Who Decides?
The issue of governance, democracy and accountability in Pacifica

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chronological listing of documents and articles by category
"Inside Pacifica" -- an overview



The Context:

This is a time when people worldwide face the nullification of democratic political processes due to multinational agreements (in the service of multinational corporations) such as GATT and MAI, which create unelected and unaccountable tribunals with the power to veto the public will. Because of the lack of democratically controlled media that serves the public interest, these corporate forces, and the officials who represent their interests, are able to consolidate power under a veil of secrecy,  enacting self-serving policies which burst upon the startled and confused citizenry as "faits accomplis."

Pacifica has traditionally served as a counter-balancing free voice. Ironically, Pacifica now faces the same fate. As a result of its unaccountable structure of governance, a small group at odds with Pacifica's community-oriented founding principles and mission is in a position to heist a public resource that exists because of the labor, love (and cash contributions) of hundreds of thousands of individuals.

(Though Pacifica runs on a relatively modest cash flow of $8 million annually, its assets in the form of radio licenses and real estate are worth close to $200 million if they were liquidated in a sort of "leveraged buyout" scenario. This has happened to more than one non-commercial station. This is no wild flight of fancy. Of course, it can't happen here, right?)

At the heart of the current emergency at Pacifica is the issue of governance. Because of the present organizational structure, a group of 15 Pacifica National Board members and the Executive Director have been able to consolidate almost absolute power over the assets and policy decisions of the organization. The people in this group have no mandate; they are not elected and, under the current structure only they control who gains entré into this elite circle.

They have decided that "vast changes" are to occur. There is no consensus that these changes are appropriate. There has been no public discussion. What there has been are threats, intimidation, purges, gag orders and defamation against any who question their power or dissent from their policies.

Now, the regime which is controlling Pacifica is moving to make further changes which would take the "almost" out of the equation. They have already attacked workers with union-busting lawyers and consultants in an attempt to remove the "impediments" to power that the union contracts presented. They have enforced gag orders to keep the public in the dark, and hired a spin doctor to lie. And used the subscribers' funds to finance these activities. There has been, as poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti recently stated, a decrease in the intellectual level and creativity of programming, a mainstreaming of political content and a move toward cultural homogeneity. Stations and by extension the communities they serve have lost their local autonomy as a result of this centralization of power.

A lack of vigilance in the area of governance has allowed this dangerous consolidation of power to occur with little resistance (until now). Only the active participation of those to whom Pacifica really belongs, the subscribers and workers, by means of an open, accountable, democratic process, can preserve Pacifica for future generations. The democratization of governance at Pacifica is the ultimate aim of the Free Pacifica movement.

The Problem:

The current administration met for a year and a half  behind closed doors to develop a strategic plan that will create a top-down corporate-style institution under the total control of a self-selected few. The ability to realize the actual details of this plan's implementation hinges on the adoption of proposed governance changes that will give the current group a permanent voting majority on the Pacifica Board of Directors.

The unaccountable and undemocratic structure which has made this power grab possible has been in place since 1961, and has resulted in decades of infighting for which Pacifica is notorious. It has now reached crisis proportions in direct relation to the autocratic appetite of the Pat Scott administration, which came into power in 1995. Like the example of GATT, the machinery was developed over time, and had its roots in the administration of David Salniker, the predecessor and mentor of the current CEO.

The current Pacifica by-laws contain no provisions for a referendum on the policies of the organization's directors nor provisions for recall of officers by the membership. The vast majority of the organization, those whose labor has created Pacifica Radio and those whose contributions have sustained it, have no process for meaningful participation in decision making.

Pacifica's Current Governance Structure:

All five Pacifica stations are owned by the Pacifica Foundation, a 501-C3 non-profit organization registered in California. Legal authority is vested in the Pacifica Board of Directors (a.k.a. governing board).

This board is comprised of 15 members who serve without financial remuneration. Five of the members are "at-large" which means they are not attached to any station. As a result of by-law changes made in 1995, these members have no term limits. They are selected by the Board of Directors currently seated, and may only be removed by the Directors.

