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KPFA Workers & Community Step Up, GM "Resigns": Politics of the Latest Management Change
The departure of KPFA General Manager Lemlem Rijio was an open secret debated prior to the public announcement and a News commentary on her "resignation." A group of staff and supporters had campaigned to reverse the Local Station Board's supposed termination vote in a confidential executive session. Their talking points are summarized and addressed here. Other KPFA workers and community members stated that removing the GM was necessary to correct the station's deteriorating finances and declining listener support, to restore democratic process and respect for Pacifica's bylaws and mission. Under the Rijio-Lilley regime the gains of the Free Pacifica movement and democratic institutions at KPFA were obstructed, subverted or shut down.
Note: A shorter version of this article is posted as a Reader Commentary in The Berkeley Daily Planet on-line April 15: http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2010-04-15/article/35039?headline=KPFA-Manager-Resigns-Pacifica-Democracy-vs.-Reactionary-Politics-and-Contradictions-in-the-Latest-Management-Transition
KPFA Workers & Community Step Up, Manager "Resigns":
Pacifica Democracy, Politics and Contradictions of the Latest Management Transition
From 2009 elections the KPFA Local Station Board (LSB) was reconstituted with a majority of independent listener and staff representatives and new officers; the minority Concerned Listeners (CL) allied representatives, including news/public affairs staffer Brian Edwards-Tiekert, were fiercely loyal supporters of the station status-quo under General Manager (GM) Lemlem Rijio. The election issues and results, and a split December LSB meeting, reflect protracted KPFA internal struggles and community information/education efforts and campaigns by progressive staff and listener groups/candidates (Peoples Radio, Independents for Community Radio, Voices for Justice), exposing the established power structure, advocating and organizing for democratic participation, collaboration and accountability in governance, management, policy and decision making; and a sustained staff/community movement from Fall 2008 for changes in station leadership and programming.
In a commentary inserted in newscasts on March 5, KPFA News Directors Aileen Alfandary and Mark Mericle reported that the GM was forced to resign by a majority "faction" of the LSB, over opposition of most union staff. Information sources and opposing perspectives were not offered. However, as I commented rhetorically at the March LSB meeting, since the results of Board executive sessions were broadcast and slanted, why hold closed sessions with people who feed confidential information directly or indirectly to the News staff? If not for the confidentiality rules protecting employee privacy, it would seem preferable to conduct business in public so we could at least assess the accuracy or spin of such reports.
Ms. Rijio's exit had been an open secret debated for a month prior to the March 4 public announcement of her "resignation" by the new Pacifica Executive Director (ED), Arlene Engelhard (Pacifica HR Director Ahmad Anderson was appointed interim GM). Apparently acting on leaked information from the January LSB meeting executive session, a group of KPFA "core staff" and supporters, including the News Directors and former News Director and KTVU/Fox TV News producer Alan Snitow, organized a campaign to reverse the Board's supposed termination vote and made rare appearances at the February LSB meeting (see summary of comments below). They also contacted prominent donors and approached the ED for a meeting. However, other staff and listeners complained that recent staffing cuts were inequitable and disruptive to programming (notably effecting "Flashpoints"), and assured the Board that removing Rijio was long overdue and necessary to correct the station's deteriorating finances and declining listener support, and to restore democratic process and respect for Pacifica's bylaws and mission.
While Development Director (DD) in charge of fundraising from 2004, Rijio participated in a KPFA insider strategy group, which in Sept 05 shared Edwards-Tiekert's proposed political options/actions for undermining or "dismantling" the LSB, see text/background http://peoplesradio.net/Dismantle.htm. The group members (including programmer Sasha Lilley, a catalyst for the CL organization) succeeded in landing key management and leadership positions in KPFA, the LSB and Pacifica National Board (PNB). Following the separation of former GM Roy Campanella Jr., Rijio was appointed "interim" GM in April 2006, later appointed Lilley interim Program Director (iPD) and served an extended term as iGM while the LSB reviewed GM candidates and ED Nicole Sawaya and Pacifica General Counsel Dan Siegel balked at the Board's initial recommendation. On Sept 30 2008 (her final day with Pacifica), Sawaya arbitrarily announced Rijio's permanent GM appointment, apparently as a parting shot at the many dissident staff and pro-democracy community members who were organizing and petitioning for fresh, effective management and resolution of the conflict at the station following the police arrest and beating of long term volunteer staff Nadra Foster on Aug 20. They stated Rijio's divisive management was implicated in conversion of the KPFA workplace environment and culture from collaboration to alienation and restriction, and in the violent incident by "banning" Foster without notice and calling in police rather than adhering to the Pacifica way and relying on standard supervision, progressive discipline and peaceful resolution processes (see #3, #6 below; http://www.sfbayview.com/tag/nadra-foster ; "September Surprise" http://mediajusticekpfa.blogspot.com/2008/10/sawaya-scorns-kpfa-staff-appoints-rijio.html ;"Tension high after arrest of KPFA volunteer" http://articles.sfgate.com/2008-09-02/bay-area/17157479_1_kpfa-business-station-berkeley-police).
