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Pacifica radio board elections – count me out

It’s election season again at Pacifica radio, the five station listener supported radio network, and that means another season of mud slinging, dishonesty, lawsuits, and wasted money. This time I’m not participating—that means I’m not endorsing any slate and I’m not voting in the election at my local station: KPFA-FM in Berkeley.

For the uninitiated, here’s Pacifica radio’s internal democracy in a nutshell. Periodically the network’s bona fide listener subscribers and staff (paid and volunteer) vote for local boards of 24 members each. These boards have some authority over budgets and key management hirings. They also appoint delegates to the network’s ultimate authority: the Pacifica Governing Board, which appoints a new Executive Committee every year. The Governing Board oversees the Pacifica Foundation, which owns all Pacifica property, including the network’s five FM licenses in Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, D.C. and Houston.

Worse by any standard

But by any metric, democracy at Pacifica has been a disaster. Has it alleviated Pacifica’s famously contentious atmosphere? No. In fact, the internal life of Pacifica has arguably become much worse on a day-to-day level. Has it helped to improve the network’s air sound? To the extent that there have been improvements, they have taken place in spite of Pacifica governance, not because of it.

Are Pacifica’s finances in better shape because of its democratic structure? Hardly. According to its latest audit, Pacifica Radio earned $12,594,835 in revenue in 2009, a calamitous drop of $4.2 million from 2008, which saw revenue of $16,768,908. In other words, Pacifica lost the equivalent of a third of its earnings for last year. Most of that decline was in listener support and donations, which tanked by 27 percent.

Two more years of decline like this, and I fear that for all practical purposes, Pacifica will cease to exist. But that doesn’t stop the organization from spending a queen’s ransom on what seems to be the most important activity to its leadership: governance and the network’s failed system of listener-subscriber elections, in which only slightly more than a tenth of the subscribers actually participate.

A “gross exaggeration”

How much do these elections cost? Who knows? According to this financial document, in 2009 Pacifica spent over a quarter of a million on “board expense”— $265,687 to be exact. Another $323,074 was spent on “communications expense,” and $331,640 went to “community events and development.” I’m guessing that somewhere in that cool 900K is the actual sum spent to keep that scary circus otherwise known as Pacifica governance in the manner to which it has grown accustomed.

I’ve got the numbers from earlier years (documents folder here). In 2004 the network spent $206,571 in “board election expenses.” In 2005 it was $183,941. Pacifica’s finances web site doesn’t include the audits for 2006 through 2008. And for some reason this latest audit doesn’t break that figure down.

But maybe some recent correspondence can help. Media scholar and Counterpunch author Ian Boal put the last election’s cost at $700,000. “This is a gross exaggeration,” a former National Board Chair protested in a response.  “The election cost less than half that amount, including lawsuits.”

Maybe or maybe not. But for the sake of argument, I’m presuming that the last round cost Pacifica around a third of a million dollars, “including lawsuits,” which have become a normal part of Pacifica’s internal life. So if we speculate that in 2006 through 2008 election expenditures stayed at the lowest figure available (2005: $183,941), Pacifica has spent close to a million on its politicians over the last six years. That’s the equivalent of salaries and benefits for two dozen reporters, on-air hosts, and producers.

So how did we get into this mess? That requires an analysis of how we got in. Here’s mine.

No Left

When this new system was initiated, Pacifica had just recovered from the awful management coups at KPFA and WBAI-FM in New York City from 1999 through 2001. The crude philosophy behind these actions backfired, of course, especially after 10,000 KPFA subscribers demonstrated on behalf of their closed station and reacted with alarm to Pacifica National Board deliberations to sell the license.

Thus came ever louder calls to reclaim the organization, which lunged Pacifica in the opposite direction: the excruciatingly democratic by-laws of 2002, partially summarized above. This reform had its heart in the right place, but the conditions for its success were never met. Making democracy at Pacifica radio work would have required an enormous commitment from progressives across the country. The task needed an influx of skilled people and money. But none of that materialized in 2002 and 2003. Quite the contrary, the national celebrities who very actively supported the democratization of Pacifica from 1999 through 2001 walked away from the project.

To be fair, they had bigger fish to fry by 2002: Web 2.0 and its possibilities beckoned, the Bush regime was in full swing, the war in Iraq was impending.

But there were less noble reasons for the abandonment of the cause. Various luminaries in media and the academy (Zinn; Ellsberg; Chomsky) offered rhetorical support to Pacifica democracy on behalf of individual Pacifica programmers and staff who were, in fact, just trying to save their jobs or shows at the stations. Not a few individuals who cheered the process on read the Pacifica fight less as a institution building project, and more as a metaphor for the larger corporatization of media. And the losers in the struggle—those who supported the old regime—certainly weren’t going to lend a hand to Pacifica’s reconstruction.