The remaining 10 members are "station representatives." Currently, each of the Local Station Advisory Boards (LAB's) selects two of its members to serve on the Board of Directors. These members are limited to 2 three-year terms. The LABs are also self-selecting, and can be disbanded (and have been) when they oppose the policies of the Board of Directors. (The LAB's have no legal authority to make policy; their function is advisory only. They can however, send two representatives who can make legally binding decisions, and they can, and have, served as a focus of community expression about Pacifica.)

The Proposed Structure: What it means

Through a series of purges, threatened purges and careful screening, the Board of Directors has tried to insure LABs loyal to their policies. Nevertheless, this has not been foolproof. According to those inside, some local reps are unwilling to go along with many of the plans which the Scott regime intends to implement. The regime is not yet guaranteed the rubber-stamp majority it desires, and legally needs, to have "carte blanche" to implement these publicly undisclosed plans, which sources say, have included discussions of station sales.

Therefore, new by-laws amendments, known as the "governance changes" have been proposed. These would reduce the Local Reps from ten to five making them a permanent voting minority. Even if they objected to the Scott plan, they would be numerically powerless. Of these five, though LABs would still nominate two delegates, the final decision of which one would actually be seated as a director would be made by, yup, you got it, the Board of Directors. The "reason" given for this is "diversity" but sources inside admitted its actual purpose: to give the Directors another layer of filtering to remove potential dissident members.

Instead of two "station reps" per station, it is proposed that there be five "signal reps." These individuals would be required to live in the signal area of the station they "represent" but of course one might ask who they do "represent" as they too would be selected by the (surprise, surprise) Board of Directors. The reason given is the "workload" involved in being on the Board requires that these people not have "duties" at the local level. The reality is, none of the Boards participate in the actual running of the Foundation. Board members meet three weekends a year and occasionally teleconference. All the data on which they base their conclusions is packaged for them by the Executive Director and her subordinates.

Please be clear, the Executive Director runs the show, though the Board must ratify her actions in order for them to be legally binding, (sort of  like Boris Yeltsin's "parliament.")

Why bother with this charade of "signal reps?"

The Significance of the Executive Committee

The Executive Committee, a sub-committee of the Pacifica National Board, is the real ruling body. It consists of the Officers of the Board and the top Managers and a representative from each signal area. Its composition is dictated by the Pacifica by-laws. (I want to note "for the record" that the Executive Director is not a "voting" member of the Board. See Boris Yeltsin's parliament)

Obviously, changing the by-laws to exclude station reps would not be passed by the two-thirds majority required. The station reps currently have a two-thirds majority and could hardly be expected to disenfranchise themselves. Also, it would be very difficult to justify such an action to the public, and still maintain the argument that the reason for the Scott administration's changes are to "better serve our audiences" as has been claimed.

Therefore, the idea of calling these hand picked individuals "signal reps" will enable the power structure to seat individuals they have ascertained will support the regime's policies, while maintaining the fiction of "local representation" through semantic means. These "signal reps" would then be seated on the Executive Committee, and would nominally meet the legal requirements.

Refusing and Resisting:

The rationalizations given for these governance changes have convinced neither the public nor the LABs, who understand these changes would serve to further marginalize community participation in decisions about our stations. The Scott regime is facing increasing opposition from within the organization as well as increasingly irate community members. The June 1997 Pacifica National Board Meeting in Oakland was the focus of the struggle; at this meeting, these governance changes were scheduled for a ratification vote by the Board of Directors.

When the "Strategic 5-year Plan" was first made public in November of 1996, one section called "governance" was left blank. According to the plan, governance changes would be discussed at the January 1997 Board of Directors Meeting (in Galveston, Texas). Local Advisory Boards were supposed to receive proposals for discussion prior to that meeting. The LAB members had not been informed during the planning process. This plan had been drafted during a year and a half of secret sessions; minutes of Board of Directors meetings had also been declared "confidential documents" under the Scott regime. (This secrecy was the subject of a complaint filed with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and resulted in an investigative audit being conducted. For more on this, vista the section on the CPB complaint)

By December, LABs had still not been provided with copies of the strategic plan. The only source of the document available was this website, and we have been told many LAB members obtained their copies through us. Understandably, having to obtain Pacifica documents in this fashion angered many LAB members.

