that had fallen short of their
goals. Under Nicole's direction, the station
has started to flourish again. She knows radio, in in tune with the mission of Pacifica, and has dealt with the staff firmly, but with respect. The quality of KPFA's air sound has improved and we have regained the respect of many of the previously alienated listeners and donors. Our fund drives since Nicole's arrival have been successful - the last drive raised 7.3% above the goal. We welcomed the opportunity to work with the new Pacifica leadership as well, but we feel greatly troubled by our recent experiences with Pacifica's National Office. We are quite concerned that the difficult working relationship with the National Office may lead to the further departure of valuable staff within the Network to the detriment of Pacifica's future. We are outlining two of the most egregious examples which occurred over the past two months:
THE FIRING OF LARRY BENSKY:
On December 7th, after veteran Pacifica broadcaster Larry Bensky got off
the air at 5PM, he was informed there was a note in his box. It was
from Gail Christian, Director of Program Services and read in full:
"Today will be your last day on the air as host of Living Room and
moderator of the impeachment hearings.
Please see Mary Tilson regarding the details of your termination. "
Larry's termination was rescinded on December 21 but not before the KPFA staff was thrown into turmoil, listeners responded with outrage, our fund-raising was severely jeopardized, and our Program Director Lawrence Shorter resigned.
KPFA's Program Director Lawrence Shorter
expressed shock at the peremptory fashion in which Larry Bensky was dismissed
after 30 years' serivce. Lawrence was also left without guidance
from Pacifica on how to deal with the onslaught of angry listener calls
about Larry Bensky's dismissal. Although the National Office promised
it would promptly issue a statement on Larry's termination, none was forthcoming
until after Larry was rehired.
Lawrence, who had promised to deal honestly and openly with staff and listeners, was stranded by the National Office.
On-Air KPFA programmers who host call-in shows were similarly exposed when they opened the phones for a topic completely unrelated to Larry's firing, and callers asked on the air if it was true that Larry had been dismissed and why. Hundreds of calls were received on KPFA's switchboard from angry and confused listener supporters, and KPFA staff members couldn't go out into the community without being stopped and asked about Larry's dismissal.
Sheryl Flowers, who served as Living Room producer, was also treated abysmally in this process. Although Larry's termination clearly affected her employment, the National Office did not inform Sheryl about her future status. Sheryl is precisely the kind of producer Pacifica should be trying to retain. Talented as a producer and host, she rose up through the ranks of Pacifica and she is a person of color. Instead, she was treated in an insulting manner, as if she were easily disposable. This, too, was very demoralizing to the rest of KPFA staff.
The National Office disseminated inaccurate
information about Larry's termination in at least one instance of which
we are aware - in which one Pacifica station manager stated that Lynn Chadwick
told him that
Larry was not broadcasting the Impeachment Hearings in January because Larry had been censured by his union and that he was no longer considered reliable because he had told people he was fired.
Finally, the National Office mailed out a fundraising letter in December 1998 inexplicably touting Living Room, although the program was already scheduled to end.
KPFA'S PROGRAM ENDOWMENT REQUEST:
In the month of October 1998, KPFA's Program Council began to plan to fill
the hole that would be left by the impending demise of the noontime Living
Room program. The Program Council, with the concurrence of Station
Manager Nicole Sawaya, decided to replace the
nationally produced Living Room program with a locally produced version. In November, a verbal request was made to the National Office for money from KPFA's program endowment to fund the program. The funds are intended to be used for programming initiatives. The verbal request was followed up in writing in December. The programming staff and management spent many hours refining our concept for the program.
In a series of meetings* requested by KPFA
staff in January, Lynn Chadwick several times promised a decision would
be made by a date certain. The deadlines were not honored and Lynn
failed to return phone calls regarding the status of the decision-making
process. KPFA staff was left in limbo - not knowing what
resources we would have at our disposal, or even when a decision would be made. We finally were forced to put on hold our plans to produce a local Living Room program with program endowment funds, and at the last minute premiered a new music program at noon instead. We were unable to give listeners adequate notice of
the change, and many of them were upset. The staff was disturbed that we were not given the courtesy of phone calls when promised decisions were delayed time and time again.
LACK OF STAFF SUPPORT FROM NATIONAL OFFICE STAFF: In the last year and a half, the National administrative staff has increased, while National programming has decreased. We hoped the extra staff would provide expanded support and guidance in areas of fundraising, computer technology and overall service. That guidance has not been forthcoming. Pacifica has not provided stations with clear goals and priorities regarding their programming vision and long-term plans for the Network. At the same time, we feel the pressure at the local level to raise ever- increasing amounts of on-air money to support the growth of the National staff. It is very difficult for staff to promote Pacifica's mission of free-speech and democracy, particularly during fund-raisers, when we are the mouthpiece of Pacifica and basic participation is denied to us. How can we ask listeners to support such a blatant double- standard?
CONCLUSION: The staff at KPFA is submitting a vote of no confidence in the ability of the National Office to lead the Pacifica Network forward. The incidents we've outlined, and others not enumerated in this statement, are breeding a climate of distrust and cynicism. We respectfully and confidentially bring this issue to the attention of the Pacifica National Governing Board because we deeply care about the Network and its potential.
We also expect that the policy allowing
Local Advisory Board members to be seated on the National Governing Board
will continue in order to assure the National Board's accountability to
stations and listener-supporters. Preventing Local Advisory Board
members from being seated on the National Governing Board would
be an undemocratic move and contradict the very mission of Pacifica Radio.
We strongly encourage the National Board to table any vote on the governance structure, and ask the Board to send an emissary team to explore with CPB alternate governance scenarios that would maintain a clear line of accountability.
*On December 21 in a meeting with concerned
KPFA programmers, Lynn Chadwick told staff members the Finance Committee
would meet on January 13th and make a decision on the program endowment
request. January 13 came and went without a decision. A combination
of the Impeachment Hearings, the fund drive and stopgap local Living Room
hosts filled the hole at noon, but we had to be ready with a program once
the fund drive was over.The new program might also have given lateral transfers
of staff members, which would require lead time to arrange. In desperation
for an answer, KPFA's new Program Director Andrea Kissack, News Director
Aileen Alfandary, and Drama and Literature Director Susan Stone requested
a meeting with Lynn Chadwick. At the January 26th meeting, Lynn denied
having said there would be a Finance Committee meeting on January 13th
and instead said there had been an Executive Committee meeting on that
which "briefly" discussed the program endowment request. Lynn posed several questions and concerns about the use of the program endowment request, but said she would call Treasurer June Makela that night and said
that "within a week, easily" the Finance Committee would meet by conference call and make a decision. A week passed without a reponse from Lynn. Lynn failed to answer Andrea's phone calls asking if the Finance
committee had made a decision. A decision is now expected after the National Board meeting.
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