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Rough notes: Pacifica radio’s 7,200 person governance system

guys stuffed in a phone boothLast week The Village Voice posted a good piece on WBAI which identified overgovernance as a primary source of Pacifica radio’s woes. It credited me as someone who helped craft Pacifica’s by-laws, but I obtained a correction. I’m also cited as suggesting that around 2,200 people “are directly involved in the voting process” at Pacifica. For the life of me I can’t remember how that figure emerged during the course of my conversation with The Voice‘s Tessa Stuart, but I’m probably to blame for thinking out loud in front of a reporter.

Interview static aside, at this point a simple quantitative question arises. How large is Pacifica governance? That is, how many people are involved in it? It is hard to tell, but my rough guesstimate is around 7,200 people. Here is how I get that figure (bylaws here):

1. Pacifica has five radio stations. Each has a 24 “delegate” Local Station Board. The members this body are elected (when Pacifica has the money) by Pacifica station subscribers and staff. They appoint four members each to the Pacifica National Board of Directors, which governs the station owning Pacifica foundation; non-national board appointed LSB members also sit on Pacifica-wide governance subcommittees.

So 24 x 5 = 120 so far.

2. The Pacifica National Board has 22 and a maximum of 23 members (four LSB representatives from each station, plus two “affiliate representatives,” plus an appointed “at large director”).

So if you add those affiliate and at large people: 120 + 3 = 123.

BUT, don’t forget that:

3. The Local Station Boards can also appoint non-LSB members to LSB subcommittees. I don’t know how many non-board members are on those subcommittees. But from my inquiries I get the impression that the LSBs run subcommittees with perhaps three or so non LSB people on them at any given time: thus we can add three people from each Local Station Board to the guesstimate.

3 x 5 = 15. 123 + 15 = 138.

AND, remember that:

4. Each Pacifica station also has a “community advisory board” in addition to its LSB. Their board membership numbers vary: WPFW’s was 12 in May. I can’t tell the size of WBAI’s or KPFK’s. But KPFA’s was seven in July. So let’s be cautious and put the number at around eight for each station.

So 8 x 5 = 40. 40 + 138 = 178.

5. Then add to that Pacifica National Office management staff (around five people) and the board elections team – the latter is usually about six people. And the five general managers of the five stations, who often appear at board meetings.

178 + 16 = 194.

6. Last but not least, the voters themselves. How many of them are there? Well, the last election supervisor Terry Boricius issued a report on the 2012 election and he kept track of how many people submitted legitimate votes that were counted (see page 2). The total number of “valid ballots” for the four stations that made 10 percent quorum (KPFK didn’t) was:

KPFA subscribers/staff = 3,266/118 + KPFT subscribers/staff = 789/56 + WBAI subscribers/staff = 1,635/74 + WPFW = subscribers/staff 1,065/49 = 7,052.

7,052 + 194 = 7246

So let’s just say that over 7,200 people are involved in Pacifica governance to varying degrees. To be fair, the degrees vary considerably. But even if you eliminate everybody from this exercise except national board members and LSB delegates, we are talking about a non-profit governed by around 120 individuals, most of whom are elected. They aren’t brought in by anybody to build a consensus based, like-minded body of governors. They invited themselves and often disagree with each other pretty intensely.

Feel free to offer corrections or further observations to this guesstimate. Bottom line: Pacifica can’t possibly proactively navigate today’s complicated media landscape with this many players involved in its decision-making process.


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6 Responses to Rough notes: Pacifica radio’s 7,200 person governance system

  1. Tracy Rosenberg September 10, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    This is kind’ve a silly post, Matthew. Voting for board members doesn’t mean someone is “involved in governance”. It means they are a member with voting rights. If you took this analogy seriously, then you’d say that 10,000 people are “governing” the Sierra Club, as that’s a big organization and the members vote for the board members. But nobody really says that and with good reason. If you want to consider the community advisory boards to be governance, you can, but the Corporation for Public Broadcasting both requires their existence and defines them as not a part of the governance structure. I’m not aware of multitudes of listeners on LSB committees. Tabling at the Solano Stroll at a KPFA booth is not governance, although its a nice and helpful volunteer task. Bookkeepers and admin assistants at the national office also aren’t governance. They’re just people with jobs. So all that you’re that really left with is the local boards and the national boards. If you want to argue that there should just be a national board and no local ones, you could, but it would probably upset people who are heavily invested in localism. I can’t say that I would support the eradication of the local boards, although I did support a bylaws amendment last year to reduce the local and national board sizes by a third to 16 or 17 members. It failed to win enough support to pass as many people feared that smaller boards would lead to less racial and ethnic and gender diversity on the boards. I haven’t done any statistics (or know anyone who has) by looking at the 7th, 8th, and 9th place finishers in board elections over the last decade and seeing if they are disproportionately women and people of color. You’d have to do that to see if the fear was founded or unfounded. The bylaws amendment may get re-introduced this year as it probably lowers costs all around.

  2. Cerene Roberts September 13, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    (Although not directly responsive to your post and perhaps better placed under one of the older commentaries, http://bit.ly/18O4lfE or http://bit.ly/13FbVWZ, it does concern our governance system so I’ll put it here. You are free to make it a stand-alone item/article.)

