Intimidation Between the Minutes
"He advanced on me yelling and shaking his finger during a meeting I was chairing. I thought he was going to hit me." --Sasha Futran
by Daniel Borgström
Board meetings can be dull, but not the one held on March 7, 2010. Sasha Futran was chairing, and Conn "Ringo" Hallinan spoke out of turn, interrupting Tracy Rosenberg. Sasha called him to order, and he bellowed back "YOU are out of order!"
Conn Hallinan had been board chair till last fall, when his faction, the CL'ers ("Concerned Listeners", now "Save KPFA") narrowly lost their majority in the KPFA election. They were unhappy about that, and, despite being the minority, were agitating to reclaim some or perhaps even all the officer positions of the board, an agenda which might enable them to reassert their control of the station and continue their opaque, top-down style of management that has gotten KPFA into financial jeopardy. As always, the CL'ers were in lock step, taking turns presenting their case, some being nice and some nasty. A good-cop-bad-cop sort of thing. It began to look as if this had been planned out, with Conn assigned to the nasty-guy role.
The outburst was brief and discussion returned to a calmer manner. But the subject had not changed, the CL'ers continuing to take up meeting time pushing their agenda. After two or three CL'ers spoke, Sureya Sayadi defended her side, the ICR ("Independents for Community Radio"), who are the new majority on this board.
"This sounds like bullying to me," she said, referring to the CL'ers' agenda. There'd been an election, she reminded them, and saw no reason to hand the board offices back over to the CL'ers. "You guys were controlling finances--" and she was interrupted by Conn Hallinan, his second outburst that day.
"Call the fucking member to order!" Conn shouted into the mike.
"Conn! Conn!" said Sasha. "I'm going to call YOU to order. Okay?"
"You can TRY!" Conn yelled back at Sasha, going on to accuse Sureya of abusive, personal insults.
"What was personal about that?' Sasha asked, and, not getting a satisfactory answer, repeated her question. "WHAT was personal about that?"
Conn left his seat at the far end of the table and advanced pugilistically towards the chair, pointing his finger at her and shouting as he approached.
"Sit! Sit! Sit!" Sasha ordered. In her other life she's a dog trainer, and at this moment she looked to be on automatic pilot. "Do I need to use positive reinforcement dog training on you? Sit!"
Conn did not sit. He continued his menacing advance, his voice resounding off the walls and filling the room with apprehension. Finally, with only a narrow table between them, Conn halted and stood there shouting at Sasha, point blank. Sureya had engaged in a personal attack, he boomed out, waving his finger.
"That was NOT personal!" Sasha told him, but Conn kept yelling. "Who did [Sureya] name?" Sasha demanded to know.
Watching from the back of the room, I sat there stunned, feeling I should do something. Maybe the rest were as immobilized as I was. The scene might have lasted thirty seconds, but time slows down at critical moments. After an eternity, someone in the audience had the presence of mind to call out, "Conn, you're being videotaped!" I think it was Richard Phelps.
"WHO did she name?" Sasha repeated her question to Conn.
Pointing now at Andrea Prichett, Conn barked, "ASK HER!" And with that, Conn turned about and marched back to his seat, leaving us all to wonder what he meant by telling the Chair to ask Andrea. (Later I asked Andrea, and she didn't know either.)
There was a flurry of comments and expressions of relief. Joe Wanzala and Akio Tanaka murmured words of comfort and reassurance to Sureya. Brian Edwards-Tiekert strode across the room to Conn, put his arm across his shoulder and said a few words, then returned to his seat. There was a brief lull after the storm. It was still only 20 minutes into the meeting.
Then Chandra Hauptman took up a mike and said in a slow, calm, measured tone: "If a member cannot conduct themselves in an orderly manner they should leave. They should be asked to leave."
"Sureya should leave!" yelled a CL'er. I think it was Diane Enriquez.
"Sureya should leave!" chorused another CL'er.
"Okay folks, that's enough!" Sasha told the CL'ers. "THAT IS ENOUGH!"
Sureya was still holding a mike in her hand. "Someone should take a picture of you," she said to Conn.
Sasha turned to Sureya. "There are photos. It's all videotaped."
And indeed it was. It's there for the record. In Sureya Sayadi's speech that Conn interrupted, there are no personal attacks, and, the video shows Conn advancing on the chair.
