Ten years after the 1999 Hijack Attempt
by Richard Phelps
July 6, 2009
After mass listener support rescued KPFA and the Pacifica Foundation from a self appointed Pacifica National Board (PNB) that was planning to sell KPFA or one of the other stations and take the "community" out of the network, new democratic Bylaws were written and adopted. The Bylaws process was long and difficult and like all new progressive ideas on governance they aren't perfect. Neither is the U.S. Constitution, which has 27 amendments and still needs some major work. Pacifica's Bylaws state a commitment for peace and social justice, Article One, Section 3. It seems inconceivable that peace and social justice can even be approached with out a democratic process with transparency and accountability. As Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world."
What has become clear, as Pacifica embarked on a new democratic path, is that everyone that fought the Hijackers didn't do so for the same reason! Most listener activists and some staff supported the new democratic process and welcomed the involvement and input of the listener/subscribers who are the regular audience and the financial supporters of the station and Pacifica.
At KPFA some staff and their listener supporters sought to defeat the Hijackers so that they could control KPFA and make the decisions about who gets air time and jobs. This latter group has used the power of the stations progressive reputation and the power of the microphone to maintain control and frustrate the new Bylaws in many ways. The staff/ listener group I am referring to was identified by an e-mail from Brian Edwards-Tiekert to the other "insiders" that became public in 2005. You can read the e-mail at http://peoplesradio.net. The author acknowledged its authenticity and the group now claims that it never met to discuss "dismantling the Local Station Board (LSB)", aka the democratic process, or "how do we make our enemies own the problems that are to come?" The other members of this group were a mix of listeners, paid staff, unpaid staff and management in 2005, when the e-mail was written. Most have moved up in the power hierarchy: Lemlem Rijio, then Development Director, now General Manager; Sasha Lilley, then paid staff, now Interim Program Director appointed by Lemlem Rijio; Bonnie Simmons, then LSB staff representative, now PNB; Amelia Gonzalez-Garcia, then unpaid staff, now paid Director of Arts and Public Affairs; Sherry Gendelman, then Listener LSB, now PNB; Lisa Rothman, paid executive producer of the Morning Show, Lisa had a beautiful baby and in 2006 left KPFA. This group has been supported by their electoral counter parts, first called KPFAForward in the 2004 election and now Concerned Listeners (CL).
Let's see what these folks have done to "dismantle the LSB". In 2003 the KPFA Program Council, made up of paid and unpaid staff and listeners, voted to move Democracy Now! (DN!) to Prime time, 7-8am and move the morning show to 8-10am. There had been significant listener demand/support for this time change and having worked several years in radio, AM & FM, I know the following, it is common practice and common sense to put your most popular/dynamic program in prime time. Lisa Rothman didn't want "her" program moved from "its" prime time position and her allies in the control group made sure it didn't happen.
In May 2004 the LSB voted to move DN! to prime time as per the Program Council's prior vote and set up a protocol on how to deal with program changes with management and the Program Council. The new interim GM, Jim Bennett, refused to make the time change and ignored the LSB Resolution. Dan Coughlin, the Executive Director (ED) of Pacifica, appointed Jim Bennett. Coughlin was an ally of the KPFA control group and worked closely with them to stifle transparency and Director's Inspections of the financial records. Director's Inspections are an "absolute right" given to Corporate Directors to facilitate their fiduciary responsibilities, California Corporations Code Section 6334 and Article 12, Section 3 of the Pacifica Bylaws. For more information on why the PNB allowed this to happen see my May 14, 2009 article The Pacifica Financial Crisis: Who is Responsible?.
In 2007 GM Lemlem Rijio and her appointed Interim Program Director, Sasha Lilley, quietly ended the Program Council after some months of describing it as "advisory." The LSB under CL majority control ignored the previous Resolution codifying the Program Council and did nothing to save the Program Council. The CL majority didn't vote to overturn the prior resolution since that would have exposed their undemocratic nature. They just looked the other way.