Bottom line: the American Left was willing to fight the Pacifica war, but it wasn’t willing to stick around for the peace. And democracies don’t just magically work by themselves. They need resources and stability to flourish. Instead, democratized Pacifica radio found itself starved for support during a period of declining radio listenership and revenue.

Bottoms up

Into this void stepped elements who until then had been excluded from Pacifica governance. In my opinion, no one will ever describe them better than Boal, also horrified by the present situation—”the esperantists, propeller heads, world government paranoiacs, and stranded Maoists who are regularly elected with as few as two hundred votes out of the many tens of thousands of listeners at each station.”

Apparently the chair to WBAI’s Local Station Board as of January thought he was being reasonable when he assured a New York Times reporter that, while he embraces various 9/11 conspiracy theories, “He draws a line at those who believe that the planes that hit the World Trade Center towers were holograms.”

Earlier the Pacifica National Board’s governance committee considered a funding disclosure motion “the objective” of which was “to have [Democracy Now’s] Amy Goodman tell us where she’s getting money and what the money is buying.” The reason for the motion, its advocate explained, “is because there has been a lot of debate about whether Amy Goodman has received CIA conduit foundation funding from the Ford Foundation and other places known long time suspected conduits for CIA funding.”

Boal correctly identifies the problem as stemming in large part from Pacifica’s single transferable voting system, which picks winners who have received very few votes. But it’s also what the by-laws don’t require that has contributed to the problem. First, almost all LSB seats go to elected listener delegates. A smaller portion go to station staff elected by the staff. That excludes a huge constituency on the Left—talented people who have something to contribute, but don’t want to run in elections.

Second, Pacifica’s by-laws don’t establish a clear firewall between governance and programming. So most individuals elected to Pacifica’s boards see their job as in some capacity acting as the program director for their respective Pacifica station. At one Berkeley LSB meeting that I attended, the discussion was ostensibly about approving the station budget. But several board members launched into rants about how the problem with the budget was that they experienced KPFA’s programming as too dull; that was the real issue.

In the last election, a Bay Area newspaper endorsed candidates who promised to try to get the paper’s editors air time on KPFA.

In short, most of Pacifica’s “board members” don’t actually see themselves as board members, preoccupied with the unglamorous but necessary work of such folk—budgets, recruitment, capital campaigning, strategic planning, and such. They really want to be their station’s general manager or program director, or spend their days telling those people what to do. Their campaign statements are inevitably about “taking back” their station because it isn’t radical, diverse, militant, conspiracy focused or what-have-you enough. And once they get their board seat, they find themselves confronted by other self-appointed saviors with contrasting agendas, and paralyze their board’s potential usefulness with their disagreements.

Some folks have offered services in contrast to the above, it should be noted. Here in the Bay Area, the Concerned Listeners slate has fought the good fight to bring skills and sanity to the governance table. But they’ve been consistently bludgeoned by the propeller heads. Anyone would be. Pacifica governance as it is currently constructed is a losing game for the reasonable person.

The (hopefully) future

What should replace this mess? Assuming that Pacifica survives the next few years, I’d like to see governance go back to something like what it was around 1998—smaller, self appointed local station boards that elect delegates to the national board; some kind of mechanism of recall for lousy board members; some kind of clear proviso that board members have nothing to do with programming. That’s it in the summary version.

Doubtless those of you who have always found me annoying and reactionary are cheering this post (Lasar withdraws! Hooray!). Those of you at least somewhat sympathetic to my viewpoint may forward it to one or more of the slates running in this election cycle. You will probably be told that now is not the time to leave the field of battle. The situation is dire (it always is). The very future of your respective station is at stake, and your absence (being what a wonderful, indispensable person you are) would literally represent the death blow to Pacifica radio, or some significant portion of it.

I, on the contrary, think that your non-cooperation with this farce could actually help Pacifica radio. The organization’s current by-laws stipulate that these elections must receive ballots equal to 10% to claim legitimacy. Let’s send a message to Pacifica’s bloated political class that it is anything but legit.

And next time you pledge money to your local Pacifica station (as do I), include a note stipulating that you want your donation to be used for programming, not elections or board related administrative costs.

It’s your call. As for me, I’m out. I supported this experiment, but it has failed.


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13 Responses to Pacifica radio board elections – count me out

  1. Julie Drizin June 21, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    Thanks for a thoughtful and informed analysis. It is sad to see Pacifica continue its downward spiral. When I saw that 4 out of 5 station general managers positions were once again open, I thought who in good conscience could recommend someone they know or care about take those embattled jobs. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I can’t imagine that anyone with the right experience would consider it or even get hired.

