Around now the Pacifica radio network should be hiring a supervisor to oversee Local Station Board elections for the foundation’s five listener supported radio stations. But the going has been slow, probably because the skeleton crew that runs the Pacifica National Office fears the costs of running the races and sending out mail ballots to the network’s 70,000 or so subscribers. After all, Pacifica station WBAI in New York City is in a near state of collapse, and what little money the foundation can spare should perhaps be applied to keeping the frequency afloat in some form.
And so Pacifica’s veritable company of national board and local board members (a little over a hundred all told; explainer here) are chatting among themselves in various committee meetings, trying to decide what to do. Earlier this month the Pacifica National Board voted to request the interim Executive Director to post a job opening for a National Elections Supervisor—this was reported at a subsequent Governance Committee meeting on July 17. But at that latter gathering Pacifica National Board member Lydia Brazon (KPFK in Los Angeles) noted that “there was no timetable yet or anything” attached to the directive.
Board members are also intimidated by the cost of the election, it appears. “We are critically short of resources,” Houston station KPFT’s Nancy Hentschel noted at the July 17 meeting. “The cost of the election is estimated at between two and three hundred thousand dollars. Putting it off would help.”
GC member George Reiter (and fellow KPFT representative) asked Hentschel where those figures came from. “You know,” she responded, “I’ve heard figures from $200 to $400,000, certain emails been floating around, but I just took the high end off” (I detected some mirth in her voice until she added that “we’re really in a critical critical period”; meeting audio here).
Other members of the committee were skeptical about the estimate. “These numbers of two to three hundred thousand sound unbelievably high to me,” KPFK’s John Cromshow declared. “I just don’t believe it. . . I’d really like to see some numbers before we accept the claim that it is hundreds of thousands of dollars that we don’t have.”
“What did they cost last year?” Cromshow asked, proposing a resolution requiring Pacifica to produce the figures. “Who has the paperwork? Somebody has that. Let’s force them to give it to us.” Furthermore: “We run this network as a CIA closed project,” he complained. “Everything is closed access; limited access; you have to belong to a committee to get the numbers. Look: let’s just give the numbers to everybody; the cost of the elections.”
I can’t force anybody at Pacifica to do anything, but sympathetic to Cromshow’s frustration, I put in an email to 2012 Pacifica National Elections Supervisor Terry Bouricius, asking him how much last year’s elections cost the organization. Here was his reply:
Matthew, I don’t have a solid number for the cost of these elections (I was not responsible for the budget and was not allowed to commit the Foundation to any expenses), but here’s what I can tell you.
The cost for the national, and five local election supervisors for about a half year was around $100,000 plus payroll and unemployment expenses, etc., (which I don’t know, but there were no “benefits”).
The costs for printing, postage, and election services paid to the Election Services Corporation I think will total at least $80,000 (There were a lot of extra services with sending out replacement ballots, etc. at the end, so this could be higher).
Other miscellaneous reimbursement expenses were probably around $2,500.
It is impossible to establish a firm figure for the cost of staff time diverted to election needs (cleaning up voter lists, recording carts, etc.).
Overall, I think a rough figure of $200,000 seems to be in the ball park.
Looks like Hentschel’s estimate wasn’t that far off the mark. It wouldn’t be the first time that Pacifica spent over $200k on elections, either. A 2004 foundation audit put the price tag at $206,571; subsequent audits: $183,941 (2005); $153,256 (2007); and a 2010 audit put “board members and elections” at $378,023—chances are that a hefty chunk of that went to elections.
I asked Pacifica National Board member and KPFA Berkeley LSB delegate Tracy Rosenberg whether she thought the election should go forward. “Yes, I think the elections should happen, although election costs need to be reduced,” Rosenberg replied:
“I understand the point of view that with some of the stations unable to maintain their current workforce in full that it’s awful to spend money on elections. That is the reason for this year’s delay. But elections are called for in organizational bylaws, members have voting rights and the CA Corporations Code requires elections to move ahead after no more than a 60 day delay. So I expect they will move ahead before the end of the allowed 60-day period of delay. I hope and expect to see significant cost-cutting efforts put into effect for this year’s election.”
This would be the second year in a row that Pacifica elections have been put off for a bit. Speaking personally, I hope that this is Pacifica’s last electoral contest. I won’t belabor the point too long, since I’ve been ranting about this for years (and years). Pacifica’s boards have, since the network “democratized” itself, cost the organization over three million dollars by now. These electoral events institutionalize and subsidize everything that is bad about Pacifica’s internal life, especially its penchant for factionalism, opportunism, and drama. They don’t protect Pacifica from anyone or anything, except perhaps talented individuals who don’t care to run in elections.
Probably the best move would be to revert to a more traditional board system. Each station could deploy a Local Station Board consisting of three management appointed delegates, three staff appointed delegates, three LSB appointments, and three “listener-subscriber” representatives, to be elected every two years or so. The LSBs would in turn send three representatives to the Pacifica National Board, which would represent the Pacifica Foundation, which owns the five station licenses. Smaller boards; less politics; less costs; less trouble.
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