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Pacifica Board Fires Exec Dir Summer Reese; Is This a War with no Winner?

Last Thursday the national board of the Pacifica Foundation fired Executive Director Summer Reese, who was hired for the position in November after serving on an interim basis for more than a year.

The how and why of Reese’s ouster are unclear. According to the New York Times article that broke the story, board members on the conference call meeting said that no cause was stated for the motion to fire her. Pacifica Board Chair Margy Wilkinson did not elaborate in comments made to both the Times and to Current.

Then, on Monday, Reese reported to work at Pacifica’s Berkeley, California offices. In an email memo to Pacifica station managers, staffers and programmers she made reference to “illegitimate actions of board members,” and maintained that she has a “signed and valid contract for three years of employment from the Board of Directors, and that I full intent to complete that contract[.]”

According to Current, Wilkinson asked Reese to leave, and Reese refused. In an email to Current Reese wrote, “We are not allowing the coup to proceed. Everything is fine. I am in my office. Staff are working. There are about a dozen supporters and four opposition in the building.”

As of 2 PM Pacific Time on Tuesday I have neither read nor received any additional reports indicating if Reese is still reporting to work at Pacifica headquarters, nor heard any additional response from the Pacifica national board.

Of course, this being Pacifica, there are many claims and counter-claims about the motivations behind Reese’s firing, and what this move portends. At this point I must admit that it is difficult for me to find the energy to parse them all and do the kind of due diligence reporting necessary in order to knit some kind of plausible narrative. Please note I am not saying this is impossible, nor that it is useless, but rather that I have little interested in doing this myself.

While I find the current state of Pacifica to be deeply tragic, I do not take a position amongst the factions who battle for control. It appears to me that the all-too-likely outcome of this flare up is only an acceleration of Pacifica’s declining relevance.

As the founding organization of American community radio and the operator of the medium’s most significant syndication network, Pacifica’s important place in history is undeniable. But, as seen in last fall’s closing of Free Speech Radio News, community radio’s reliance on Pacifica has become a liability.

I do not mean to neglect the value Pacifica’s five stations have to their local communities, nor the service that the network’s programming has given to stations across the country. Yet, at the same time, much of that value has been undermined by the way Pacifica’s various crises have played out at both local stations, like WBAI, and at the national level. I fully admit that my imagination may be very limited, but I have a difficult time seeing how these many power battles over stations and the network itself will resolve into a healthy network of five stations with hundreds of affiliates.

If this is a war for Pacifica, I do not see how there can be a winner.

Speaking only for myself, I report on Pacifica because it is still hangs on to some significance in community radio. For its five local stations, for its satellite distribution system and the programs that stations and millions of listeners rely on every day. What happens at Pacifica continues to impact hundreds of community stations and their listeners, though the measure of that impact seems to be reduced very year.

I am not convinced that detailed reporting on the contours of these battles offers much of lasting value to the broader radio community whom we try to serve at Radio Survivor. As someone who has been in community radio for twenty years, and observed the many phases of the wars for Pacifica from a variety of vantage points and proximities, I find it frustrating trying to make sense of it all. From the outside it can appear to be steeped in the narcissism of small differences. While I understand that characterization may be offensive to those who have so much invested in Pacifica, I also hope that it is seen as a reflection of how the battles risk not just the organizational and financial survivor of the foundation, but its relevance to the very listeners and broadcasters who also wish for its survival, but are not willing to pay the price of partisanship.

I will continue to report on Summer Reese’s status and the state of the Pacifica Foundation as we receive verifiable information. I am open to respectful discussion and debate about the situation in our comments section and discussion forums. We also welcome the submission of Op-Ed pieces that are written in the spirit of open discussion, while we reserve the right to refuse those that engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, potentially libelous accusations or hate speech.

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10 Responses to Pacifica Board Fires Exec Dir Summer Reese; Is This a War with no Winner?

  1. SaveKPFA March 18, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    An important article from the LA Weekly about the Pacifica network:

  2. Jara Handala March 20, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Thanks for the article, Paul, & I concur that all this is exasperating, but perhaps unavoidable given that these Pacifica disputes have been going on for aeons.

    The Pacifica Foundation Radio home page has the briefest of reports, undated, on the 13 March National Board meeting, so uninformative that if it came from corporate media then Counterspin would have led with it in its programme last Friday:

    “The Pacifica National Board met in closed session to discuss personnel matters related to individual employees of the foundation.
    We thank Summer Reese for her service to date and will not continue her employment effective March 14, 2014 ”

    Interestingly it doesn’t say (1) which party terminated the employment of Ms Reese, & (2) why this has happened. (Also it says “employees”, so other than just Ms Reese.)