  2. Michael Huntsberger June 21, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    Matthew – Thank you for this wonderful post. I’ve always had a great respect for your work in general, and your deep insights into Pacifica in particular. For those who exited during the 1999-2001 governance fights, it is tempting to say “I told you so,” but that is a terrible disservice to the memory of Lew Hill and the ideals he championed. Nevertheless, the organization is now living with the legacy of those years – the foundation is ungovernable, the stations are unmanageable, and the entire operation is plowing headlong toward bankruptcy.

  3. bob mason June 21, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    The videos attached to this article make its case in the most compelling way – for all the talk about democracy, pacifica local station board meetings and national meetings have been shouting, yelling and screaming battles between factions all claiming to take back the station from the lackeys of the ruling class. This has been true for more than a decade. A more nightmarish parody of ‘left’ or ‘alternative’ politics could not have been better scripted by a neoconservative ideologue.

    I hope that Matthew’s suggestion that a non-vote of no-confidence is our best hope to improve the situation is viable. I think he’s probably right – though I also think it’s a long shot. There’s a bunch of good programming on the KPFA, and I hope against hope that it might survive a reconstruction of the network and a move toward sanity.

  4. Bayard Condon June 25, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    Motion submitted to Pacifica Governance Committee 10-30-09

    Motion: That the Bylaws be re-written to give effect to the following provisions.

    1. That Local Station Board (LSB) size be reduced from 25 members to 13, plus GM. That this reduction be accomplished by attrition with no alternates seated until the board size drops below thirteen, over one three year elections cycle, and,

    2. That each LSB send two representatives, instead of four, to the PNB, as a reduction in the size of the PNB, elected annually, and,

    3. That LSB elections be held once every three years, instead of two times every three years, and,

    4. That STV voting and other forms of proportional representation be ended in favor of a simple and transparent winner take all system, and,

    5. That the distinction between an LSB member and a Delegate member be discontinued, and that Local Station Boards shall assume all the duties, functions and authority of an Assembly of Delegates, and,

    6. That the PNB management be asked to prepare a financial impact statement of these proposed changes within 30 days.

    Discussion:

    This motion seeks to modify some of the most pernicious aspects of the elections system we have inherited, systemic flaws adopted on their theoretical value without consideration of the consequences of real world application.

    a. Large cities are governed better with smaller boards. Group Dynamics theory suggests that boards above twenty will break into factions. Reducing board size will also permit LSB meetings to be held at the respective stations, which they should do, instead of rented halls, for an additional cost savings.

    b. These elections create a permanent environment of chaos and conflict, and lead some to do strange and hostile things in pursuit of perceived factional advantage. They put the foundation at risk each time. Governance and management deserve a period of quiet to do the work they are supposed to do, a three year period, without interruption. This will cut the costs of elections in half, by having half as many of them.

    c. Reducing the size of the PNB will have all the same advantages of reducing LSB size, for the same reasons, and will reduce the cost of care and feeding of members by having fewer of them fly around and look after for meetings.

    d. STV voting may work fine for a country, like Australia, where it permits Greens and Social Democrats seats in Parliament, but it is completely inappropriate for a non-profit foundation board. STV voting is not transparent, requires a priesthood for electoral interpretation, and is the primary cause of bringing persons into governance whose main work seems to be disrupting the ability of governance to function.

    e. This distinction between LSB members and Delegates serves no common sense purpose, and confuses most members/delegates if they even know about it. This legalistic edifice, embraced mostly by the anarchists among us, is used largely to prevent LSBs from disciplining disruptive or violent members, dragging these processes out for months of legalistic obstruction. An LSB meeting can simply be defined as an Assembly of Delegates whenever it convenes, or better just remove it from the bylaws.

    f. These measures will save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Many confuse what we are doing here, and conduct themselves like we are governing a city, or that we are some banana republic in need of liberation. These common sense proposed bylaws revisions are intended to bring us closer to home, to the real work of governing a non-profit foundation operating five radio stations.

    Very Truly Yours,

    Christopher Bayard Condon

  5. jim dingeman June 26, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    I consider your post self serving and deceptive in the extreme. You certainly do not include in your analysis how the faction in the East Coast that you are essentially aligned with , the JUC, did their best in their nearly ten years of rule here in NYC to sabotage the ability to have the election process work at all. All you are really arguing for is a return to the kind of Platonic GUARDIAN class rule we experienced in Pacifica before the revolts began in the early nineties. You abuse your status as the “historian” of Pacifica with such transparent tactics.

