The former executive director of Oregon’s Jefferson Public Radio has filed a lawsuit against Southern Oregon University and the Oregon University System alleging blacklisting and breach of contract in his March 2012 dismissal, among other claims.
SOU dismissed longtime JPR chief Ron Kramer after a university audit found a conflict of interest between his roles as both head of JPR and as executive director of the JPR Foundation, a related nonprofit that had undertaken restoration of historic properties. Yet the university had previously approved of Kramer’s dual role, the lawsuit claims.
According to the lawsuit, SOU first proposed in February 2012 that Kramer should resign as executive director of the Foundation. Kramer then filed a grievance with the university, which it rejected, the lawsuit says. He filed another grievance in July, and a grievance committee of the university found that SOU President Mary Cullinan failed to comply with university policies in dismissing Kramer. The lawsuit also points out that Paul Westhelle, who replaced Kramer as executive director of JPR, is now serving in the same role with the JPR Foundation as well.
A new agreement between Southern Oregon University and Jefferson Public Radio settles the months-long dispute between the two parties over control of the 22-station radio network and related real-estate projects that had caused concern among university auditors. The mediated settlement, announced Aug. 27, splits JPR’s radio activities from the theater restoration projects that a related nonprofit, the Jefferson Public Radio Foundation, had undertaken in recent years. Southern Oregon University will assume control of all 22 stations in the JPR network, seven of which are now owned by the foundation. Meanwhile, the foundation’s theater properties will be controlled by Jefferson Live!, a new limited-liability corporation to be established as a subsidiary of the JPR Foundation.
Attempts to mediate the months-long dispute between Southern Oregon University and the Medford-based Jefferson Public Radio network were put on hold last week after Gov. John Kitzhaber requested that the parties renew negotiations after a 90-day cooling-off period. Members of the board of the JPR Foundation, a sister organization to JPR, voted June 22 to approve the hiatus and the renewed attempt at mediation. The university also agreed to back down from threats of lawsuits against individual members of the board. An adviser to the governor told the Medford Mail Tribune that the governor made that request to the chancellor of the Oregon University System. “That allows mediation to be resumed without a gun to the head of the foundation,” says Ron Kramer, JPR executive director.
Southern Oregon University’s law firm threatened the Jefferson Public Radio Foundation board with “expensive” lawsuits in a letter addressing issues of ownership and control of the pubradio stations, the Mail Tribune in Medford, Ore., reports.More than 12 phrases in a six-page March 22 letter from the Portland firm of Miller Nash LLP, obtained by the newspaper, suggest or threaten potential legal action, and describe “in great detail,” the newspaper said, possible legal strategies against JPR Executive Director Ron Kramer and the board — including the potential of dissolving the JPR Foundation entirely. Kramer oversees both JPR and the foundation; OSU terminated his station duties on March 25, effective June 30 (Current, April 9). The parties reached a tentative agreement this week following mediation on the issues, which surfaced during an OUS audit calling for greater separation between JPR and its fundraising foundation.
It appears that Southern Oregon University and the fundraising organization for Jefferson Public Radio made progress in their mediation talks held last week. In a statement, SOU said, “The JPR Foundation and Southern Oregon University are pleased to announce the tentative resolution of issues related to the ownership and operation of Jefferson Public Radio, subject to final approvals of their respective governing entities. Additional information will be made available once such final approvals are obtained.”
Ron Kramer, executive director of both the foundation and the radio station, told the Medford Mail Tribune that he was not a party to the agreement that was reached. Previous story in Current: “Did Kramer overreach in Oregon?”
… Citing a conflict of interest between Kramer’s role as station chief and his oversight of the separate nonprofit Jefferson Public Radio Foundation, license holder Southern Oregon University terminated his annual contract as JPR executive director….