"Ringo" is Conn's nickname, probably after a prize fighter by that name, considering his father's preoccupation with boxing. All the Hallinan brothers have macho nicknames, like Dynamite, Kayo, and Butch, and they've always prided themselves on being tough guys. Now in their 60's and 70's, it appears the brothers still haven't outgrown that aspect of their youthful image. It seems to be part of how they get their way, their Plan B for use when having a board majority isn't an available option.
I do not for a minute believe that Conn "Ringo" Hallinan was truly out of control that day. I think it was part of his act, an unconscious, learned, strategy. An acquaintance of mine who knew several of the Hallinans well during their teens attests to their pugnacious behavior on many occasions, both at Tamalpais High School, and, a few years later, during summers at Camp Mather. Although they could be pleasant on many social occasions, they were also bullies, even back then, and nobody with any sense was foolish enough to tangle with them.
"Ringo" finished the scene by yelling "Ask her!"--a puzzling exit statement. It looked to me like a clever way of tossing the ball into the other court. That seems to be the way intimidation works. And it did work. Conn was not formally reprimanded and there was not even a motion made to that effect. There was just a brief moment of quiet as people caught their collective breath. Then the CL'ers started in once more with their agenda, and, though they didn't manage to push it all the way through that day, they succeeded in getting it on the schedule for future meetings.
How can the CL'ers get away with stuff like that? It's because Conn Hallinan is more than just a barroom brawler, he's also a prominent member of the progressive community, scion of a famous and wealthy family. He's been a newspaper editor and currently writes articles on foreign policy matters. Conn has considerable status, and when a person with status blows his top and yells and screams and makes a threatening advance, it's often excused and assumed that he has an acceptable and legitimate reason for doing so.
I thought of calling this dramatic episode "The Barroom Brawler vs. the Poodle Dog Trainer," but such a title could obscure the real theme, which goes far beyond questions of who is the biggest, the toughest, the meanest, or the nicest and the most Roberts Rules abiding of the players. The real story in this scene is the struggle between two opposing views of how to run KPFA/Pacifica:
One is the ICR, Peoples Radio and VFJR view that there be financial transparency and accountability--woefully lacking during the years of KPFA/Pacifica's growing financial crisis. To remedy that and also to create more community-building media, we need participation by station staff and listeners through board elections and through bodies such as the Unpaid Staff Organization and the Program Council. These structures, already mandated by the Pacifica bylaws, have been consistently opposed and often thwarted by the CL'ers, who believe a tiny management clique should make all major decisions on their own.
The CL'ers assert that KPFA elections are expensive and cumbersome. But to the extent that this is true, problems have been hugely exacerbated by station management's playing an obstructionist role in every election. While it's true that democracy isn't easy, and isn't cheap either, the alternative is a top-down station management without transparency or accountability. That, in effect, is what we've had for the last several years. The ICR, who are now the board majority, are working to change this, while the CL'ers are defending the status quo. That is what all the yelling and screaming is about.
from KPFA's LSB of March 7, 2010
updated September 13, 2010
Later at the same LSB meeting on March 7, 2010 another CL'er, Dan Siegel, invited Richard Phelps to step outside for a fist fight.
YouTube video of March 7 drauma
Also see: Conn Hallinan & a revealing email exchange
The "Concerned Listeners" (CL'ers) have changed their name to "Save KPFA." But that name belongs to an earlier group. Folks of the original "Save KPFA" fought the good fight for listener democracy for many years in the 1990's, starting in 1993. "Save KPFA" is their name; they earned it, and they have asked the CL'ers to immediately stop using it. But the CL'ers have still been calling themselves "Save KPFA."
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MISCELLANEOUS NOTES from March 7, 2010
AUDIO from KPFA's LSB of march 7, 2010
AUDIO from KPFA's LSB of march 7, 2010
SUREYA SAYADI's talk transcribed from the audio.
Here's the full text of what Sureya said till she was interrupted by Conn:
"I mean this sounds like bulling to me.
Because there's law where you have vote.
When you vote you can't cry about it.
It's just like 'We didn't win.' You know?
Because in the 3 years I've been here
you guys did every single thing even about
how to go to Fresno. Not to go to Fresno.
We don't want to go back to that.
That's why we are being so bad.
Because you guys were controlling
(interrupted at this point by Conn Hallinan)
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