Under the Rijio-Lilley management regime - including department heads, others from the strategy group and senior staff clique, and their CL allies on the Board - the gains of the 1990s-2000s Free Pacifica and listener democracy movements, the established democratic institutions and power centers at KPFA were obstructed, subverted or shut down: 1) the Program Council (PC) was reduced to advisory status, then dissolved; 2) the Unpaid Staff Organization (USPO) representing over 200 was de-recognized prior to the 2007 election; 3) LSB meetings reduced to bi-monthly, working committees dissolved, proceedings controlled or stalemated by CL representatives to prevent effective action or changes, and the few productive resolutions passed were ignored by management; 4) LSB elections corrupted and controlled by management-CL symbiosis, interventions and various unfair practices over the authority of election supervisors and PNB resolutions, including delayed/inaccurate voter lists, restriction of candidate air time and election information to voters and a biased website statement by acting ED Siegel denouncing Peoples Radio candidates' statements, which were critical of CL, intended to inform members and hold LSB/PNB reps accountable for their actions and voting records http: http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2008-01-11/article/28910?headline=Commentary-KPFA-Election-Violated-Rules-and-Bylaws; http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2007-10-30/article/28351?headline=Commentary-Support-Free-Speech-and-Open-Debate-in-KPFA-Election.
Further, the new Pacifica democratic process and governing boards were subjected to on-air attacks by senior staff and guests, including Larry Bensky on "Sunday Salon," Alfandary and writer/former News staff Matthew Lasar on "Against The Grain" and "Behind the News" (with hosts Lilley and Doug Henwood), as well as hit pieces in other media. The party line of bashing democracy, attacking the LSB, defending GM Rijio and the status quo was most recently adopted by KPFA News and "alternative online daily" editor Randy Shaw http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/New_Crisis_at_KPFA_Could_Push_Pacifica_Over_the_Edge_7957.html. For an accurate overview and critique of the Rijio-Lilley-CL management by KPFA News reporter and LSB chair Anthony Fest, see http://www.sfbayview.com/2009/the-kpfa-that-can’t-say-yes.
The critical talking and editorial points of GM supporters are summarized and addressed here with some facts, background and observations:
Claim #1: The new LSB majority moved to fire the GM without an evaluation or careful deliberation process.
In fact, this assertion ignores the relevant bylaws processes and power sharing provisions. When the LSB exercises its power to vote for terminating a station GM, that decision must be either accepted by the Pacifica ED or confirmed by the PNB to become effective. Rijio was evaluated as GM, performance appraisals are available to continuing and new LSB members, and if favorable, likely would have been (but were not) credited by supporters. GM applications are screened by position qualifications; Rijio's known prior experience does not appear to meet what can be reasonably expected as minimal management and radio/media qualifications, yet she remained in the position for 4 years. If the confidential causes for separation were acute and required urgent action (see #2), this process can't be compared to extended LSB deliberations on (unsubstantiated) charges against a former GM.
Claim #2: Terminating the GM was fiscally irresponsible, detrimental to station stability before a critical fund drive; major donors will withdraw support. She had maintained KPFA income that subsidized the Pacifica network and isn't responsible for declining revenue in hard times but was "forced out in a dispute over a financial transaction with the Pacifica national office…"
In reality, bad management, excessive salaried staffing, moderate formula programming and political power games are responsible, immediately and over time, for the financial crisis. Although the station was nearly broke, reserve funds exhausted, staff were cut and listeners subjected to more urgent, frequent and extended fund drives, Rijio inexplicably held a $375,000 foundation check, intended to earn interest income, for over a year until it expired. Yet the KPFA News commentary offered no explanation: what part of what transaction is disputed? Failure to deposit a six figure foundation check is beyond incompetence, must be intentional, and clear cause for separation in any organization.