    Jim Dingeman

  6. Arie Kashnir June 26, 2010 at 1:32 am #

    I understand your frustration with the way elections are conducted and the amount of money that is spent. However, i think that your analysis of the situation is nothing but short sighted in approach. Your proposal to a solution is to go back to the old ways when Pacifica’s board was appointed, instead of embracing the democratic process of inclusion that was adopted by Pacifica to transform the station into a real community radio station network. Plus those same people that you so call propeller heads are the same people that listen and that are members of this station and pay membership to Pacifica. So if this is a community listener supported radio station, how is the community supposed to participate in the decision making process of what is theirs? To me the amount of people that serve on the Pacifica board is not necessarily the question at hand because regardless of how many people serve, if there is not a good structure in place it does not serve the purpose. So i think the problem is not so much the people that serve on the board but the way the board’s structure is dysfunctional to support a real democratic system. I believe that if the board were to develop a solid strategic plan before anything else and divide themselves into organized committees that it might actually be better to have a lot of people on the board as more people means more hands and more outreach and extension into the community. This is what is called the governance board vs the working group board. A governance board is in charge of setting the vision for the organization and a solid structure from which staff can guide its actions. Being that programming is inherently the product that we are dealing with here, as it is a radio station, it is impossible to expect board members to NOT talk about programming. For a governance board talking about programming is not so much talking about the end product or the service delivered, in this case content, but rather talking about the needs of the community at large within the context of programming. Board members are community producers making the necessary connections between the operational activities of the organization and the community, the board analyzes and brings the community together to assess community’s needs, the staff therefore implements the programs that would help fulfill those needs. I think a solution is possible once a Strategic Plan is developed taking into consideration the slates that exist and the possibility of transforming those slates into committees.

  7. Matt Brazil June 26, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    The time has come for a more conventional approach in order to keep the network from going under. Matthew is right.

  8. Tracy Rosenberg June 26, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

    Hi Matthew,

    Community events and development are not board-related expenses – they
    relate to speakers, crafts fairs and other things the stations do as
    events, usually to try to raise money. There is a revenue line for
    revenue generated from community events.Pacifica ‘s 2009 audit shows
    revenue generated from community events as $635K, so the $331K expense generated $300K in revenue beyond expenses.

    Communications expenses are also non-board related. If you examine the
    audit in detail (a link is below), those expenses allocate to the
    stations, with the big spenders being KPFK and WBAI – who are
    responsible for $200K of it. The national office share is only $28K or
    less than 10% so there is little if any governance expense in those
    figures.

    Board expenses are transparent. They are declared at $265K and that’s
    pretty much what they were.

    A total of 2.5% of Pacifica’s 2009 revenue.

    And less than half the operating deficit at KPFA alone in 2009.

    When we speak about these matters publicly, we should try to be
    accurate about the figures. Pacifica does have financial stresses, but
    they are caused by many factors including structural operating
    deficits at several of the stations. We don’t help when we
    oversimplify or say things that are simply not true.

    Here’s a link to the 2009 audit file:
    http://www.pacificana.org/public/files/National/Financials/Audits/PacificaAudit2009.pdf

    Regards,

    Tracy Rosenberg
    Executive Director, Media Alliance
    Pacifica National Board – KPFA Listener Rep

    Also – it should be noted that the slate Matthew Lasar has endorsed for many years previously was allied with and voted with the folks in New York responsible for the disruption pictured in the video. I share his disgust, but I do not share the responsibility for it that he and the Berkeley “Concerned Listeners/Save KPFA folks have.

  9. Paul DeRienzo June 27, 2010 at 5:25 am #

    The role of Amy Goodman and Democracy Now in Pacifica’s troubles have been swept under the rug. Mitch and the democratizers would have remained the powerless gadflies that they were 11 years ago if Goodman and Gonzalez hadn’t got it into their heads to steal DN! from Pacifica. I know she reflects the slightly left of liberal politics of most of you, but she’s always been a little overly mainstream for me so I don’t have any problem pointing out her destructive role in this mess. She opposed our union at WBAI, she supported bizzaro ideas like an unpaid staff union, not on principle but to undermine her opposition since she herself was an AFTRA member. She secretly and illegally trademarked DN! months before she walked out (she was never removed by Pacifica) and seems to have had all the structures in place to take Pacifica’s property long before the first shots were fired (they really were) in Berkeley. It’s funny that with all the guff about “selling” a station the only Pacifica property that was lost was given away to Ms Goodman.

  10. Paul DeRienzo June 27, 2010 at 5:27 am #

    I’m glad you enjoyed my videos of the PNB last summer. You can watch more at

    http://www.youtibe.com/letemtalk and http://www.youtube.com/djpaulypauld

  11. Sherry Gendelman June 27, 2010 at 12:09 pm #

    Ms. Rosenberg asserts that Matthew Lasar and Concerned Listeners are responsible for the commotion in New York. Mr. Lasar’s responsibility is based upon the fact that he endorsed the Concerned Listeners slate, and subsequently, members of the Concerned Listeners slate, at times voted “yes” or “no” on issues before the PNB and/or LSBs that members of the JUC voted “yes” or “no” on as well. Wow! I like her “reasoning”. That would mean, for instance, that Dennis Kucinich is responsible for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan because he voted with people who voted for the wars on the issue of health care reform. Concerned Listeners does have a very clear and specific platform. It is one that supports the staff and the programming; it is one that does not attempt to dictate programming decisions or to control personnel issues beyond the authority granted to it by the by-laws. Concerned Listeners also believes in the notion that making radio is a profession, and that a good part of the affection that communities have for the stations is based upon their appreciation of the work of the on air programmers. Concerned Listeners believe that they serve on the LSBs or PNBs, to support the programs many have come to rely upon, and to do what they can to strengthen the Network and its component part.

