As Pacifica Radio marked its 65th anniversary of broadcasting, foundation and station leaders are talking publicly about governance reforms that involve “decentralizing” control of its five stations.
Pacifica National Board Chair Margy Wilkinson, who is battling for control of the Foundation with former executive director Summer Reese, discussed the proposal April 9 on KPFK-FM, the Pacifica station in Los Angeles.
“There are real governance issues,” Wilkinson said during an appearance on the KPFK show Truthdig. “I think the way the foundation is put together does not make for a very highly functioning organization.”
Though she didn’t wade into specifics, Wilkinson called for “some decentralization and some greater autonomy at the local stations.”
“I see a role for Pacifica, but I think right now, the way national is functioning is not particularly helpful to the stations,” Wilkinson said.
The proposal to reduce Pacifica’s control over local stations has support in Houston, where leaders of Pacifica’s KPFT have called for greater independence.
Leo Gold, chair of KPFT-FM’s local station board, devoted an hourlong April 11 broadcast to Pacifica’s governance. Emphasizing that he was speaking as an individual and not in his official capacity as board chair, he called for Pacifica to let the stations go their own way.
“In my judgment, the Pacifica Foundation has failed as an operating entity,” Gold said. “It has failed as an operating entity because it essentially forces five radio stations that are very different – located in five different places with different listenerships, different needs, different places in life – to exist together under the same sets of rules and requirements.”
Gold called on the national board, which will consider a motion to explore restructuring during its meeting on Thursday, to reorganize.
“I have come to the conclusion that Pacifica should undertake a voluntary reorganization,” Gold said. “I think it should do this before involuntary reorganization is forced on it.”
Nancy Hentschel, a KPFT LSB member who recently left the national board when her term ended, proposed the motion on governance reform last fall. It calls on the board to create a task force on restructuring the Pacifica Foundation.
The motion languished as Hentschel’s term on the national board ended, but Wilkinson added it to the agenda for the April 17 meeting.
Delays in bringing the motion up for board consideration point to deeper problems in Pacifica’s operations, according to Hentschel.
“We never get to these things because of the chaos that happens at these meetings, and if we don’t [act now], we’re going to have a judge somewhere making these decisions,” she said.
Sniping and infighting among Pacifica’s leaders is a turn-off for potential board members, listeners and donors, Hentschel said. Governance reform is key to any effort to attract talent that’s capable of turning Pacifica around.
“We need to save Pacifica, even from itself,” Hentschel said.
Pacifica is mired in deep financial problems and an employment dispute with Reese, who is contesting the Pacifica national board’s March 14 vote to dismiss her in court. Reese is occupying Pacifica’s national office in Berkeley, Calif., and has barred Wilkinson and other Pacifica officials from entering the building.
The agenda for Thursday’s meeting includes another item that could dramatically change Pacifica’s broadcast service and viability: The board is scheduled to discuss bids from a recent request for proposals for another broadcaster to operate WBAI in New York, Pacifica’s most financially troubled station.
A separate motion proposed by Richard Uzzell, a national board member from KPFT, describes Pacifica as “suffering from great financial problems,” and “very near bankruptcy.” He calls for Pacifica to cease payments for publication of board minutes because the foundation can’t afford the administrative expense.