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by Anna Kunkin
Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2002 at 3:53 AM
The Pacifica National Board met in Los Angeles for the 1st time in four years, the weekend of March 8, at the Virgil Middle School on Vermont Ave. This was especially sweet for listeners of local Pacifica station KPFK, since it marked the hard won victory over the "takeover" Board, which had plundered the network for the last few years.
There was a sense of pride, joy and accomplishment amongst the group of activist- listeners who came to watch their newly appointed Board work to rebuild the sorely wounded infrastructure of what is the only progressive, non-corporate sponsored public radio station in the nation; and that sense of victory lasted throughout the three days of what was, at times, tedious and slow work.
The first item on the agenda was a report back from Acting Executive Director Dan Coughlin on the financial state of Pacifica. In Dan's words, "Pacifica is on the verge of financial collapse." The old Board left the network with debts totaling almost five million dollars, almost half of which is for legal fees to pay five legal firms, hired to fight the activists who struggled to save the precious network for the progressive cause. Another large chunk of the debt is commitments of sovereign packages to fleeing board members, and 0,000 due to a spy firm hired to report on the activities of Save-Pacifica activists. These are monies which the network is committed to pay; although there will be investigations and negotiations to bring the debt down as much as possible, and to pay the balance in as long a time as possible. Bringing the debt down is of huge concern in order to save the network, and tight budgeting, difficult cost cutting, and fund raising are priorities. Four of the five stations in the network just held record-breaking fundraisers, a testament to the listeners understanding of the importance of these stations, and a statement of support for the new effort from the community. While this money is a huge help, and in the case of KPFK, will enable the station to repair and install a new transmitter, greatly expanding it's potential audience, it's still a drop-in-the-bucket of what is needed to pay off the debt and meet current expenses.
Report-backs from the station managers, interim and permanent, and the area LABS (Listener Accountability Boards) were more positive and uplifting. The recent fundraisers were amazing, with people coming to volunteer on the phones who hadn't been inside the stations in years, and people calling in to say they were returning with their support after long absences due to the problems with the previous Board. Steven Starr, Interim General Manager in Los Angeles was given a standing ovation for the great job he has done to rebuild KPFK in the weeks he has been there, as was LAB chair David Adelson, for being at the fore of the battle for years, and the originator of one of the four lawsuits against the previous board.
The two agenda items which needed the lion's share of time over the three days were the issues of choosing permanent General Managers for the Stations and the development of a process to create a new set of Bylaws for the network:
The comments on the hiring of the General Managers ranged from concerns about race and gender, the need to hire people who will adhere to the principles of the Pacifica Mission, as well as concerns from staff-members about the need to hire people with good management skills and knowledge of effective media and not just people who fulfill the political agendas. A process was implemented, whereby each listener community will create committees to review applicants and resumes, and make submissions to the executive director who will then make the final decisions based on the community's recommendations.
As to the bylaws, since the previous ones put in place by founder Lew Hill, were faulty to the point of allowing the takeover by the previous board, it is necessary that the new bylaws be formulated to prevent anything like that from happening again. Of major concern is the need for total community involvement in both the process to create the bylaws and the actual creation of the bylaws themselves. What was finally agreed upon was that the Board will begin the process by creating a list of questions and issues that need to be dealt with in the bylaws. These will be made available on the Internet and to the Committees formed in each listening area by the Listening Communities in those areas. The questions will be answered by the Committees, which will then submit their answers back to the Board, which will in turn collate a draft of new Bylaws based on the answers from each Committee. These drafts will be sent back to the five Communities for feedback, which will go back to the Board. This promises to be a rather tedious process, but one that in the end will allow the people who support the Network a true voice in its operation. True Democracy ain't easy folks, but the rewards are well worth it.
Working through these issues, maintaining a transparent and democratic process is difficult in an arena that has been loaded with mistrust and secrecy for years, and it was sometimes painful to watch these processes unfold. In a discussion regarding the search for an outside controller, mistrust between some board members was evident, and participants from the listening activist community sometimes seemed to forget that the current board members are not working against them; but are even, in fact, people who in some cases fought shoulder-to-shoulder with them to win the network back. Still, the willingness to work through these issues was apparent throughout the entire meeting, and there was a sense of moving forward and of growth. Overall there is a sense of joy; people smiling hugging each other; and telling one another, "WE WON!" over and over again with almost a sense of disbelief since this battle at times felt so hopeless and seemed to go on for so long. This victory gives a true spark to the Progressive Community; now there's a sense of, "if we won this, who knows how far we can go if we keep on fighting."
Other agenda items dealt with were:
- A report back from chairperson Leslie Cagan on the negotiations for a long-term relationship with new show Democracy Now which are still on-going.
- A resolution from the striking PNN reporters that was unanimously approved by the Board, ending the strike. (the reporters were given a standing ovation.)
- And last but not least, the National Board Headquarters will be moved back to Berkeley before the end of the year.
The schedule for the next Pacifica National Board Meetings is:
- 6/21-22-23/02 in Berkeley, California
- 9/20-21-22/02 in Houston, Texas
- 12/6-7-8/02 in Washington, D.C.
- 3/22-23-24/03 in New York, N.Y.
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