  12. Terry Goodman June 28, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    On 21 Jun 2010, Matthew Lasar wrote:

    >For the uninitiated, here’s Pacifica radio’s internal democracy in
    >a nutshell. Periodically the network’s bona fide listener subscribers
    >and staff (paid and volunteer) vote for local boards of 24 members
    >each.

    Actually, they vote for delegate candidates, not LSB candidates. The Local Station Boards have 24 delegate members and one or more non-delegate members, with a third of the delegates terming out at each election.

    >These boards have some authority over budgets and key management
    >hirings.

    If an LSB can’t approve a budget, the PNB will approve one for them. The LSBs cannot choose any hire, but can prevent a permanent GM or PD
    hire by not including the ED or GM’s favorite in their candidate pool. If the ED or GM has no favorite or no interest, the LSB’s favorite may be hired. If the ED or GM has a favorite not in the LSB’s pool, then the hire is called interim but may last years.

    >They also appoint delegates to the network’s ultimate authority: the
    >Pacifica Governing Board,

    The delegates (not the LSBs) elect Directors (four from each station area). The Directors are not really “delegates” since their fiduciary responsibilities are to the Foundation. They are not bound to any LSB votes but can be recalled through a special meeting of the local delegates.

    >which appoints a new Executive Committee every year.

    Pacifica abolished the PNB Executive Committee in the Settlement Agreement. There is a Directors-only Coordinating Committee that plans in–person meetings, but it is not generally empowered to take other actions on the Board’s behalf.

    >The Governing Board oversees the Pacifica Foundation, which
    >owns all Pacifica property, including the network’s five FM licenses
    >in Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, D.C. and Houston.

    Correct.

    >Worse by any standard
    >
    >But by any metric, democracy at Pacifica has been a disaster.

    Democracy has not resulted in good governance, which is the best metric.

    >Has it alleviated Pacifica’s famously contentious atmosphere? No.

    Democratization has formalized contention in election campaigns and in meetings conducted under the rules of parliamentary procedure, giving public voice to representatives of listeners, who previously had no formal outlet.

    >In fact, the internal life of Pacifica has arguably become much worse
    >on a day-to-day level.

    The internal life of Pacifica – what goes on between management and staff at the stations — has been generally unaffected by governance democratization, aside from the inconvenience of occasional meetings on station property.

    >Has it helped to improve the network’s air sound? To the extent that
    >there have been improvements, they have taken place in spite of
    >Pacifica governance, not because of it.

    Governance can encourage or discourage air sound improvements, but that’s not its real role.

    >Are Pacifica’s finances in better shape because of its democratic
    >structure? Hardly. According to its latest audit, Pacifica Radio earned
    >$12,594,835 in revenue in 2009, a calamitous drop of $4.2 million from
    >2008, which saw revenue of $16,768,908. In other words, Pacifica
    >lost the equivalent of a third of its earnings for last year. Most of that
    >decline was in listener support and donations, which tanked by 27
    >percent.

    Except for governance expenses, the primary responsibility for declining revenues rests with management, which is dependent on staff. The PNB does choose the Executive Director. The Executive Director does choose station General Managers (but the Local Boards can theoretically impede a GM dismissal).

    >Two more years of decline like this, and I fear that for all practical
    >purposes, Pacifica will cease to exist. But that doesn’t stop the
    >organization from spending a queen’s ransom on what seems to be
    >the most important activity to its leadership: governance and the
    >network’s failed system of listener-subscriber elections, in which
    >only slightly more than a tenth of the subscribers actually participate.

    There will be costs in governance, whether democratized or not. Previous governance likely delivered more value for the expense, but also with significant risk.

    >A “gross exaggeration?”
    >
    >How much do these elections cost? Who knows?

    Each Pacifica election costs in the neighborhood of $200,000. There delegate elections in two out of every three years.

    >According to this financial document, in 2009 Pacifica spent over a
    >quarter of a million on “board expense” — $265,687 to be exact.

    That’s the cost of governance.

    >Another $323,074 was spent on “communications expense,”

    I don’t know what that is. Teleconference fees should already be included in the “board expense” line item.