During the Rijio and CL management group period 2004-2009 (including her tenure as DD), Full Time Equivalent (FTE) paid staffing increased 50% from 28 to 42 FTE, while the KPFA subscriber base decreased over 20% from 28,000 to 22,000. In budget reviews LSB Treasurers and members repeatedly advised that escalating paid staffing levels were unsustainable. The priority on "professional" salaried staffing is a continuation of the "Healthy Station" model and what the controlling staff think is normal and right for KPFA; those with a longer view know KPFA as a community radio station, run and sustained primarily by volunteer staff with as many paid staff as revenues allow. While membership and support for progressive alternative radio should have expanded under the Bush rightwing nightmare, contributors steadily declined even before the recession. The potential loss of some "major donors" who favored Rijio and current programming is far outweighed by the long term withdrawal of progressive listeners and management's failure to outreach and develop more dynamic, community based news and programs to attract and fulfill the needs of diverse communities (see #5).
Actually, management supported CLers were directly involved in the collusion responsible for Pacifica's financial crisis under the previous national leadership: the drain on the foundation and station revenues from mismanagement of New York station WBAI was enabled and shielded from oversight and accountability by a voting block on the PNB of KPFA's CL directors with WBAI's Justice and Unity (JUC) and other directors http://www.berkeleydaily.org/issue/2009-05-14/article/32873?headline=The-Pacifica-Financial-Crisis-Who-is-Responsible.
Claim #3: Most union staff supported retaining her.
The senior union "core staff" think they are KPFA and are used to running the station as they please. A GM must be selected from their ranks or the station becomes a "management free zone:" outsiders selected through the by-laws process, Campanella and former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport, were rejected, sabotaged and forced out. Inclusion and interests of volunteer staff do not matter. Historically, both paid and unpaid staff were represented by one union (UEW); but thanks to the Healthy Station project, paid staff breaking solidarity and dumping co-workers to join the CWA (1996-97) and Rijio's non-recognition of UPSO (recently rescinded under new Pacifica management), volunteer staff have had no effective labor representation, benefits or budget funding for personal and production costs. However, all staff now have voting power and LSB representation, and in recent elections voted for a majority of independent representatives, clearly indicating a split with the management regime; also, staff will have a special election on the proposed recall of Edwards-Tiekert.
Clearly, there was widespread staff and community disaffection with Rijio's management and a renewed commitment to new leadership and direction for KPFA, in the spirit of the 1999 beginning of "a new era of democratic decision-making and station Transformation." Black/people of color programmers, staff and community members led a campaign protesting the Nadra Foster arrest/beating and supporting her legal defense (see above and #6). In Sept-Oct 2008 eighty unpaid and union staff signed an "Open Letter on New KPFA Leadership Attributes/Priorities" http://www.physicszone.org/letter2008/letter.html with an 8 point program for changes to be initiated and supported by new management; 74 signed a "Statement Of No Confidence," calling for a new GM appointment http://mediajusticekpfa.blogspot.com/2008/10/74-kpfa-staffers-no-confidence-rijio.html; a letter from 21 listeners demanded rescission of her permanent appointment. As noted above, several staff and listeners spoke in opposition at recent LSB meetings.
Claim #4: This controversy highlights a dysfunctional, expensive election system and governing structure with boards that are unrepresentative, disruptive, factional and "micromanage" or usurp staff/managerial decisions and functions.
Actually, this repeated argument demonstrates the self-serving, elitist nature and reactionary politics of the KPFA insider management/core staff/CL mutual support group and amounts to a corporate establishment-like coded message of "democracy is too expensive and doesn't work, so let's forget it and let the professionals do their jobs."
The new Pacifica bylaws and member elected boards were carefully developed from the Free Pacifica and democracy movements and court settlement in response to the authoritarian, over-centralized, corporate culture and direction of the old Pacifica "hijackers" regime. Staff and listener donors now have voting member status, the boards have limited, defined powers and areas of responsibility in collaboration with management, and there are provisions for democratic process, accountability and transparency. Pacifica's Ranked Choice Voting is a form of proportional representation, a progressive election reform that provides for diversity and minority representation, has been adopted and proven in San Francisco, other municipal elections and countries with multi-party systems. Election expenses are not responsible for the financial crisis (see #2) and can be reduced as a worthwhile price of democratic oversight and participation in Pacifica governance and decision making.
