Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fired Director Battles Board for Control of KPFA Parent Organization

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- She's not giving in and she's refusing to leave. 

The fired director of the organization that runs radio station KPFA and four others around the country continues to occupy her office despite losing a legal challenge this week to reinstall her as head of the struggling nonprofit. 

Summer Reese was fired March 13 from her $105,000-a-year position as executive director of Pacifica Foundation Radio by the board of directors on a 11-7 vote. On Wednesday, an Alameda County judge denied a temporary restraining order that would have reinstated her pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by board members who support her. 

"I'm still here all the time," Reese said Thursday, adding she continues to draw a paycheck. 

After she was fired, she returned to her office on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, cut a lock on the door and took up an around-the-clock occupation with her mother. 

The air mattresses that in late March lined the walkway of Pacifica's cramped Berkeley headquarters are gone, but Reese said she and her supporters are maintaining a presence there nonetheless. 

"There are crews of people who come daily in different shifts," Reese said Friday. "Different people stay overnight, but there is around-the-clock coverage (so) I've been able to go home for a shower. I just don't tell them my schedule." 

The suit seeking to reinstate her was filed by nine members of the board who support her. They are suing the foundation and 12 members of the board who want her out. 

High drama at Pacifica Foundation and KPFA, both headquartered in Berkeley, is nothing new. There have been occasional power struggles over the past 15 years, mostly owing to budgetary problems. 

Protesters camped outside the station in 1999 after Pacifica fired a popular KPFA station manager, locked out the staff and temporarily shut down the station. 

The last budget fight, in 2010, came when the former director laid off some popular radio hosts, prompting an outcry from listeners. The fired employees at one point took over the station and aired a renegade show. 

In addition to the five stations around the country, there are 180 affiliates who carry Pacifica programming and approximately 80,000 listeners regularly donate to the $13 million annual budget. 

Reese said the type of people who are drawn to the governance board, usually from the far-left and radical political fringes, mostly lack basic business skills that would allow them to make good decisions. 

She said failed fiscal audits in the past several years have prevented the organization from getting funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting since 2012. 

This latest struggle for control of the organization has not affected operations of any of the radio stations. 

In a prepared statement Pacifica board Chairwoman Margy Wilkinson said she hopes the denial of the temporary restraining order "will encourage the plaintiffs to express dissent with their voices and their votes, not litigation. Pacifica is in a fragile state and can't afford the time or expense of this lawsuit." 

When she was fired, Reese was about six weeks into a three-year contract. 

As the office occupation drags on, the board has hired a new interim executive director who likely will start next week using an office in the KPFA radio station next door, said Carole Travis, chairwoman of the KPFA board, who is not on the Pacifica Foundation board. 

The lawsuit to reinstate Reese contends board members violated Reese's contract because they fired her without giving her a performance review and did not give a reason for her ouster. 

Reese said the struggle for control of the foundation is between those on the board who want to sell the New York license of radio station WBAI, which she estimates is worth $65 million, and those like her who want to keep it. 

"It's between those who want to sell that license and redistribute the millions of dollars to the remaining four stations versus those who want to keep all five stations intact," Reese said. 

Travis denied that allegation. 

"Nobody wants to sell anything," Travis said. "Nobody wants the foundation to collapse either. She has not been forthcoming with the Pacifica board about the financial fragility of the organization. She's obstructing our ability to deal with the survival of the organization." 

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