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Pacifica radio Executive Director: foundation by-laws must be rewritten “from scratch”

WBAI The New York Times has weighed in on situation at Pacifica radio station WBAI in New York City with a story titled “Democracy May Prove the Doom of WBAI.” The New York station has laid off a huge percentage of its staff, we reported last week. Excessive fixed costs and inadequate programming played a big role in that unfortunate outcome. But interim Executive Director Summer Reese suggested to The Times that other changes are necessary as well.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

” . . . critics have long said that its top-heavy governance, with large local boards and frequent, expensive elections, have put the organization in a constant state of gridlock, and that unless Pacifica reforms it will simply govern itself to death.

‘This is what the board does,’ Ms. Reese said in an interview: ‘It fiddles while Rome burns’.”

And: “To reform WBAI and Pacifica, Ms. Reese said she wanted to tame the finances, improve programming and rewrite the bylaws ‘from scratch’.”

I’ve been one of those “critics” for a while, but I’d rather hear from Radio Survivor readers at this point. Here is the link to Pacifica’s by-laws. Do you think that they should be drastically rewritten? If not, why not? If so, how?

Civil comments always appreciated. Posts with epithets or multiple hyperlinks will wind up in our moderation queue.


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10 Responses to Pacifica radio Executive Director: foundation by-laws must be rewritten “from scratch”

  1. disbelief August 21, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    I read the NYT piece with some disbelief at the state Pacifica is in.

    How does that organization make a contract with a company (Democracy Now), accept the product of its labor (its show, and help in pledge drives at its stations), refuse to pay that company a penny to the tune of $2 million… presumably years of labor… and then get huffy for the workers not simply accepting their work then was free?

    How is that fair in any way? If this were any commercial business or nonprofit suggesting the money they owe for services they made millions from was only theirs, not to be shared with the workers who created the product, there would be righteous howling.

    Why is Pacifica not offering long-term plans to pay back IN FULL its most recognized face for her labor and that of her staff? Reese can’t expect anyone to believe Pacifica’s five stations haven’t collected $2 million in pledges over this period through airing Democracy Now.

    • Tracy Rosenberg August 25, 2013 at 10:04 am #

      It’s not correct that Democracy Now hasn’t been paid a penny by Pacifica. It’s been paid millions of dollars, just not the last million. Since 2002, when the initial contract is signed, through the current day, the total amount Pacifica contracted to pay Democracy Now is over $5 million dollars. The problem is signing contracts that go up every year regardless of whether the pledges received during the airing of the program go up or down, and they have gone down substantially in the last decade. Pacifica, unfortunately, has gotten a lot of bad legal advice over the years and tends to make decisions emotionally. Emotional ties to DN were not a good enough reason to sign a contract which was not advantageous to both parties involved. And in the end, it hasn’t proven that advantageous to DN either. Pacifica’s then-ED Greg Guma objected to the terms during the renegotiation in 2007 because he could see the numbers weren’t trending in support of the terms, but no one listened to him at the time. If you want to get into the factional stuff, the PNB was then-dominated by the “faction” Matthew has supported over the years, usually called Save KPFA/Concerned Listeners on the West Coast and Justice and Unity on the East Coast. It didn’t prove to be a good decision. Summer Reese is right to point to it as one of several problems she inherited from poor governance in previous years.

  2. PacListener August 23, 2013 at 3:39 am #

    The history is too deep in details to be exact but the essentials are this: Pacifica is controlled by people with political agendae and acumen who excel at propagandizing their causes and beliefs, but don’t know the first, next nor last things about running a radio station, let alone a network with 100+ affiliates and a historical archive of American progressive audio gold.

    It has now come back to where it all started, with the architect of this version of Pacifica calling for its dismantling so stations can be sold or traded for cash to pay off its debts, and those in power now postponing mandatory elections to “save money” so that they stay in control, cash out on decades of listener-funded radio, then re-write the by-laws to keep control of the cash gained from their efforts.

    It takes over 4, 000 people to recall a Pacifica board member, but the recall is blocked by the courts by board member action; the Pacifica by-law amendments require less than 800, but have to be vetted by the same boards that the amendments impact. What kind of “from scratch” re-write can we expect this time?

