a 2001 article by Gregory Wonderwheel
In 1998 and 1999, under the leadership of [Sherry] Gendelman, the KPFA Local Advisory Board (LAB) was virtually defunct.. […] When the troubles started in Spring of 1999 the KPFA LAB became a focus of attention. The listeners agitated for elections and initially Gendelman was not supportive. After pressure, when the LAB adopted elections Gendelman went along and as chair then reaped the rewards for her nonexistent "leadership".
by Gregory Wonderwheel
November 11, 2001
To KPFA listener voters: Please do NOT vote for Irwin Silber or Sherry Gendelman for the KPFA Local Advisory Board (LAB). These incumbents do not deserve to be reelected.
In the spectrum of participatory democracy between the ideal and the PNB, the KPFA LAB has acted much closer to the PNB in its lawless behavior and ineffectual achievement. These are my thoughts about why the KPFA LAB election process, as yet, has not succeeded in creating a functioning democratic body and my hope for the future that it will.
The spirit of Ronald Reagan lives in both Old and New Pacifica: people will accept responsibility but none of the blame. But basically, the chair, Sherry Gentleman, and vice-chair, Irwin Silber, have to bear the most responsibility for this last year's failure of the KPFA LAB. Neither should be reelected. Unfortunately, both will probably be reelected since there is no true debate and the vast number of listeners will have only heard the gushing compliments of Gendelman for her non-LAB activities from her on-air friends. If Sherry Gendelman were judged by her LAB activities she wouldn't get any vote at all in the LAB election.
In 1998 and 1999 under the leadership of Gendelman, the KPFA LAB was virtually defunct. Other than electing Pete Bramson to the PNB, the LAB hadn't done a single thing to carry out its other functions such as reviewing station policies and programming to determine if they meet community needs. When the troubles started in Spring of 1999 the KPFA LAB became a focus of attention. The listeners agitated for elections and initially Gendelman was not supportive. After pressure, when the LAB adopted elections Gendelman went along and as chair then reaped the rewards for her nonexistent "leadership".
In 2000 with the first elected LAB Gendelman has run the LAB in a lawless and ineffectual manner. The December 1999 and January 2000 meetings were wasted with self-congratulatory celebrations.
When the newly elected LAB with Gendelman, and a couple others grandfathered on for a one year term, began to operate, the LAB refused to acknowledge that the bylaws were in effect. In other words, since the elected members thought they were some kind of new wave in Pacifica they acted as if they didn't have any rules to follow. If they didn't acknowledge the bylaws, then to them the bylaws didn't exist. Gendelman as the chair was and is the one mainly responsible for this because she was the one who others looked to for continuity and leadership.
The new LAB did not elect officers for many months. Again because Gendelman didn't put this on the agendas. Gendelman has conducted meetings in plain violation of the station board bylaws and parliamentary procedure by voting on issues in violation of the rule that the chair only votes in a tie. Irwin Silber as vice-chair has endorsed this lawlessness and verbally attacks anyone on the LAB who raises the issue that the LAB ought to obey the rules.
The LAB has refused to enforce the bylaw provision that states that a member shall forfeit their membership if they are absent for three consecutive meetings without being excused by the executive committee. By violating the bylaw and refusing to recognize the vacancies the LAB has used the confusion it has created to prevent the rightful candidates for those seats from filling the vacant seats under the LAB's own election rules. Silber has now gotten the LAB to continue this lawless pattern by changing the rules in midstream. Without proper or adequate notice under Silber's motion the LAB has changed it rules and created a category of "suspension" of membership whereby the members who have forfeited their membership instead will be continued on in a newly created "suspended" category. Thus their seats are not being called vacant and are not being filled by those that the election rules call for to fill the vacancy.
While the KPFA LAB has diddled and twaddled, the listeners at meetings became more upset. Both Gendelman and Silber have made insulting remarks during the meetings toward listeners who stood up for democratic processes and a desire to be heard. In many meetings under their leadership the LAB has indicated quite clearly that they were not interested in hearing from the community They were more interested in patting themselves on the back then in getting any real accomplishment done.