    >and $331,640 went to “community events and development.”

    That’s not a governance expense.

    >I’m guessing that somewhere in that cool 900K is the actual sum spent
    >to keep that scary circus otherwise known as Pacifica governance in
    >the manner to which it has grown accustomed.

    The $265,687 figure is closer. Pacifica’s democratized PNB has “grown accustomed” to not having the level of perks awarded to previous Pacifica Directors, but there’s more Directors under the new system, which means more flights, more hotel rooms, and more inflated catering fees.

    >I’ve got the numbers from earlier years (documents folder here). In
    >2004 the network spent $206,571 in “board election expenses.” In
    >2005 it was $183,941.

    Membership elections are expensive. Printing and postage cost a lot.

    >Pacifica’s finances web site doesn’t include the audits for 2006 through
    >2008.

    Pacifica laid off its webmaster a couple of years ago.

    >And for some reason this latest audit doesn’t break that figure down.

    Pacifica switched auditors last year.

    >But maybe some recent correspondence can help. Media scholar and
    >Counterpunch author Ian Boal put the last election’s cost at $700,000.
    >”This is a gross exaggeration,” a former National Board Chair protested
    >in a response.

    It was a gross exageration. Boal is a poor source for any Pacifica information or analysis.

    >”The election cost less than half that amount, including lawsuits.”
    >
    >Maybe or maybe not. But for the sake of argument, I’m presuming that
    >the last round cost Pacifica around a third of a million dollars, “including
    >lawsuits,” which have become a normal part of Pacifica’s internal life.

    Most Pacifica lawsuits have been initiated by employees or former employees. An election-related suit in Houston was dismissed with minor expense to the Foundation. An election-related suit in Los Angeles was dropped with minor expense to the Foundation. An election-related suit in New York has cost far more than it should, because the Foundation (as in Los Angeles) was following poor advice and refusing to correct its errors.

    >So if we speculate that in 2006 through 2008 election expenditures
    >stayed at the lowest figure available (2005: $183,941), Pacifica has
    >spent close to a million on its politicians over the last six years.

    Pacifica’s politicians receive little benefit from the elections, which are designed to benefit the members by giving them a voice in governance. Local board expenses are usually in the range of $100 to $200 per month for venue rental and such. National board expenses are much greater.

    >That’s the equivalent of salaries and benefits for two dozen reporters,
    >on-air hosts, and producers.

    Yes, without democratization there would be no election expenses.

    >So how did we get into this mess? That requires an analysis of how
    >we got in. Here’s mine.
    >
    >No Left
    >
    >When this new system was initiated, Pacifica had just recovered from the
    >awful management coups at KPFA and WBAI-FM in New York City from
    >1999 through 2001. The crude philosophy behind these actions backfired,
    >of course, especially after 10,000 KPFA subscribers demonstrated on behalf
    >of their closed station and reacted with alarm to Pacifica National Board
    >deliberations to sell the license.

    Yes, though the “deliberations to sell the license” could more fairly be charcterized as “the initial distribution of a proposal to cash in commercial band licenses by swapping them for noncommercial band licenses.”

    >Thus came ever louder calls to reclaim the organization, which lunged
    >Pacifica in the opposite direction: the excruciatingly democratic by-laws
    >of 2002, partially summarized above. This reform had its heart in the right
    >place, but the conditions for its success were never met. Making
    >democracy at Pacifica radio work would have required an enormous
    >commitment from progressives across the country.

    The primary condition for success that was not met was cooperation and commitment from Pacifica’s management.

    >The task needed an influx of skilled people and money. But none of
    >that materialized in 2002 and 2003. Quite the contrary, the national
    >celebrities who very actively supported the democratization of Pacifica
    >from 1999 through 2001 walked away from the project.
    >
    >To be fair, they had bigger fish to fry by 2002: Web 2.0 and its
    >possibilities beckoned, the Bush regime was in full swing, the war
    >in Iraq was impending.

    Continuing national celebrity involvement may have helped in securing a better Executive Director, but even a professional Board would have needed Foundation management to cooperate in providing information for Board deliberations.

    >But there were less noble reasons for the abandonment of the cause.
    >Various luminaries in media and the academy (Zinn; Ellsberg; Chomsky)
    >offered rhetorical support to Pacifica democracy on behalf of individual
    >Pacifica programmers and staff who were, in fact, just trying to save
    >their jobs or shows at the stations. Not a few individuals who cheered
    >the process on read the Pacifica fight less as a institution building project,
    >and more as a metaphor for the larger corporatization of media. And the
    >losers in the struggle – those who supported the old regime – certainly
    >weren’t going to lend a hand to Pacifica’s reconstruction.

    Management non-cooperation with the new governance allowed managers to continue on with little accountability.

