Some see decentralization as salve to Pacifica’s fiscal, leadership woes

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.

Pacifica Foundation Board won’t renew contracts for two top executives

The national board of the Pacifica Foundation voted Sunday (July 22) to begin a search for two new top executives. The board will not renew contracts for Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt and Chief Financial Officer LaVarn Williams, which both expire Nov. 30. The two were invited to apply for new terms in their positions. The action was reported in an email to the SaveKPFA listserv and confirmed by Margy Wilkinson, chair of the local station board at KPFA, Pacifica’s Berkeley station, who attended the meeting.


Pacifica orders austerity cuts after grim auditors’ report

Responding to a June 15 auditors’ report expressing “substantial doubt” that the Pacifica Foundation has the financial wherewithal “to continue as a going concern,” Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt recently notified the five Pacifica radio stations to prepare for deep cuts in their budgets and staffing. The audit, which examined the foundation’s finances for fiscal year 2011, was the second consecutive report questioning Pacifica’s financial viability. Although Engelhardt disputed the auditors’ warnings — “We can always take to the air and raise money,” she said — she directed the stations to make cuts of at least $1 million from their collective budgets. The reductions were to be made immediately, but at Current’s deadline, decisions being made at local stations could not be confirmed. While Pacifica has made substantial progress in reducing its operating deficit from $2.7 million in fiscal 2009 to $564,000 in 2011, “we still have not made inroads on the debt,” Engelhardt said in a telephone interview.

Cost of democratic safeguards is steep, Pacifica discovers

Pacifica’s transition to a listener-elected board of directors carried an unexpectedly high price tag, and network executives are exploring cheaper alternatives. Last year the radio network enshrined its democratic principles in bylaws that empowered its staff and members of stations to elect Local Station Boards. Those boards in turn vote for the network’s national board. The bylaws were a crowning achievement to activists who spent years wresting Pacifica from an unpopular board, which had begun appointing its own members and installed a top-down governance style. But the additional governance costs have shocked some Pacifica leaders, who ask whether the cash-strapped network can sustain them.

Radio that’s representative: Listeners control vote for Pacifica boards

Pacifica Radio is emerging from bitter years of factional struggle with new bylaws that may make it the world’s most democratic media organization. The bylaws, which escaped legal challenge and won approval by a California judge Sept. 15, entrust listeners, volunteers and staff members to elect boards at Pacifica’s five stations. Those boards will oversee station matters such as spending, programming and hiring top managers, as well as appointing a national board of directors to run the network. About 90,000 of Pacifica’s listeners and 700 of its volunteers and staffers are eligible to vote in the first election under the bylaws, estimates Carol Spooner, secretary of the network’s interim national board.