    • Tracy Rosenberg August 25, 2013 at 10:24 am #

      The last bylaws amendment proposed was pretty mild: it tried to reduce the size of the boards from 24 to 16 members. It was defeated by the local station boards in DC, LA and NY where some members argued that smaller boards would result in less racial and ethnic diversity on the governing boards. I’m intending to try resubmitting them again this year in the hopes that sanity will prevail this time. I don’t hold out that much hope for a comprehensive bylaws rewrite as some 75 fractious people would have to agree on something – and they won’t.

      If someone had wanted to profit from selling a radio license then the time to do that was 2002, when the network had twice the debt it has now (after the democratization the Mary Frances Berry un-elected group left behind about six million in debt) when WBAI or KPFA’s licenses could have netted $100 million plus. Nowadays, the selling price is just a fraction of that.

      I hope we don’t get there. I’m a big advocate of holding on to media infrastructure. There’s not much left out of government hands on the noncommercial side. But people worry about Pacifica’s irrelevance and debt ratio and want a solution to that right away. I’m inclined to think the frying pan is worse than the fire.

      The impediment to elections is that neither New York nor DC can pay their share. Even if you thought it was okay to scoop money from another station to cover them (and I don’t), the two CA stations both lost money KPFA and KPFK last year and KPFT’s mild surplus isn’t sufficient. They’ll have to be held sooner or later, but a postponement will at least let NY and DC save up enough to be able to pay their share, which is impossible right now with both stations undergoing major transitions. Even 6 months would probably help them a lot. I don’t really see the issue with “hanging on to power”. The local boards would select their national representatives all over again in January just like they always do and they can send different representatives to national if they want to.

      In the end, it’s about operating radio stations. Elections are a part of having a governance system with checks and balances, but it’s not the point of the organization, so I couldn’t support placing so much pressure on the East Coast stations with election costs right now that they ceased to broadcast or had to close their doors. Give them some time to recover.

  3. Ann Garrison August 26, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    I agree it’s time for a rewrite but I was talking to a KPFA Local Station Board member today and she said, “Rewrite the by-laws? Yeah sure, we could propose a few Amendments to the Constitution while we’re at it.”

    I asked a couple of people to run for the LSB last time and they both got elected. Actually one was the first runner-up who took her seat when Laurence Shoup stepped down. I keep hoping they don’t hate me for getting them into this.

  4. Matthew Lasar August 29, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    These responses are so disappointing. Attacks and pessimism. Pessimism and attacks. First “disbelief” throws potshots at Summer Reese for the fact that Pacifica owes Democracy Now money, a problem that predates her ascension as interim Executive Director. Then “PacListener” constructs a conspiracy theory around an “architect” of the by-laws. Finally, Tracy Rosenberg throws darts at me, alleging that “over the years” I’ve supported a “faction” called “Save KPFA/Concerned Listeners on the West Coast and Justice and Unity on the East Coast” which is supposedly to blame for a lot of stuff.

    As Tracy knows, I have not endorsed any faction at Pacifica since Concerned KPFA Listeners changed its name to SaveKPFA in 2010. I don’t vote in Pacifica subscriber elections. I take stances on various issues that sometimes dovetail with SaveKPFA and sometimes do not. I did not support the SaveKPFA recall campaign against Rosenberg and I do not support SaveKPFA’s push for Pacifica elections to continue. I have never supported Justice and Unity at WBAI, a silly suggestion that I presume Rosenberg thinks makes sense because SaveKPFA Pacifica National Board members vote with Justice and Unity on various issues. I regularly post front page commentaries by adversaries of SaveKPFA on this blog, including Rosenberg herself—hardly the sign of a SaveKPFA supporter.

    Nearly three years (the last three) is a lot of years to omit from the phrase “has supported over the years,” but that’s the way Tracy rolls. Comments on this post are disabled. If you actually want to say something about changing the by-laws, email me at matthew@radiosurvivor.com and I’ll add your remarks to the thread. If you need to attack somebody, go do it on Facebook or Indybay.

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