For the last month we’ve been occupying the Pacifica National Office, barricaded in, 24/7, taking turns standing watch, resisting the rogue board. We’re KPFA listeners and programmers, United for Community Radio members, with help from our allies at other Pacifica stations. Here’s how this came about:
On the night of March 13th the Executive Director of the Pacifica Radio Network was suddenly fired by the Pacifica National Board. No reason was given for the dismissal; the item had not even been on the agenda. The motion was simply introduced in a closed session and quickly passed by the SaveKPFA faction and their allies, who constitute a thin majority of the board.
Dismissing an executive who holds a three-year contract is not a simple matter. Performance reviews and due processes are required. Causes need to be stated. But all of that was ignored that night of the 13th. A motion to have a HR attorney present personnel advice was even voted down. Such behavior on the part of a board is an incredible breach of fiduciary duty which leaves the foundation open to lawsuit. It also poses the risk of uninsurability.
The firing seemed dubious if not downright illegal. “This time, SaveKPFA really overreached!” some were saying. Most of us were just shaking our heads in disbelief, “Well yes, they did overreach, but what can we do?” We feared we were going to be limited to saying “Naughty! Naughty!” while SaveKPFA brazenly took over and cannibalized the network. Legal or not, it looked as if the coup were going to work. Game over. After all, fired executives typically collect their severance pay and disappear. And that’s clearly what everyone assumed Summer Reese, the fired ED of Pacifica, would do. SaveKPFA seemed perfectly willing to give her a six-figure check at a time when the network is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy — $300,000 of the listeners’ money just to leave town and be gone.
The following Monday morning found a small group of us standing disconsolately on the sidewalk in front of the Pacifica National Office in Berkeley. On the door to the office was a large padlock, placed there by the SaveKPFA faction to graphically show that they now had Pacifica under lock and key. We had gathered there at the request of a board member, one of our people, Janet Kobren. “This is really important,” Janet had impressed upon us, without further explanation. Four or five members of the Pacifica office staff were there as well, also locked out. A videographer in our group took pictures of the perfidious lock, while we dutifully waited, not really knowing what for. It felt as though we were there to say goodbye to Pacifica. Then Janet closed her cell phone and announced, “Summer Reese is coming.”
Minutes later, she arrived, accompanied by her mother, Geneva. Summer held her employment contract in one hand and a pair of bolt cutters in the other. She gave a brief talk to our small group, a videographer recording the event:
I’m Summer Reese, Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation Radio. We’re here this morning on St. Patrick’s day with my staff who’ve been locked out of the building by Margy Wilkinson, the alleged chair of the National Board that seized power and put the Foundation at great risk. . . . It’s Monday morning and we have audits to do and work to complete. Thank you all for being here, for supporting what’s right, and we’ll get to the bottom of everything that’s going on in this network, that’s taking it down, and stop that to the best of our ability and with public support.
She then stepped up to the door and applied the bolt cutters, crunching SaveKPFA’s padlock. As the shattered lock fell to the ground amidst applause, Summer took out her key, opened the regular lock, then turning to the rest of us with a smile, said, “Let’s go to work.”
Summer had cut the Gordian Lock, and we filed in after her. The office staff set about their normal duties, and we began our occupation of the building. Summer Reese, the briefly ousted chief of Pacifica, was back in charge.