However, the old guard managers and senior staff who directed KPFA for decades and joined the 1999 uprising have resisted and attempted to control the new governance and elections through various means, including insider favoritism, program access and political alliances with LSB voting blocks (KPFA Forward, CL), but as previously and currently when losing an LSB majority, they condemn or try to "dismantle" whatever they cannot control. They also spoon feed content for biased, anti-democracy slams to journalists like Shaw(see above), a regular invited guest on prime time, core staff produced/hosted programs. The objective is to perpetuate the status quo and their personal power and control of KPFA, without accountability or compliance with the new bylaws, including policy and decisions on programming, staffing, budget funding, resource and air time allocation, selected information aired on station governance and management. As former LSB chair Richard Phelps explains http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2009-07-16/article/33342?headline=KPFA-Ten-Years-After-the-1999-Hijack-Attempt:
"As Pacifica embarked on its new democratic path it became clear that everyone that fought the hijackers didn’t do so for the same reason! Most listener activists and some staff supported the new democratic process and welcomed the involvement and input of the listener/subscribers who are the regular audience and the financial supporters of the station and Pacifica. At KPFA some staff and their supporters sought to defeat the hijackers so that they could control KPFA and make the decisions about who/what gets air time and who gets the paid jobs. This latter group has used the power of the stations progressive reputation and the power of the microphone to maintain control and frustrate the new bylaws in many ways."
Claim #5: She improved programming by adding "Letters to Washington" and restructuring The Morning Show.
Typical of much KPFA news and public affairs programming, "Letters" is uninspiring in the NPR mainstream style, Democrat party orientated and follows 4 hours of public affairs programs. To make room for launching the weekly program from Jan-April 2009, instead of reducing or replacing one of 43 music program time slots, management bumped KPFA's only women's program, "Women's Magazine," whose producers had addressed the LSB opposing Rijio for permanent GM (as advocated by CL leader Kay Trimberger). Other highlights of the management regime's continuing and recent program policies and decisions include:
• The only weekend youth oriented show, "Youth Radio," abruptly removed without process; "POOR News Network" cut back to a monthly segment on The Morning Show ("Voice of the Poor unwanted?" http://www.peoplesradio.net/poor_letter.htm); a PC approved animal rights program cancelled;
• Prime time radical journal "Flashpoints" staff subjected to continuous harassment, intimidation, censorship and the show targeted for slow death through drastic, disproportionate budget cuts, including elimination of the Knight Report with Robert Knight, layoff of technical staff; reduction of producer/reporter Nora Barrows-Friedman to part time hours, effectively forcing her to leave KPFA in May (as reported extensively http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/12/31/18633914.php); http://www.sfbayview.com/2009/kpfa-a-wolf-in-sheeps-clothing-an-interview-with-nora-barrows-friedman-of-flashpoints/);
• A Saturday morning program slot found for Lilley's associate Henwood, while the effective ban of Labor Collective programming continued, as did exclusion of other hard hitting programs with local producers, strong Bay Area community support and aired nationally/internationally, including "Taking Aim" with Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone (on WBAI/Pacifica) and "TUC Radio" with former KPFA staff Maria Gilardin (locally on KALW) http:/http://www.voicesforjusticeradio.org/others/sashalilley.htm;
• Radical analysts, scholars, journalists and writers branded "conspiracy theorists," such as local residents Michael Parenti and Peter Philips, no longer or rarely interviewed or heard on core staff programs;
• iPD enforced policies: a) prohibiting programmers from on-air "calls to action," e.g. Miguel Molina reprimanded for urging listeners to "be there" for a peace demonstration (while music programmers are free to give tickets and invite listeners to clubs and concerts); b) excluding community members and organizations without tax exempt status from producing/airing public event, service or speaking announcements, e.g. KPFA refused United for Peace and Justice's request to publicize a major Bay Area peace march in Oct. 2007;
• Dozens of public affairs programs and speeches not broadcast completely, live or timely but held for sale as pledge "premiums" and aired in parts during fund drives http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2008-05-22/article/30068?headline=KPFA-The-Alternative-Home-Shopping-Network; http://www.peoplesradio.net/moneyVmission.htm.