    I would like to bring to the attention of readers what is purported to be relevant clauses of Ms Reese’s employment contract with Pacifica. This allegedly refers to a step in the termination procedure that hasn’t been reported on yet:

    “A termination during the probationary period would be subject to Human Resources review before being finalized.” (Paragraph VII). (published 11.55pm (PT?), yesterday, Wednesday, 19 March)

    Paragraph V allegedly says this:

    “Summer Reese shall be removable by Pacifica for cause for the duration of this employment contract [. . .] The following constitutes cause and its grounds to terminate the employment of Reese.
    (i) A willful breach of this Agreement or the willful and repeated neglect by Reese to perform duties that she is required to perform as Executive Director;
    (ii) Being charged with any criminal act related to employment at Pacifica;
    (iii) Conduct that violates Pacifica’s established work rules in a substantial manner.”

    So adequate cause has quite a high bar: “willful”, “repeated neglect”, “substantial manner”.

    Those on the so-called left always go on about transparency, & how opaque are the machinations of both capitalist corporations & state bodies. The Pacifica Foundation National Board have a lot of explaining to do – & almost a week has already passed.

  3. Tim Tyler March 20, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    While searching the FM spectrum, I came across a Pacifica network station in the San Francisco Bay area once. I listened for 15 minutes, and will never forget it — it was like I’d tuned-in another planet. The militant ‘progressive’ rants against George Bush & claims that his wealthy family had contributed to the creation of AIDS, crack-cocaine, and just about any other thing that was killing off ‘minorities’ was highly entertaining, and oh, what a better place the world would be if we conservatives just vanished, so that the liberal utopia could finally exist!

    I’m pleased that there’s disharmony in the halls of Pacifica Radio. I’ll bet George Bush is to blame.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels March 20, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

      You mean they were doing exactly what Lush Limpwad does, only with the opposite political slant? You don’t believe that “turnabout is fair play’?

    • Patrick April 15, 2014 at 11:01 am #

      And as a direct result you became so smug and confident that those liberal ninnies will never succeed that you now go around trolling liberal websites.

  4. Dennis Nilsson March 20, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    I ‘m listening to some of Pacifica’s shows here in Sweden. It is always good to hear different point of views on air. I hope Pacifica could continue.

  5. Mike V March 20, 2014 at 9:17 pm #

    What do you expect from a bunch of commies? I was a Pacifica staffer in the late 60’s/early seventies, and nothing has changed. At least I grew up, got a job and became successful, therefore anathema to Pacifica philosophy. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch, maybe this will lead to the long awaited demise.

  6. Donald Goldmacher March 22, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    I am not sure why people are not understanding what is so obvious. The contract with Summer Reese never went into effect, for two reasons: First, the agreement that Pacifica’s Board of Directors made with Summer last year provided that it would go into effect only after a background check was completed and approved by the Board. That never occurred. Second, the contract that Tracy Rosenberg keeps writing about was engineered by 2 of her allies on the previous board, but was never authorized or approved by that board. in February of this year, a new Board of Directors took office, apparently examined the above, and likely concluded that Summer Reese was not yet permanently hired by the Pacifica foundation. Now it is important to examine office in a historical context, specifically how did Ms. Reese perform while she was the interim executive director of the foundation? And that is really what this is all about.

    What follows is the track record of Miss Reese over the last few years, including her tenure as the chair of the Board of Directors, and her performance as the interim executive director while simultaneously holding the position of chair of the national board, obviously a conflict of interest that has led to the results listed below.

    Reese was chair of the Pacifica board in 2011, 2012, and 2013. During the last 18 months, she was also the network’s interim executive director. Under Reese’s tenure and that of her close ally, former Pacifica treasurer Tracy Rosenberg, the network’s problems grew exponentially.

    Pacifica’s independent news service, Free Speech Radio News, was forced to close because Pacifica failed to pay $200,000 owed to it. Over a million dollars is still owed by Pacifica to Democracy Now!

    At New York’s WBAI, Reese fired or drove out two program directors, and gave huge blocks of airtime to vitamin entrepreneur Gary Null, whose peddling of questionable supplements brought attention from the CPB Ombudsperson’s office after listener complaints that the station’s fundraising was “ethically-challenged,” and whose position denying HIV has angered many in the AIDS activist community.

    Last week, Pacifica finally paid the severance it legally owned to 19 WBAI employees Reese had laid off over 6 months ago. Of the $140,000 paid, $50,000 came from KPFA’s funds.

    At KPFA, Reese abruptly transferred general manager Andrew Phillips last year to the program director job at WBAI, then would not let him do the job he’d been tapped for. Reese also failed to appoint a new KPFA general manager as required by the bylaws, even though the Local Station Board hiring committee had interviewed and chosen four acceptable candidates.

    So that is her track record, which she will insist is a positive track record, but many involved in the Pacifica radio network think otherwise.

  7. Lisa E March 28, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

    Thank you Donald Goldmacher. This is the most lucid explanation I have read.

    It sounds like Pacifica may finally have competent management on board and there may be hope.

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