    >Bottom line: the American Left was willing to fight the Pacifica war,
    >but it wasn’t willing to stick around for the peace. And democracies
    >don’t just magically work by themselves. They need resources and
    >stability to flourish. Instead, democratized Pacifica radio found itself
    >starved for support during a period of declining radio listenership and
    >revenue.

    The amateurs elected as Delegates in Pacifica’s early elections didn’t know enough to get themselves trained, and Pacifica’s managers didn’t care enough about being responsibly governed to invest in that needed training. Over the next year or two, bad habits then became the ways things in govrenance were done (or not done).

    >Bottoms up
    >
    >Into this void stepped elements who until then had been excluded
    >from Pacifica governance. In my opinion, no one will ever describe
    >them better than Boal, also horrified by the present situation: “the
    >esperantists, propeller heads, world government paranoiacs, and
    >stranded Maoists who are regularly elected with as few as two
    >hundred votes out of the many tens of thousands of listeners at
    >each station.”

    It’s exaggeration, but it makes the point.

    >Apparently the chair to WBAI’s Local Station Board as of January
    >thought he was being reasonable when he assured a New York
    >Times reporter that, while he embraces various 9/11 conspiracy
    >theories, “He draws a line at those who believe that the planes
    >that hit the World Trade Center towers were holograms.”

    First of all, the comment was filtered through the brain of a New York Times reporter. Second of all, everyone embraces various 9/11 conspiracy theories — there was more than a single airliner hijacked simultaneously, so there was obviously a conspiracy.

    >Earlier the Pacifica National Board’s governance committee
    >considered a funding disclosure motion “the objective” of which
    >was “to have [Democracy Now’s] Amy Goodman tell us where she’s
    >getting money and what the money is buying.”

    The purpose of the motion was to establish a Pacifica policy on program funding disclosure. Apparently, if Pacifica already had such a policy, it was not made available to its Board of Directors.

    >The reason for the motion, its advocate explained, “is because there
    >has been a lot of debate about whether Amy Goodman has received
    >CIA conduit foundation funding from the Ford Foundation and other
    >places known long time suspected conduits for CIA funding.”

    The maker of the motion had apparently received information about the content of Democracy Now!’s annual public IRS Form 990 filings that he considered alarming, but whether or not he had cause for alarm doesn’t detract from the fact that having a policy on funding disclosures would be a good thing. The Federal Communications Commission requires sponsorship identification in broadcast programming, and It is appropriate for Pacifica to, at a minumum, insure its regulatory compliance.

    >Boal correctly identifies the problem as stemming in large part from
    >Pacifica’s single transferable voting system, which picks winners who
    >have received very few votes.

    No, delegates are elected with few votes because there are few voters and there are several delegate seats to fill in each election.

    >But it’s also what the by-laws don’t require that has contributed to the
    >problem. First, almost all LSB seats go to elected listener delegates.

    Three-quarters of the delegates are from the listener-sponsor category of members.

    >A smaller portion go to station staff elected by the staff. That excludes
    >a huge constituency on the Left — talented people who have something
    >to contribute, but don’t want to run in elections.

    Nothing in the Pacifica Mission limits Foundation participation to “left” constituencies. Talented people who have something to contribute to governance should be incorporated via LSB advisory committees doing the real work of governance; but most LSBs have structured their committees to discourage good advice, in part because the elected Delegates have never been trained in the principles of policy governance, the parliamentary rules on the proper composition of committees, or the meaning of the bylaws section that briefly explains how these LSB committees were intended to be structured.

    >Second, Pacifica’s by-laws don’t establish a clear firewall between
    >governance and programming. So most individuals elected to Pacifica’s
    >boards see their job as in some capacity acting as the program director
    >for their respective Pacifica station.

    Good point.

    >At one Berkeley LSB meeting that I attended, the discussion was
    >ostensibly about approving the station budget. But several board
    >members launched into rants about how the problem with the
    >budget was that they experienced KPFA’s programming as too
    >dull; that was the real issue.

    That’s the issue when evaluating the performance of a Program Director. The KPFA LSB hasn’t done especially well in establishing a pool of candidates for the position while the station rotates through General Managers.

    >In the last election, a Bay Area newspaper endorsed candidates
    >who promised to try to get the paper’s editors air time on KPFA.

    Even in Pacifica, you can’t trust campaign promises.

    >In short, most of Pacifica’s “board members” don’t actually see
    >themselves as board members, preoccupied with the unglamorous
    >but necessary work of such folk — budgets, recruitment, capital
    >campaigning, strategic planning, and such. They really want to be
    >their station’s general manager or program director, or spend their
    >days telling those people what to do. Their campaign statements
    >are inevitably about “taking back” their station because it isn’t
    >radical, diverse, militant, conspiracy focused or what-have-you
    >enough. And once they get their board seat, they find themselves
    >confronted by other self-appointed saviors with contrasting agendas,
    >and paralyze their board’s potential usefulness with their disagreements.