In 2007 GM Rijio took away the official status of the Unpaid Staff Organization (UPSO). UPSO existed to represent the unpaid staff at KPFA, more than 200 people. These are the people who do the majority of the work that goes on the air. After a two-year struggle UPSO is now being recognized after a change in Pacifica leadership and a directive to GM Rijio to do so. See the May 14, 2009 BDP article for more details on the change in leadership.
The vote on UPSO recognition at the LSB in 2007 was one of the very few times the CL didn't vote in lock step to support Rijio's consolidation of power. However the few defections didn't change anything since at that time they controlled the PNB in collusion with some others local tyrannical majorities. This collusion elected Sherry Gendelman Chair of the PNB in 2008 and she did nothing to change the UPSO denial by the KPFA GM. Only after a change in the PNB majority, with the CL collusion losing control did the new PNB Chair and Interim ED, Grace Aaron lean on the KPFA GM to reinstate the UPSO.
The CL slate literature for the 2006 and 2007 LSB elections was silent on the issues of the Program Council and the DN! move to prime time. www.PeoplesRadio.net and most listener activists have consistently supported a Program Council with listener participation and the DN! move to prime time.
In January of 2009 the CL LSB majority voted to meet only once every other month. This despite the backlog of work to be done and how it effected the selection of LSB members to important PNB committees. All the stations elect the committee members in February. This year KPFA didn't elect their committee representatives until March, despite my bringing this up to them during the January meeting before the vote to meet half as often and not in February.
How has the CL maintained its slim majority on the LSB. Here are some of the dirty tricks they have used to dominate the elections. In 2006 and 2007 GM Rijio refused to allow any election information to be broadcast when the ballots were sent out. Rijio's justification was that there was, coincidentally, a fund drive in progress. Election information was broadcast during fund drives at other stations. Each year CL spent thousands of dollars and sent out a slate mailer to arrive with the ballots during the election black out imposed by their ally Rijio. To top that off, in 2007 when they finally did run some candidate carts, they ran all 22 at once and Sherry Gendelman was first. After the election there was only one news story on KPFA about the election. Interviewed were Sherry Gendelman, a CL candidate, Matthew Lasar, a CL endorser, and Dan Siegel and Larry Bensky both CL allies and supporters and both guilty of using station or Foundation resources to support CL or attack their opponents in violation of election ethics. No listener activist candidates were interviewed.
In the upcoming election there will be ample airtime for the election since the new PNB majority has resolved that it will be so. Bonnie Simmons a CL/Rijio group PNB member recently made a motion to rescind the Resolution to require ample airtime for the election. As of this writing her motion hasn't been up for debate and vote. However it comes out, the CL/Rijio group's desire to limit information about the election and the candidates is clear and stands in stark contrast of the Mission of Pacifica.
Over a year ago Rijio took the visible link to the LSB page off the front page of the KPFA web site and hid it under "ABOUT". They don't announce the LSB meetings on the front page of the web site and often don't announce them on the air as required by the Bylaws.
When they did the 60th anniversary celebration for KPFA and Pacifica this year they held a $300 dinner. I support having fundraisers and there also should have been a celebration open to the majority of our listeners. There was nothing official about the 10th anniversary of the struggle against the Hijackers, which brought 15,000 people to a rally and ended with new democratic Bylaws.
What is clear from the actions described above is that the CL/Rijio/Lilley regime has sought to eliminate democratic centers of power at the station and reduce listener input and concentrate power and control in their hands contrary to the Bylaws. At a LSB meeting in 2007 Rijio referred to the Bylaws when addressing the LSB as "your" Bylaws. Sasha Lilley has also made comments attacking the Bylaws.
"Our leadership elite may still want to believe in democratic principles-they certainly profess that they do-but in practice they have shown themselves all too willing to violate those principles in order to gain or retain power", Cornel West from his book Democracy Matters. And if democracy matters for you, it is time for a new majority on the KPFA LSB.
RICHARD PHELPS, former Chair, KPFA LSB, 35 year listener/subscriber, former AM & FM radio announcer. July 6, 2009.
also by Richard Phelps:
SaveKPFA and the Truth are Seldom on the Same Page by Richard Phelps
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