    The clear intention of our bylaws was that the LSB would play an important role in the selection and dismissal of station management. To accept work-arounds such as instant removals, instant placements, administrative leaves, “loans” of personnel, and re-assignments is to sanction the trampling of our own rules. How results are obtained is part of what defines us and separates us from “the rest of them”.

    According to the bylaws, the PNB is the ultimate authority in the Foundation, but on the issue of station managers, it plays the role of tiebreaker only after an LSB has had its say. It does not replace the LSB and we should not facilitate any process that has that effect.

    Genuine participation means complete information and the opportunity to deliberate and vote. The fact that our local boards are so divided that at almost any given time someone will be unhappy with the results, does not mean that we should ignore the really big problem we create when powers given to the LSBs are taken by an executive.

    And we violate member trust and our fiduciary responsibility when we consent to such.

    Cerene Roberts
    In my individual capacity

    For identification only:
    WBAI Local Station Board
    Pacifica National Board
    WBAI Justice & Unity Campaign http://www.justiceunity.org

  3. Matthew Lasar September 13, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    Hair splitters take notice: I stand by my observation that Pacifica’s voting listener-subscribers and staff are involved in Pacifica governance, although to a lesser degree than board members, as I made clear. The reason is obvious: listener-subscribers and staff don’t just have "voting rights," they choose Pacifica’s governors! They do so directly by voting for station Local Station Board delegates, and indirectly when those delegates choose representatives to the Pacifica National Board, who are, not coincidentally, themselves. This would appear to be involvement to reasonable observers, perhaps less so to defenders of the status quo who understand how nutty Pacifica’s governance system looks to normal people and want to minimize its dysfunctional girth.

    As for the Community Advisory Boards, if Tracy Rosenberg wants to suggest that Corporation for Public Broadcasting statutory definitions reflect real community radio practice, that’s her call. Here’s mine: The local CABs advise Pacifica’s governance boards. Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley’s CAB charges itself with "assessing and reporting the needs of the community served by KPFA to the governing board and management of KPFA," according to official KPFA CAB literature. Its purpose is "to provide a vehicle for effective community input to the station’s governing body about station programming." Do they always effectively play this role? I doubt it. But the CABs are involved in Pacifica governance—in fact formally so.

    I did not suggest that tabling for KPFA at Solano Stroll has anything to do with governance. Who is being silly here? Nonetheless, I hope that Tracy or someone on the Pacifica National Board reintroduces that proposal to reduce local and national boards by a third. Enacting it won’t be easy. Not only does the Pacifica National Board have to pass the by-laws amendment, but three of the Pacifica Local Station Boards have to as well, and in the same month that the PNB votes for the measure. Nonetheless, hope springs eternal.

    WBAI Justice and Unity slate supporter Cerene Roberts appears to be obliquely protesting the transfer of Andrew Leslie Phillips from his job as interim General Manager at KPFA to his new post as interim Program Director at WBAI. She observes that the advise and consent role in management hiring that the LSBs are supposed to play has been mostly obliterated of late—end run in various instances via the placement of "interim" personnel by Pacifica executives.

    But that’s what happens when you adopt a governance system that involves so many people that it becomes effectively meaningless. Whoever finds themselves in charge eventually identifies ways to bypass expected procedures and do what s/he likes. That is where Pacifica is at now. The question is how long its five twenty-four member station LSBs and twenty or so National Board Members, selected by approximately 7,000 subscribers and staff, will perpetuate this massively unproductive arrangement.

  4. Kim Kaufman September 20, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    “The role of the [Community Advisory] board shall be solely advisory in nature, except to the extent other responsibilities are delegated to the board by the governing body of the station. In no case shall the board have any authority to exercise any control over the daily management or operation of the station.”
    http://www.cpb.org/stations/certification/cert3.html

  5. Matthew Lasar September 20, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    The Pacifica Radio network is falling apart. The latest casualty is Free Speech Radio News, which is owed $198k by Pacifica (around $20k less than the cost of a Pacifica-wide governance board election). But apparently there is always time to quibble. I presume that KPFK Local Station Board delegate Kim Kaufman has submitted this CPB language to bolster the strange assertion made above that the five station network’s Community Advisory Boards aren’t involved in governance. Yes, CABs play an advisory role (as in Community ADVISORY Boards, get it?), but they are charged to regularly meet and submit publicly solicited feedback to Pacifica’s governance boards. Hence they are involved in governance.

    The prickliness I’m getting on this post strikes me as a bit bipolar. Tracy Rosenberg and Kim Kaufman are part of a general movement that over the last two decades very loudly complained that listeners, staff, and various grassroots forces around Pacifica were not adequately involved in the organization’s governance system. So I assemble a list of ways that they now are, and suddenly the very same advocates rush to say it isn’t so. Why? To reiterate my earlier comment, I’ll wager that they know how absurd Pacifica’s expensive, divisive, wasteful Byzantine democracy-on-steroids system appears to Normal People. It would be an understatement to say that it looks, to borrow Rosenberg’s phrase, "kind’ve silly." Time to stop denying the mess and get out the scrub brush.

    • Kim Kaufman September 20, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

      I won’t argue there are problems. It’s just that what you see as problems aren’t the ones I see. And the remedy is very different.

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