Date sent: Thu, 23 Jul
From: "R. Paul Martin" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Wednesday night saw WBAI GM Valerie Van Isler holding her first
General Manager's Staff meeting in nearly a year. The Union Contract
mandatesher to hold three of these a year, but she's so unpopular that
she'sbeen trying to avoid them. Apparently she had no idea of how
she was - until last night.
She'd only put up a few notices of the meeting some ten days in advance of it, rather than the 14 days required. And all but the most obscurely posted one were taken off the walls three days before the meeting. So this was not a meeting she really wanted people to know about. On top of that we had the worst day of the Summer season on Wednesday with high temperatures, heavy humidity and air pollution that made many people ill. So only 18 to 20 people showed up at this meeting.
Van Isler started out saying that the move had cost $476,000, and that some additional expenses had cost $24,000, which had brought it all up to about half a million bucks, which she told us she had said it would cost. She said that some politicians, including Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato, were sending letters of support for WBAI to get a grant.
And then things started to get lively. The Director of Technical
Operations (DTO) went down a long list of what's
still wrong with the place. It turns out that the contractors
were hired to work for a
certain amount of time, not hired to work until they'd completed building the studios. The Maintenance Engineer, a half time position, is working night and day and over weekends getting some of the studios fixed. Even some of the doors will have to be re-hung because they were
installed incorrectly - they're crooked. Of course there's no Chief Engineer at WBAI at this time because Van Isler fired him in 1997. The DTO is doing work that should be done by the Chief Engineer. Also, Management has hired another person, yet another "Management Consultant," to assist with the work on the studios. There were many complaints about the facility.
In answer to why the studios were not fully functional Van Isler said that all the stations had had this problem. I then said that the reason for this was that the architects had been chosen by Pat Scott, they were her pals. And that the other Pacifica stations had had problems of a similar nature because the problems were all caused by these same architects! I noted KPFA's having to spend lots of money to sound proof their Master Control room.
People then started questioning Van Isler about the preparation for
this move. They wondered why we had moved when the broadcast facilities
were not adequately set up yet. Van Isler said, "We moved on June
1st, and we were on the air here on June 1st," to which one Staff
"Yes, and we were off the air on June 2nd!" As recently as last Friday WBAI was off the air again for about an hour and a half due to some problem or other.
One Staff member noted that he had "lost faith in this place." He said that the move was like the last reel of the movie "Alien," when the main character escapes the ship where the monster is only to discover that the monster is in the escape pod with her. "We've brought the monster here with us," he said.
Others got right down to the point and said that Valerie Van Isler was
the big problem. Lists of her failings started to get recited by
Staff members. The firing of people, attempts to convert CBU jobs to Management,
getting so many Unfair Labor Practice charges filed against the station
and spending lots of money on lawyers to fight all this were among the
counter-productive things Van Isler had done which people cited.
One of the more high profile people on WBAI's air said to Van
Isler, "In the real world people are fired for things like this."
People also questioned Van Isler's figures about the cost of the move. At a regular Staff meeting some weeks ago people demanded to see the figures on the cost of the move. Van Isler had promised them those figures. But she just keeps saying that she's getting the figures together, and now she's not holding Staff meetings anymore!
When I brought up the issue of her making one Staff member sign blank
checks she said that she's told Pacifica about that. I noted that
this was different from her previous comments to the Shop Committee when
she said that Pacifica had approved and authorized signing blank checks.
When pressed Van Isler said that Pacifica Controller Sandra Rosas had sent the Staff member a memo telling him that he was not to sign blank checks any more. So much for her having Pacifica behind her on this bizarre financial adventure. After a while Van Isler relented and agreed to let the Union see those filled out blank checks. One way or another though, whether it's voluntarily on Van Isler's part of through subpoena action, we're going to see those checks.
The Program Director lit into her because no department has a budget
at WBAI. Everything runs out of a sort of general budget over which
Van Isler holds sway. She has to approve every single expenditure,
no matter how petty, and nothing can be done without her having to "get
back to" people on it. The result is that equipment, services, etc. are always delayed and sometimes good prices due to sales are missed out on because of these delays. Also, no one knows how much they can spend on anything. The Program Director also complained that Van Isler doesn't
discuss anything budgetary with anyone at the station, not even with other Management. He also cited the number of Paid Staff and Management who have quit WBAI because of her. He mentioned that the DTO, who was sitting there, had put in his resignation in the past week or so.
People generally complained that Van Isler was rude to everyone, no longer only a select few of us, and that she just wasn't doing her job. Two Staff members called on her to resign as GM. Others echoed this demand.
Some of Van Isler's friends, who have known her for 20 years (as has the Program Director) even suggested to her that she was a problem.
I'll spare more details, but it was a really stormy meeting with more
than one person noting during it that everyone (Paid Staff, Unpaid Staff,
the Union and even other Management people) was saying the same thing,
that Van Isler was the big problem, and she either had to change radically
or leave. After a time Van Isler stopped answering people and just
sat and made notes, saying she'd get back to us on this. This is
exactly what she says to the Shop Committee all the time! I personally
think that she just dissociated during the meeting and retreated into her own little bunker.
In my 16+ years at WBAI I've seen a lot of stormy General Manager's
Staff meetings, but I've never seen such unanimity of feeling against the
GM as at this one.