Before it's elimination by Rijio and Lilley, the semi-democratic Program Council (with department managers, staff and listener representatives) made limited progress and at least represented the hopes of activists and many staff for a gradual transformation of KPFA programming, which is notorious in progressive and alternative radio communities for continuing the Healthy Station mainstreaming approach: including weekly grid format with similar program type strips http://kpfa.org/programgrid; dominant, multi-hour music programming (60%); elimination or integration of specific community identity program content into short segments of general, moderate program offerings or NPR-like magazine style public affairs programs, resulting in various deficiencies. So with exceptions of several programs that fulfill the Pacifica and community radio missions (e. g. "Guns and Butter, "Hard Knock Radio," "Flashpoints," "Voices of the Middle East" and other weekday evening community/international programs, "La Onda Bajita," "Music of the World with Doug Edwards/Avotcja," "Across the Great Divide"), there is not only a lack of volunteer collectives, departments and regularly scheduled weekly programs on labor, youth, seniors, arts; LGBT, Black, other communities/cultures; but also insufficient programming that a) radically challenges the assumptions and standards of mainstream corporate media, politics and culture; b) exposes and analyzes the plutocratic, corporate, military nature, and hidden objectives and operations, of the US national security state, empire and "war on terror," notably the truth and consequences of 9/11; and c) provides focus and direction for progressive, revolutionary organizing, including public affairs with class analysis, continuing coverage of alternative political parties, social movements and resistance campaigns; and expanded special coverage of crises and major protests.
Tragically, 11 years after the 1999 KPFA community uprising, the Folio is not restored, the Program Council is dormant, some Transformation Proposal provisions for staff/program diversity and equity are unimplemented, while a cult of professionalism and the program grid substantially continue as a time capsule of "Pat Scott Radio."
Claim #6: The GM firing fits a pattern of racism in new Pacifica management.
This red herring distraction is a product of the CL and JUC allies who lost their control of the PNB and Pacifica in recent LSB elections. In his initial 2009 candidate statement, Siegel characterized management changes at Pacifica and WBAI as "a campaign of ethnic cleansing" (although as acting ED in 2007, he had publicly condemned racially charged language in candidate statements). In fact, the new Pacifica management appointed people of color to replace Pacifica's CFO and the WBAI station managers, who were removed for financial mismanagement, including a rent payment failure and cover up.
As noted above (#3), in two previous resignations of African American GMs at KPFA, both were undermined and pushed out by the same staff group that supported Rijio. Further, former Pacifica and KPFA management were complicit in the racist treatment of Nadra Foster, who was "hog-tied," wrapped and "carted" out of the station by Berkeley police, see Coalition for a democratic Pacifica http://www.sfbayview.com/2008/on-the-question-of-pacifica-and-racism. Although not present during the police intrusion (her boss Sawaya and iPD Lilley were there), Rijio later: a) endorsed the decision of her business manager subordinate, Lois Withers, and a Pacifica manager to involve police, which precipitated and exposed Foster to police violence, injury and criminalization, results that should have been anticipated in a progressive organization, especially KPFA/Pacifica (after the 1999 arrests and occupation of the station by armed agents and Berkeley police); b) proposed an augmented security system, restricting both staff and community access, as her immediate response to the problem (rather than an investigation and HR process reforms); and c) was unwilling or unable to follow through with dropping criminal trespass charges against Foster (the criminal case with five counts - including trespass, resisting arrest and battery on an officer - proceeded for over a year and a half until dismissed in March in Alameda Court, as Rijio was finally leaving KPFA).
In conclusion, the ending of the Rijio-Concerned Listeners management regime was accomplished through a succession and eventual convergence of political forces, factors, events and democratic process: 1) an organized workers resistance and community action campaign focused on Nadra Foster and demands for a management change; 2) the Pacifica and KPFA financial crises and the issues/exposures of collusion by CL/other PNB directors and KPFA management's waste of a substantial foundation grant (see #2 above); 3) the 2009 LSB election displacing the CL majority control and management support; and 4) the new LSB independent majority representatives taking undisclosed confidential action, which was executed by Pacifica in the form of the GM's resignation effective March 31. The GM supporters' contra-campaign was unsuccessful, and in the preceding analysis is deconstructed and found lacking in facts and substance.
However, in the interim management period and resulting "management free zone" at the station (#3), the old guard "core staff" cabal remains in control, and the damages and consequences of former management's policies, decisions and actions are ongoing. The "Flashpoints" program and staff are especially vulnerable, still being attacked and squeezed (#5); the producers are appealing for community support and "KPFA town meetings" at the station http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/05/05/18647102.php . Stay tuned as the struggle for democracy and collaborative, accountable management continues; the next battles will be the 2010 Board election and for the survival or revival of community programs, staff and effective representative institutions targeted by the former management and power clique, including "Flashpoints," the Program Council and LSB/committees.
Retired civil servant; long time KPFA supporter and listener democracy activist in Coalition for a democratic Pacifica (CdP) and People's Radio, former LSB candidate; former union and labor democracy activist with Public Employees for a Democratic Union. People's Radio, community activist Mara Rivera contributed to this article.