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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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