WBGO CEO resigns following internal review

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Jazz station WBGO in Newark, N.J., has made changes following complaints of racial discrimination at the station.

Among the changes is the resignation of CEO Amy Niles, according to a statement from WBGO. Niles joined the station in 2006 as COO and was promoted to CEO in 2014.

The board appointed WBGO founder and inaugural GM Robert Ottenhoff as interim CEO.

According to the statement, the board hired law firm Lowenstein Sandler LLP to review management practices at the station following the publication of an op-ed in November by a community activist. Ronald S. Glover said in his NJ.com piece that the station had excluded black staffers from a 40th-anniversary gala.

The law firm presented its findings to the board Tuesday. The findings reflected concerns among WBGO staff of “perceived racial bias in the workplace and a human resources function that did not facilitate prompt reporting and response by senior management to employee concerns,” according to the statement. The board adopted all of the law firm’s recommendations, the statement said.

The station will require all staff, management and board members to complete workplace discrimination training and create a line of communication for staff to share grievances directly with the board. Executive management will also receive mandatory leadership training “to improve management’s ability to address staff concerns, demonstrate appreciation for staff effort, and acknowledge accomplishments.” Management is also expected to establish new communication channels to “promote more fluid communication between staff and management,” according to the statement.

Before the release of the statement, more than 300 “friends of WBGO” signed an online petition expressing concerns about the station. The petition cited financial mismanagement at the station and a lack of diversity among leadership, among other grievances. The petition called on the station to replace senior management and increase diversity on the board of directors.

According to a Jan. 15 FCC document, more than 80% of the board’s members are male and 75% are white. One board member is white and Hispanic/Latino.

Josie Gonsalves, a former employee at the station, told NJ.com she was fired Monday without an explanation. She said she had raised concerns last year with Niles about the lack of diversity among the station’s executive team, but her concerns were dismissed.

The firing of Gonsalves prompted Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka to call on the station to reinstate Goncalves, investigate the work environment and make changes to “encourage a cultural shift,” among other action items.

“If what has been shared is even slightly true, I ask that these problems be addressed swiftly and immediately to the satisfaction of your employees, or I can no longer continue to support the station in our community,” Baraka wrote.

“We agree with the spirit of everything that Mayor Baraka said in his letter,” WBGO board chair Karl Frederic said in a statement Wednesday. “We’ve been working on the issues of perceived racism at WBGO for a number of months at the board level we received the report from the inquiry into management on Tuesday morning and we unainimously as a board adopted the recommendations arising from the inquiry.”

In regards to Niles’ resignation, Frederic said: “We value the contributions that Amy Niles made to WBGO. She was a very dedicated and hardworking leader. However, we decided that the time had come to make a change and Amy agreed.”

Retired WBGO host Bill Daughtry told the New York Times in a story published Wednesday that he left the station last year “because I knew a palace revolt wouldn’t be far away. People are very unhappy there. There’s no vision.”

WBGO said in the statement that it “will continue to encourage employees to step forward and provide input and express their concerns so as to be sure that reforms are as inclusive and effective as possible.”

“WBGO is fully committed to celebrating the broadest possible spectrum of viewpoints, perspectives and backgrounds, and cultivating an inclusive workplace environment,” board chair Karl Frederic said in the statement.

Update: This story has been updated with information about Gonsalves and statements from Baraka and Frederic.

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