Judge Ends Fired Employee's Occupation of Berkeley Radio Station
By Doug Oakley Staff Writer Bay Area News Group firstname.lastname@example.org
BERKELEY -- The words "you're fired" didn't mean much to Summer Reese.
On Monday an Alameda County judge said it again, and Reese, the fired head of the nonprofit that runs Berkeley radio station KPFA, ended a two-month occupation of her office and went home.
"I respect the law whether it goes my way or not," Reese said Tuesday. "I said all along I'd obey whatever the judge orders."
Reese was fired from her $105,000-a-year job on March 13 by an 11-7 vote of the board of directors of Pacifica Foundation Radio, which runs KPFA and four other radio stations around the country.
She returned a few days later with a pair of bolt cutters. Declaring the board vote illegal, she cut a padlock on the door to the office on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and began an around-the-clock occupation with supporters, including her mother.
The board members who back her then filed a lawsuit seeking to reinstate her. But the board members who wanted her fired went to the same judge and asked for a temporary restraining order barring her from the office.
"Her continued occupation of (Pacifica Foundation Radio's) national office constitutes a trespass and nuisance," Judge Ioana Petrou said in her ruling Monday.
The order bars her from the office. Petrou also denied Reese's supporters a motion that would allow her to keep her job until their lawsuit is settled.
For now Reese, her mother and the air mattresses that lined the hallways during the occupation are out.
"This is a total victory for the new board majority, which has been conscientiously working to save Pacifica," said board chair Margy Wilkinson in a prepared statement following the Monday ruling.
In the 18-page ruling, one of the issues surrounding Reese's termination was her inability to complete a background check, partly because she does not have a social security number. Reese said she does not have a social security number for religious reasons and is a Christian.
High drama at Pacifica Foundation Radio 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.
In 2010, after some layoffs at KPFA, the fired employees 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 who 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 the organization will continue to have problems until its governing rules are changed.
"Everybody who really cares about Pacifica's mission knows it has to be fixed," Reese said.
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