Parliamentary Addiction

This was my introduction to KPFA's board (LSB) some years ago.--Daniel

Roberts abuse rendered KPFA's Local Station Board dysfunctional. The following report from 2006 recommended enrolling acutely addicted board members in Parliamentarians Anonymous for rehabilitation.

(It should be noted, however, that later studies traced the addiction to an uncontrollable compulsion on the part of a small clique of station staff, backed by local Democratic Party clubs, to prevent a transparent presentation of the budget, and to control all programming at KPFA.)

Descent into the gnarly tangle: the epidemiology of advanced parliamentarianism at KPFA--a year-long empirical study in causes and possible treatments

by Daniel Borgström,
(updated piece from 2006).

About nine years ago I took up board watching. As a KPFA listener I began attending the monthly public meetings of the Local Station Board (LSB), and I have to admit that for me it's often like looking into the insides of my computer and trying to figure out what's going on in there. Just keeping up with the names and faces of the LSB members and the roles they play is an ongoing process. There's also a host of other players in this drama, many of whom I've met or at least seen, and a lot more who just seem to be out there somewhere, exerting their influence on events. Names without faces. And of course there are the
hijackers of the 1990's, ghosts of the past, who still cast their nefarious shadows over KPFA and Pacifica Radio.

The board has 25 members, at least 20 of whom are normally present, but they don't always work together in harmony. The dysfunction has often been subtle, but frequently blatant, as on Saturday, April 22, 2006, the day the LSB met in San Jose, and where I really first saw this dysfunctionality manifested. For me, in my career as a board watcher, it was a rite of passage.

I arrived late and walked in the door fearing the meeting would be nearly over, but my concern was unfounded. To my amazement and disgust, it hadn't even begun. After three hours, the board members were still haggling over what items to include on the day's agenda.

The entire session was dominated by Robert's Rules of Order--in all its glory. Someone would speak and someone else would interrupt, saying, "Point of order." The point-of-order guy was Brian Edwards-Tiekert. Brian had points of order on this, and points of order on that.

The purpose for holding this meeting in San Jose was to include listener-activists from the South Bay Area, to hear their input, and involve them in the KPFA process. At least the first part of that plan had been a success; the room was nearly full, some fifty local people attending. But by the time the agenda was finally approved, most of the audience had gone home. For those who remained, it was time for public comments, an opportunity for these people to address the board. Not surprisingly, they got up one after another and castigated the LSB for the horrendous, time-wasting display of parliamentary procedures they had just been subjected to.

At long last, having worked out an agenda, and having received well-deserved scoldings from what remained of the audience, the board could finally settle into the business of the day. However, the hall had to be vacated by five o'clock, and it was now already after four. So, most of the agreed-upon agenda was jettisoned in hopes of dealing with one supremely urgent issue, a matter concerning the Pacifica National Board (PNB).

There was one more hurdle. Although they had rented the hall till 5:00, the meeting was scheduled to end at 4:20. They needed to extend the meeting time; naturally this had to be done according to Robert's Rules of Order.

And, of course, Brian Edwards-Tiekert was there to complicate matters. All afternoon he'd been bringing up arcane points of order, and now he did more of the same, seemingly impervious to the intense anger and disgust that had just been expressed by listeners who'd attended this meeting in hopes of seeing something done. Of course Brian's points were correct, according to the revered rules at least, but they were pointless points.

"Brian! What are you doing!" gasped a fellow board member. And Brian promptly responded with a rule to show that her rebuke was out of order.

I and other listeners in the audience sat there, helplessly watching the clock and groaning as the precious minutes ticked away. Five minutes wasted, then ten. Another five, and, finally, after twenty of those last minutes had been squandered, the chair overruled him and called for a vote. The meeting was extended to 5 p.m.

That single crucial item--concerning the national board of Pacifica Radio--was then quickly discussed and the vote was unanimous, Brian being part of the unanimity. The meeting then adjourned, having spent less than half an hour of that long afternoon on actual business.

So why had Brian gone off on such a parliamentary binge? He's a capable KPFA news reporter, and had aired some excellent, well researched reports on environmental topics, which made it even harder for me to understand his disruptive use of the rules of order. It seemed a bizarre and inconsistent way for an intelligent person to act. He seemed a likable person; I couldn't imagine him being so incredibly inconsiderate to all the people at that meeting. The big "why" of Brian's actions kept puzzling me as I remembered him sitting there, desperate to make yet another point of order, his hand reaching out compulsively for a microphone, like an alcoholic grasping for a drink.

The sickness and abuse of parliamentarianism. Brian Edwards-Tiekert was clearly addicted to Robert's Rules of Order, and, like so many addicted persons, he created problems for people around him. "Parliamentarians Anonymous," I kept thinking, might be the answer.

Addictions are said to be a symptom of underlying problems in the family, in this case the KPFA mgmt family. There is a faction of this board (
the "SaveKPFA" slate) which represents the station's dysfunctional mgmt and maneuvers to render the board irrelevant, leaving their control issues untreated. Brian Edwards-Tiekert is the favored child of station mgmt, essentially their voice on the board, and a leader in this faction, which enables him in his parliamentary binges.


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