Local Boards Resist

The proposed governance changes (explained above) contained other controversial provisions beyond the reduction of local voting power. One such "innovation" was was the prohibition of staff members serving on LABs. The introduction to the governance document, authored by Roberta Brooks, Pacifica Foundation Secretary, claimed inclusion of staff members contradicted CPB rules. (This was false. No one at the CPB, from the Inspector General on down could find such a ruling, nor was anyone at the CPB found who admitted communicating this information to the Pacifica Board.)

At this time, staff reps are the only elected members of any of the boards and the only voice of labor, paid and unpaid, present. The governance changes also specified what the National Board considered to be the LABs primary responsibility -- fundraising. The general impression created by the document was that LABs were to sit down, shut up (except, presumably, when defending the Administration) and raise money, a portrayal of their role which offended LAB members and was criticized by the CPB audit as violating the intention of the Communications Act.

The Chairpersons of the five LABs sent a memo to the Pacifica National Board objecting to both certain provisions of the governance changes and their high-handed treatment by the Board of Directors. Prior to the the June National Board meeting, KPFA's Board announced that it would draft a letter objecting to the governance changes.

Just prior to the June meeting, the LABs of KPFA, KPFK and WPFW voted to reject as presented the proposed changes. In many cases, the only supporters of the changes were the National Reps, some of whom did not even attend the meetings when the votes were cast.

The KPFA LAB was also angry about a letter sent by Executive Director Pat Scott to the CPB, which repudiated the findings of the Inspector General's audit aggressively. The KPFA LAB sent a letter to Pacifica Chairperson Jack O'Dell supporting the IG's findings and objecting to the flak-catching role they had been forced into by the Scott regime's controversial policies.

The June 1997 Pacifica National Board Meeting

The results of June meeting continue to baffle and appall. Protests against the Scott regime and the closed meetings took place and were reported in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Oakland Tribune, The Daily Cal, The Berkeley Voice and on the KPFA News. Some of the closed meetings were opened to the public at the last minute, presumably due to some combination of public demand and CPB scrutiny.

Audio and Video tapes were made of most of the open portions of the proceedings -- fortunately. While those of us who witnessed the vote on the governance changes, and heard vice-chair Cecilia McCall refer the changes "back to committee" until the September meeting, Chairperson Jack O'Dell, Pacifica spin doctor Burt Glass and Director Roberta Brooks, one of the primary architects of the changes, were claiming that not only had the changes passed, but they had passed in February! (Transcript of voting session)

It appears that the National Board had originally intended to run the changes through without a vote, until the Council of LAB Chairpersons' memo made clear any by-laws change must be voted upon, and passed by a two-thirds majority.

In August 1997, Pacifica Board Secretary Roberta Brooks issued memo claiming governance changes passed in January! This was patently false and indicated a willingness to use any means to accomplish the goals of the governance amendments. This resulted in a number of us retaining an attorney to prevent the imminent heist of Pacifica through parliamentary means.

Solutions: Democracy and Accountability

The system of governance that now exists at Pacifica, AND THE EVEN WORSE one proposed by the current administration reflect neither Pacifica's mission nor the message of democratic empowerment broadcast on Pacifica stations. One of the arguments made by Pacifica's current management is that these changes are necessary to achieve wider distribution, and thus presumably greater influence, for progressive ideas and arguments. The oft-repeated phrase "preaching to the converted" keeps coming up as a reason for the seeming inability of left movements to materially change society.

This argument oversimplifies the situation considerably, and ignores the overwhelming balance of power toward capitalism which has used all its economic, political, and media resources to deliver and reinforce the status quo relentlessly -- to the point where for most people, the ideas and habits of empowerment are uncharted territory. "You can't fight City Hall" becomes the conclusion.

Many of us believe that the failure of the Left to influence lies not with the preaching but the practice. It is deeds, not words that ultimately make an impression. If we are to convince people that we can have a just, peaceful and free society, we must model that society to the world. The way we conduct ourselves must be consistent with our professed beliefs. The way we govern our own organizations must make our theories realities.

Let us begin with our media. Here. Now.

Here are some of our ideas.

Tell us yours.

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