I have been following the recent events of the Pacifica radio network with great interest and even greater concern — even sadness. I am reading far too much misinformation — a thousand sparks, a million splinters, far too much “me-me-me,” no “we.”
I was the Executive Director of Pacifica before the latest appointee, Summer Reese. Though I had years of experience in radio in various capacities, I came to Pacifica as an outsider, and it is from that perspective, as an outsider turned insider, that I am writing. Pacifica is not only failing, it is nearly moribund. The most recent episode unfortunately illustrates this point only too well.
Nine members of the Pacifica Foundation’s board of directors opposing last month's firing of executive director Summer Reese filed a lawsuit Thursday asking the court to void the action and reinstate her. Calling themselves the Pacifica Board Members for Good Governance, the group filed a civil lawsuit in the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda. According to the lawsuit, Reese’s March 14 firing violated Pacifica’s bylaws and was “improper, unlawful and fiscally reckless.”
Named in the lawsuit are the board members who voted for Reese’s removal, including Chairwoman Margy Wilkinson and Vice Chairman Tony Norman. The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages, only the overturning of the board’s decision and the immediate reinstatement of Reese. The Pacifica board voted in executive session to dismiss Reese, who was appointed permanent executive director of the network last November after holding the job on an interim basis.
• The Pacifica Foundation announced the appointment of a new interim executive director, even as the one the foundation attempted to fire, Summer Reese, reportedly continues to camp out at the foundation's headquarters. Bernard Duncan, previously station manager at Pacifica's Los Angeles outlet KPFK, is the new interim head of the network, according to a statement on Pacifica's website. "What Pacifica needs right now is a skilled manager who can hit the ground running, and I'm very pleased Bernard's taken us on," board chair Margy Wilkinson said in the release. Duncan resigned from KPFK in January. • PBS's POV will host a Twitter chat with veteran documentary filmmakers April 8 from 1-2 p.m. Eastern time. Directors Gary Hustwit, Doug Block and Bernardo Ruiz will discuss how they made their first films. Interested participants can send their thoughts with the hashtag #docchat.
• The standoff at Pacifica's headquarters in Berkeley, Calif., got coverage on a local news program on Oakland's KTVU. Executive Director Summer Reese is defying the board's efforts to dismiss her and has camped out at the office, with supporters and even her mother in tow. Watch KTVU's video and see the barricaded door, an air mattress used by the holed-up staff, and more trappings of this unusual episode. The report also features Pacifica Board Chair Margy Wilkinson, who is trying to fire Reese. Wilkinson alleges that at some point employees were shredding documents, which Reese denies in an oddly clipped statement in the segment.
• Filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz (The Graduates/Los Graduados, Reportero) has received the Time Warner Fellowship from the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program to work on his latest doc, Recolectores (The Gatherers). As a fellow, Ruiz will get services from the institute including mentoring, grant assistance and attendance at its famous film festival. Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing) also got a production/post-production grant in this round of Sundance awards, which went to 35 filmmakers out of 750 applications from 93 countries. • Sesame Workshop is participating in this week's annual Reinvent The Toilet Fair: India, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation event that showcases the latest in modern hygiene for developing nations. Making her debut at the fair is new Muppet Raya, who always wears her sandals to the latrine and washes her hands with soap.
• A new round of unrest is brewing at Pacifica. Current reported last week on the radio network's board voting to oust executive director Summer Reese and this week on Reese's defiance of the vote. An LA Weekly feature offers more details, including Reese removing a padlock from the doors of the network's offices with bolt cutters and reading Bible passages to staff. The article recaps the history of the network and includes comments from former employees of Pacifica's KPFK in Los Angeles. It's reminiscent of the Village Voice's September feature on New York's WBAI (the Voice Media Group owns both publications). • PBS, CPB and APTS have joined the National Association of Broadcasters and commercial networks to warn the FCC about potential interference between TVs and wireless devices after spectrum repacking.
Pacifica Executive Director Summer Reese reported to work today at the radio network's headquarters in Berkeley, Calif., ignoring her dismissal Thursday by Pacifica's board of directors. Board members went into executive session during a meeting last week and voted to dismiss Reese effective Friday. Reese was appointed permanent executive director of the network last November after holding the job on an interim basis. Margy Wilkinson, who was elected chair of Pacifica's board in February, declined to discuss why the board voted to dismiss Reese. "The board took an action that it thought was both necessary and appropriate," she said by phone Monday.
The board of directors of the Pacifica Foundation terminated Executive Director Summer Reese Thursday, according to an email sent early Friday by outgoing board treasurer Tracy Rosenberg. (UPDATE: Board Secretary Cerene Roberts has confirmed Reese's dismissal. "We thank Summer Reese for her service to date and will not continue her employment effective March 14, 2014," the board said in a terse statement, offering no explanation.)
Reese's termination comes five months after the Pacifica board gave her the job, which she had held on an interim basis since August 2012. Reese became interim executive director after the board dismissed previous ED Arlene Engelhardt. Dismissing Reese burdens Pacifica "with a new $315,000 obligation to buy out a 3-year employment contract signed just a little while ago," according to Rosenberg, who added:
Given the financial pressures on the organization (exacerbated by 3 of the 5 stations recently missing fund drive goals, all but KPFK and WBAI), it seems likely the board's action will result in the forced sale of one or more real estate assets,
This latest return to the days of constant lawsuits draining the foundation due to reckless behavior by boards will not be welcome news to many.
• Nothing spells love quite like This American Life. For a Valentine's Day Doodle, Google has enlisted the Public Radio International program to present five love-themed stories from the series, complete with animations. Host Ira Glass provides an introduction. Time has a behind-the-scenes video of how the Doodle came together. • Veteran pubcasting exec Chet Tomczyk, currently managing Illinois stations WTVP-TV in Peoria and dual licensee WILL in Urbana in a unique agreement, announced yesterday that he is retiring, although he hasn't set a date. Tomczyk has worked in the system for nearly 50 years, beginning in 1965 as associate producer of The Week in Michigan, a weekly travel and outdoor show produced at WKAR-FM in East Lansing, Mich.