1) The whole election process was done by listeners. Gendelman showed up at one meeting for 20 minutes to tell us how much she was in favor of appointed seats and then left, never to return.
2) When listeners demanded that the LAB do its job and seek out the community input, the LAB adopted a motion approving a project for community needs assessment. Interestingly the members of the LAB have participated very little the assessment. It has been conducted primarily by listeners.
3) About seven months ago, again under listener pressure, the LAB adopted a motion to revive the council of LAB chairs for the purpose of organizing the LAB issues nationally. The motion called for the chair and one other LAB member to contact the other chairs so that the council of chairs could bring coordinated issues to the PNB, To date, Gendelman has not put this motion into place and has left it gathering dust.
4) When listeners wanted to address the LAB on issues we were told by Gendelman and Silber and others to shut up (yes just like the PNB does). When this became intolerable the LAB had to back down and allow for comment.
Also, Silber has led the charge against other members of the LAB who have voiced concern about the lack of democratic principles and parliamentary procedure. When the LAB began using e-mail to hold virtual secret meetings and some LAB members objected, Silber and others made up allegations of violations of privacy against them for having their secret e-mails exposed.
Why has this lawlessness continued? There are many reasons.
First, the chair Sherry Gendelman has been a complete failure as a chair. She has shown neither leadership in getting the LAB to focus on its function and purpose, nor has she demanded that the LAB function according to its own rules or the rules of parliamentary procedure. On the contrary, she has encouraged the LAB to ignore the rules whenever it suits her and her agenda.
Second, I believe that the people who ran in the first election were all seen as being "against Pacifica" therefore no consideration was given to whether they had board knowledge or experience. As newcomers to such things they mostly deferred to the chair Gendelman, if they weren't abetting her.
Third, the election process is still new. We haven't developed a tradition or mechanism yet for getting these issues out to the vast number of listeners. Though we are having candidate nights, the issues have not come to the fore. For example, neither Silber nor Gendelman came to the candidate night in Santa Rosa, thus they could not be questioned about their record as incumbents. At this time the election rules hamper adequate campaigning outside the limited boundaries of the permitted venues. This must change in the future to allow the candidates to do direct outreach to the listeners.
Fourth, the accountability rules for recall are onerous and require that the entire LAB be recalled instead of single members. Therefore the LAB members know that they will be unchallenged by recall accountability. Also, the election campaigning rules insulate them from accountability in the reelection where incumbents have a tremendous advantage.
Fifth, there has been an unspoken conspiracy of silence about the KPFA LAB because people feel vulnerable to criticism. If we talk openly about these early failures people are afraid that other LABs will not become democratically elected. However, this fear is unfounded. The other LABs are equally ineffectual, in fact more so. At least the KPFA listeners have gotten the LAB to endorse a community needs assessment and allowed the volunteer listeners conduct the assessment. This is more than any other LAB can boast of. Also, the fact that the other LABs refuse to adopt elections has nothing to do with the KPFA LAB's experience. Those LABs fear losing their appointment power, plain and simple.
The election process is still new and as I said above, we haven't yet developed the channels of communication to the listeners. Each listener will receive a ballot with material including the candidate's own campaign statement. For the vast majority of listeners who haven't attended LAB meetings and are out of touch with the LAB these self-endorsing statements are all they will have to go on.
In fact, democracy will not come to the KPFA LAB until the LAB elections become politicized. So far, the political issues regarding the LAB process and functioning are still inchoate. The listeners are not given reports on the LAB so they don't know what the LAB is or isn't doing. In the future as the issues coalesce, I expect that slates of candidates will run for seats as a way of crystallizing the issues.
So even though I am very disappointed when looking over the last year and what this first group of elected LAB members has accomplished, I do continue to be encouraged that the elections are the only way out of the problem. All the appointed LABs are essentially crippled and dysfunctional. At least we can see that the elected KPFA LAB is making baby steps toward effectiveness. I think it will be a five year process.
At this time the most important step in progress for the KPFA LAB will be if the incumbents Irwin Silber and Sherry Gendelman are not reelected to the LAB. This would be the strongest message to the LAB that they need to get on the right track as soon as possible.
November 11, 2001