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Between the Minutes: Scenes from a KPFA board meeting

by Daniel Borgström Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009 at 11:51 PM

There's an authoritarian left, and there's a democratic left. KPFA's Local Station Board is where the twain meet, but not always in good faith.


There's an authoritarian left, and there's a democratic left. KPFA's Local Station Board is where the twain meet, but not always in good faith.

For the democratic left at KPFA, public board meetings have been an essential part of the hope for transparency and accountability. These meetings were held monthly, but that has now changed. Only 7 meetings will be held in 2009.

That decision was a significant blow to listener and staff participation in KPFA governance, especially in the wake of the management take-over or elimination of 3 other by-law-mandated routes for community input: the Program Council, the UnPaid Staff Organization, and the Community Advisory Board. The reduction of monthly board meetings was enacted at the January 10th meeting of the Local Station Board (LSB), held at the Humanist Hall in Oakland. But it wasn't the only strange item on the agenda of that meeting. There was also to be an "investigation" of a flyer written by Tracy Rosenberg, a prominent KPFA activist, board member, and whistleblower.

Tracy Rosenberg had offended the dominant faction of the board, the Concerned Listeners (CL), by criticizing their upcoming fundraiser. The Cl'ers had publicized the fundraiser as a benefit for their own slate, but when criticized claimed that was erroneous, and that the benefit was actually for KPFA itself. The benefit was canceled when confused performers pulled out due to the lack of clarity about the purpose of the benefit. This displeased the CL'ers, and so it looked like this board meeting of January 10th would be GET TRACY day. Another board member, Noelle Hanrahan, was also in the CL's crosshairs.

22 board members were present, 13 of them CL'ers & allies. The opposition was in the minority, only Tracy and 8 others. The CL'ers and opposition sat facing each other across a U-shaped configuration of tables, exchanging looks that were not always friendly.

The very first thing the CL'ers did, after the meeting was called to order, was to unseat board member Noelle Hanrahan on the "technicality" that since she had recently joined the KPFA staff, she could no longer be a listener rep. However, Pacifica by-laws do not support removal of a board member on those grounds; in fact, there've been at least two precedents to the contrary. So the technicality was invalid. But the CL unseated her anyway, over objections from the opposition. The CL'ers replaced Noelle with one of their own, John Van Eyck, who ran on the CL slate in the last election.

The next significant item on the agenda was public comment. In each meeting half an hour is set aside for the audience to speak from the floor. There was an audience of 25 or more observers--KPFA listeners and staff, nearly all of them there in support of Tracy. A dozen signed up to speak at the open mike; each got 3 minutes.

They spoke to express support for Tracy and castigate the CL for its scheduled investigation, or voice dissatisfaction with the management and the way the station was being run. Nick Alexander, a KPFA staff person, criticized the management's de-recognition of the UnPaid Staff Organization (UPSO).

Several speakers expressed support for Nadra Foster, the KPFA staff person who was arrested inside the radio station last August; Nadra still faces criminal charges in Alameda County Court. Her arm was so badly injured in the arrest that she is also awaiting at least one operation to recover use of it. Many of the staff were outraged that KPFA management brought police into the station, but the CL is backing the management on that issue--as they do in everything. A leading CL'er, Sherry Gendelman, has said she tipped her hat to KPFA management for calling the police on Foster.

There are also people who don't support Nadra but nevertheless feel that management handling of the situation showed an arrogance and incompetence which shows itself in other matters as well. If Nadra had been dealt with properly in the first place, the entire incident could have been obviated with no resultant schism between staff and management. It was a case of over-reaction as well as a lack of communication.

Most speakers commented on several matters. One woman pointed out that the CL didn't need to hold benefits to raise money; they had two millionaires sitting right there on the board who could fund their slate. She also criticized the fact that with Pacifica facing the worst crisis in its history, they would waste time holding an investigation. Another listener thanked the opposition members for continuing to be there, for persisting through these difficult times.

Max Blanchet, a former LSB member, pointed out that he and others have devoted years of their lives and put an enormous amount of work into building KPFA/Pacifica. He criticized policies of the current management. Apprenticeship Director Rainjita Yang-Geesler reproached the board for "trying to unseat people," and Lisa Dettner, part of the Women's Magazine Collective, also spoke in support of Tracy.

Other speakers included Nicole Milner, Richard Phelps, and Stan Woods. Former Pacifica election supervisor Les Radke said, "Anyone who investigates someone for free speech should be removed from this board."

Each of the speakers was warmly applauded by the rest of the audience--all except for Jim Weber. Jim is the CL's ever-present, unfailing mass audience of one. He praised the CL'ers and harshly denounced their critics. "Let's call it what it is," Jim said, "revolutionary fascism." Jim received no applause.

It must be lonely and dispiriting for the CL'ers who sit on the board month after month, in front of an adversely critical audience, especially one so well informed. That's perhaps why they decided to stop holding monthly meetings. Partly, at least. Another important reason may be the fact that KPFA/Pacific is now in a serious financial crisis. How is this to be handled and resolved? Not in open monthly meetings, apparently. The CL undoubtedly feels that the less transparency the better, particularly at a time like this.

The first item of business following comments from the public was not the investigation. It was the meeting schedule for 2009. The motion was made to end monthly meetings and meet only every other month.

The non-CL members of the board opposed that motion. Monthly meetings were necessary, they felt. "We're not ahead in our work, we're behind in our work," Tracy pointed out.

But that didn't seem to concern the CL'ers. A roll call was taken, with the CL'ers & allies all voting yes, and the opposition all voting no. CL'ers were in the majority and had their way. Monthly meetings are done with, and the next meeting won't be till March.

Interestingly, the public investigation of Tracy's flyer was put aside, left to be dealt with in executive session after the open meeting. Presumably the CL'ers had at this point concluded that the topic was not something they wanted to deal with, at least not in front of a less-than-supportive audience. What happened in that closed session has not been revealed.

This board meeting of Saturday, January 10th offered a pretty good look at the CL'ers in action. They call themselves the "Concerned Listeners," and, as candidates during board elections, they had promised to end strife and promote more amicable working relationships on the board. But in practice they've done precisely the opposite, and their real function has been to shield the less-than-competent KPFA management clique from scrutiny and accountability.

The ongoing struggle at KPFA has been between the authoritarian top-down left who operate in secrecy and the democratic left who want transparency and accountability.

Daniel Borgström



Casey Peters, the 2007 national election supervisor, has published his report and an appendix including local election supervisor reports:

KPFA Election Violated Rules and Bylaws by The Committee on Fair Elections (01-11-08)

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