Factions at odds at ACORN’s KABF
in Little Rock

Published in Current, Aug. 23, 2010
By Karen Everhart

Criticism of their station in a preliminary audit report by the CPB Inspector General’s office has roiled and divided volunteers and the board of KABF-FM in Little Rock, Ark., a community station established by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

In a draft report delivered to the station in April, the CPB IG’s investigators found that the station didn’t comply with basic CPB grant eligibility requirements such as publicizing and holding open meetings of its board of directors and convening a community advisory board.

According to board member Jay Jansen, the IG found that KABF misused $30,000 in grant funds and has proposed that the station repay the amount to CPB. In addition, up to $90,000 is to be withheld by CPB until the station addresses the IG’s audit findings.

Jansen, a real estate agent and volunteer deejay who joined the board this year, went public with the IG’s preliminary conclusions early this month to call attention to the station’s troubles, in part because he felt his board colleagues weren’t willing to address the IG’s most challenging recommendation — that KABF diversify its board, which had always been controlled by ACORN members.

Since receiving the IG’s draft report this spring, the board has postponed decisions about diversifying its membership and done little to establish a Community Advisory Board, Jansen said.

His disclosures early this month rallied volunteers and supporters to the cause of saving KABF, but it also stirred up racial tensions, according to Donna Massey, an ACORN member who was appointed at least five years ago to the station board. She noted that Jansen is the only white person on the seven-person board, which is predominantly African-American. 

The conflict over KABF’s governance “really seems like it is a race thing,” said Massey, recalling an Aug. 3 meeting at which Jansen called for board members who had been associated with ACORN to resign. The meeting was packed with deejays angered about KABF’s plight, the heat in the room was stifling, and tempers flared, according to several accounts.

“It wasn’t what was said, it was how it was said,” Massey said. “It seemed as if people were pointing fingers.”

“The deejays should fuel as much energy into raising funds as they have in calling to remove African-Americans from the board,” Massey said.

Whistleblower complained

The IG’s office has not released its final report on KABF, and it did not respond to Current’s requests for comment. But its 2009-10 work plan, published on the IG’s website, lists an ongoing audit of the Little Rock station and a second ACORN-affiliated outlet, KNON in Dallas. “This report was initiated because of a whistleblower complaint and allegations of improprieties regarding ACORN,” the work plan says.  

ACORN, a grassroots advocate for the poor and for progressive causes, has deep roots in Little Rock, where it was founded in 1970. The group collapsed last year under a withering political attack using undercover video stings by right-wing activists and allegations of voter registration fraud, embezzlement, and political activities that violated its tax-exempt status. Congress cut off federal funding to the organization’s community services last year and its largest affiliates broke away, but scrutiny of ACORN’s activities and finances continues. An investigation by the Louisiana attorney general’s office involves Citizen’s Consulting Inc., ACORN’s New Orleans-based financial arm, which managed KABF’s books. 

The CCI investigation has exacerbated KABF’s problems, Jansen said, because the station’s financial records are being held under subpoena in Louisiana.

The struggle over governance will also be difficult to resolve. Until ACORN disbanded, the majority of board members of KABF’s licensee, the Arkansas Broadcasting Foundation, were also members of the populist group. Many of the board members with ACORN ties who were serving in 2007 continue to hold seats, according to the foundation’s 2007 tax statement and a current board list provided by Jansen.

“The board is standing in the way of correcting the problems identified by the CPB inspector general,” said Jansen. He believes he was right to call KABF’s longest-serving board members — all of whom were ACORN members — to account for the station’s plight during the Aug. 3 meeting.

“I personally raised the issue because I felt it was my duty as a director. . . . No one else was talking about the fact that we had a problem, or the depth of challenges that we face.”

But Jansen disagreed that racial tensions were fueling the rift. “I’m not comfortable calling it ‘racial politics,’ but there is an element of grassroots politics to this,” he said. The board’s resistance to “positive change” that would save KABF doesn’t just make sense to him.

“I’m gonna keep pushing for answers,” Jansen said. “I care about this radio station. I’ve loved it for 20 years or more, and I love it even more now.”

“I’m going to fight for it,” Jansen said.

Massey, the board member who was once affiliated with ACORN, denied complaints that the board isn’t addressing the station’s problems. “We are acting with urgency,” she said. “Our major concern is — you have to be wise about what you do. Considering the state we are in now, we have to have board members who will take more active, committed roles,” she said.

Massey wants to recruit board members with expertise in fundraising or members of the business community, and she believes expanding the board with volunteer deejays could present conflicts of interest.

The station has “been in trouble for a long time,” she said, and the board is struggling to address its financial problems as well. “We are going through some very tough issues.”

KABF deejays have never been welcomed at board meetings, according to Deb Moser, host of a KABF blues show, who helped organize a fundraising event on behalf of KABF this month. The board “gives you the vibe that they don’t want you there — the deejays and volunteers — which I don’t get. If they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, why would you not want people there?” 

Moser believes that the ACORN affiliation has been detrimental to KABF from its very beginnings, and the board must expand. “They’ve always been very protective of who they kept on the board, and tried to keep it just ACORN people, and that needs to change. Some people have been on it too long.”

The community of volunteers and supporters love KABF and the music it broadcasts, and they want to save it, Moser said.

“We all love the freedom of that the station offers — it’s so much better than commercial radio,” Moser said. “People aren’t trying to start crap to just start crap. They think it’s a jewel and want to save it.” 

Officers of the KABF Board, including President Lucho Reyes, did not respond to requests for comment.

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Web page posted Nov. 7, 2010
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