The Battle of the Board at KPFA

I wrote this years ago, back in 2007. Since then some of the names have changed, but the struggle continues.--Daniel Borgstrom

I used to imagine that KPFA somehow ran itself, and that it was a place where people worked together for common goals, made decisions collectively and got along pretty well. Then, about two years ago, I started attending KPFA's monthly board meetings. The situation, as I see it today, is like this:

The station is run by a group of people who operate autonomously. They do not respond to listeners, or even to volunteer workers at the station. In August the station announced that it will no longer recognize UPSO (UnPaid Staff Organization). I find it maddeningly painful to see a progressive institution adopt policies that resemble those of a union-busting corporation.

The de-recognition of UPSO is only one example of their exclusion of others from participation. Their decision-making and management style is top-down and cloaked in secrecy.

It was to prevent excesses such as the above that KPFA has a board of directors which is elected by listeners and staff. The board's job is oversight. This has brought the board into conflict with people who don't want anyone looking to see how the listeners' money is spent. In 2004 and '05 there was a successful year-long fight for transparency, led by members of the People's Radio slate. (And for that I must say I do like People's Radio.)

Today, even the candidates on Sherry Gendelman's slate pay lip service to transparency and accountability. In a leaflet they say: "We've strengthened the LSB's financial oversight, bringing an unprecedented level of transparency to KPFA's budgeting process" But in reality, members and allies of Sherry's slate generally opposed transparency, some fought tooth and nail against it, which is why it took over a year to achieve.

The station has had a series of General Managers, but the real power always seemed to lie elsewhere. A clue to the identities of the power holders came out in the fall of 2005, when an intriguing email came to light. It was addressed to eight KPFA people, including one who has since become the Interim General Manager.

"[W]e need a general strategy session," the email read in part. "How do we make our enemies own the problems that are to come? Alternatively, should we be recalling LSB members/dismantling the LSB? "

At first I was inclined to think that "dismantlement" wasn't intended to be taken literally. The author of that email impresses me as a capable person who's done good work at KPFA. Nevertheless, what I've seen in the last two years convinces me that he and the others are not being open with us, and that they are indeed working to neutralize the board.

Although the email was posted on websites, most KPFA listeners probably never knew of its existence till the current election when People's Radio candidates wrote a collective statement for the voter pamphlet which included that email and a detailed analysis of it. That statement drew blood. Both KPFA/Pacifica as well as Sherry Gendelman and others on her slate responded with howls of pain, characterizing their opposition as nasty, hateful and unfair.

I think the People's Radio statement was fair and appropriate. They said something that needed to be said. That's how democracy works.

Daniel Borgström
KPFA listener-subscriber
Oakland, California
November 2007


KPFA's past isn't dead, it isn't even past

by Steve Gilmartin

Reading Matthew Hallinan's "The KPFA Flap" (Oct. 30), I find the People's Radio slate characterized as "nasty characters," "attack dogs," and "true-believer bullies," capped by "they...substitute paranoid and baseless attacks on others to avoid spelling out what they really want...." Rather than engaging in exactly what he accuses the People's Radio slate of, Hallinan would have done well to educate himself about the station on whose board he wishes to sit.

"There is no danger of management turning the clock back to 1999," he writes. "The power of the Local Station Board is now written into the bylaws of the Foundation." But a central point of the People's Radio fact-based candidate statement is that virtually all of the station's current governance problems stem from intransigence regarding the bylaws by those holding power within the station. Contrary to statements made by some Concerned Listener candidates, the Local Station Board reaffirmed the Program Council's decision-making powers back in May 2004. When the Program Council decided to move Democracy Now! forward one hour (basically so that working people could listen to it during morning drive time), what was the overall reaction inside the station? Well, they didn't agree to try it out on a probationary basis subject to evaluation. And they didn't call for open discussion of the issue, in which the different viewpoints could be aired with the goal of reaching consensus or compromise. No, instead key staff simply refused to implement the decision. This signaled the beginning of post-hijacking actions by power brokers within the station to block and subvert any attempt to implement or create truly democratic process within KPFA, obstructions that continue to this day (witness the station's current string of election violations).

Like many current KPFA administrators and long-time insiders, Sherry Gendelman appears to know that it's not politically feasible to admit to anti-democratic bias when it comes to station governance. KPFA management's dirty little secret--not so secret now thanks to People's Radio--is that they adamantly oppose democracy and transparency from taking hold within the station. That so many Concerned Listener candidates seem willfully oblivious to post-takeover station politics comports with an LSB intended to function as a rubber stamp to an increasingly secretive station administration, where top-down decision-making is the order of the day and power is unhealthily concentrated among a very few.

Steve Gilmartin
KPFA listener-subscriber
Oakland, California


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KPFA 94.1 FM is one of five stations of the Pacifica radio network which are located in major cities across the country. The other stations are WBAI 99.5 in New York, WPFW 89.3 in Washington DC, KPFT 90.1 in Houston, and KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles. There are also about 160 affiliate stations.


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