    True enough. Until LSB members obtain the necessary training to understand the role assigned to these bodies in the bylaws (and the potential role that could be delegated by the PNB), they will not establish local governance mechanisms that will attract candidates interested in doing the real work that could be done in those roles.

    >Some folks have offered services in contrast to the above, it
    >should be noted. Here in the Bay Area, the Concerned Listeners
    >slate has fought the good fight to bring skills and sanity to the
    >governance table. But they’ve been consistently bludgeoned by
    >the propeller heads. Anyone would be. Pacifica governance as
    >it is currently constructed is a losing game for the reasonable person.

    Appropriate board training will require a management initiative and additional investment.

    >The (hopefully) future
    >
    >What should replace this mess? Assuming that Pacifica survives
    >the next few years, I’d like to see governance go back to something
    >like what it was around 1998 — smaller, self appointed local station
    >boards that elect delegates to the national board; some kind of
    >mechanism of recall for lousy board members; some kind of clear
    >proviso that board members have nothing to do with programming.
    >That’s it in the summary version.

    Making the board’s smaller would require bylaws amendment, but a firewall between govvernance and programming could be adopted as a PNB policy. Under the existing bylaws, lousy local delegates can be removed by a vote of the Directors, a vote of the local Delegates, or a vote of the local membership category after submission of a petition with enough signatures.

    Governance is not rocket science and it is not broadcast management. Even inexperienced amateurs could be trained in how to do it smoothly. The key to good governance is using it as a mechanism to accomplish decisions from among competing good options. The key to that is to limit board decision-making to proposals fully-vetted by well-staffed standing advisory committees. If individual LSB Member motions were routinely referred to committee, and if the committees were staffed by volunteers from the membership chosen on the basis of their related qualifications and expertise in providing trustworthy advice in motions crafted so as to obtain majority approval with a minimum of debate, progress could be made.

    >Doubtless those of you who have always found me annoying and
    >reactionary are cheering this post (Lasar withdraws! Hooray!). Those
    >of you at least somewhat sympathetic to my viewpoint may forward
    >it to one or more of the slates running in this election cycle. You will
    >probably be told that now is not the time to leave the field of battle.
    >The situation is dire (it always is). The very future of your respective
    >station is at stake, and your absence (being what a wonderful,
    >indispensable person you are) would literally represent the death
    >blow to Pacifica radio, or some significant portion of it.

    The Local Station Boards have little relevance to the stations. They won’t be local governing bodies until delegated additional authority by the PNB, and that won’t happen before they do a better job in the role already assigned. The selection of delegates does impact the eventual selection of Directors, however; and the selection of Board Directors impacts the selection of Executive Director and the authority that he or she is allowed to exercise.

    >I, on the contrary, think that your non-cooperation with this farce
    >could actually help Pacifica radio. The organization’s current by-laws
    >stipulate that these elections must receive ballots equal to 10% to
    >claim legitimacy. Let’s send a message to Pacifica’s bloated political
    >class that it is anything but legit.

    The bylaws stipulate that when quorum is not met the current delegates retain their seats with the legitimacy established in prior elections.

    >And next time you pledge money to your local Pacifica station (as do I),
    >include a note stipulating that you want your donation to be used for
    >programming, not elections or board related administrative costs.

    General listener donations are all treated the same regardless of the inclusion of stipulating notes, unless funds have been solicited for a particular purpose. Major donations and bequests can include restrictions on the use of such funds by requiring that the recipient agree to terms as a condition of fund acceptance.

    >It’s your call. As for me, I’m out. I supported this experiment, but it
    >has failed.

    The experiment in governance democracy has had few successes. I agree that it has largely failed, though in an environment of perpetual sabotage from within and without. It could be corrected through management initiative and relatively minor investment, but the chance of such initiative developing appears slight.

  13. Mitchel Cohen July 1, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    Bob Mason wrote:

    The videos attached to this article make its case in the most compelling way – for all the talk about democracy, pacifica local station board meetings and national meetings have been shouting, yelling and screaming battles between factions all claiming to take back the station from the lackeys of the ruling class.

    Bob, your post distorts the reality. My response:

    What is the sound of one faction screaming?

    In other words, the videos of the PNB meeting in NY show ONE FACTION, the misnamed Justice & Unity, intentionally disrupting the meetings.

    In actuality, the PNB managed to get a great deal done at that meeting, by going into Executive Session and keeping out the disruptors.

    By saying “a plague on both your houses” you’ve allowed the disruptors to achieve their goal.

    Mitchel Cohen
    Chair, WBAI Local Station Board*

    *For ID purposes only

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