Pacifica Radio in turmoil as ousted executive stages sit-in

BERKELEY, California Wed Mar 26, 2014 11:19pm EDT

1 of 5. Summer Reese, the fired executive director of the Pacifica Radio network, speaks with supporters in her office at the organization's headquarters in Berkeley, California March 26, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Noah Berger

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BERKELEY, California (Reuters) - The fired executive director of the Pacifica Radio network says she is not leaving the left-leaning organization's California headquarters, and equipped with an inflatable air mattress at her office, she is settling in for a fight.

Summer Reese, 40, was fired by the non-profit foundation's board in an 11-7 vote on March 13 and locked out of the headquarters in Berkeley, California, both sides said.

After cutting the padlock to get into the building, Reese has hunkered down for nine days with a team of supporters in the headquarters of Pacifica Foundation Radio, which oversees a five-station radio network serving New York, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Houston and Washington, D.C.

At least on a day-to-day level, Reese still claims to be running the network.

"This has shaken everybody up," Reese said, from behind her desk. "I'm being asked to follow the illegal actions of a rogue board."

She and her team have equipped themselves for their working sit-in, which Reese said involves around-the-clock shifts, with an inflatable air mattress leaning against a cubical wall and takeout food boxes plopped around the offices.

Reese argued she was not given a reason for being fired and that the move violated her contract, which required her to be terminated for cause.

After chairing the Pacifica national board for two years and working as both the chair and interim executive director for a year, Reese signed a contract in January to permanently take on the organization's top role. The agreement guaranteed her $315,000 over three years, according to a copy of the contract.

She said the board likely ousted her because she was demanding greater financial accountability.

Board Chair Margy Wilkinson agreed the organization has struggled financially but denied Reese's allegations. Wilkinson said she was prohibited from providing further details about Reese's dismissal, citing employee privacy rules.

"I think her response since she has been terminated totally validates the decision to terminate her," she said. "I think the board took an action that was appropriate and necessary."

The board is looking at legal options, Wilkinson added.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (3)
dgans wrote:

Mar 26, 2014 12:32am EDT  --  Report as abuse
policymavenMD wrote:
To describe the network as being in “turmoil” is way over the top. The 5 stations of the network are broadcasting their usual programming, there is no marching in the streets to defend Ms. Reese, and the network staff are working in their office. As you indicated, you have an employee who was not permanently hired, insisting that she is still the boss, when in fact the board of directors, by a majority vote, terminated her employment. The only turmoil here is in the mind of the ex-employee. Sad to see Reuters just carrying water for this woman in turmoil. If she thinks she is in the right, then she should allow her personnel file at Pacifica to be made available to the press.

Mar 27, 2014 1:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
ECJLA wrote:
Commenter “poicymavenMD” misread the article, stating that Reuters is reporting that Ms. Reese was “not permanently hired”. The article’s reporter Ms. Kearney states the opposite: “Ms. Reese signed a contract in January to permanently take on the organization’s top role. The agreement guaranteed her $315,000 over three years, according to a copy of the contract.”

Ms. Kearney also reports: “Reese argued she was not given a reason for being fired and that the move violated her contract, which required her to be terminated for cause.”

I have followed this “turmoil” closely since it erupted. It is not seriously disputed by anyone that the Pacifica Foundation Board terminated Ms. Reese without stating any reason and without any “progressive discipline” in breach of the (in sum) just cause termination provisions of her contract.

Ms. Kearney also mentions the Board’s 11-7 vote on March 13 to terminate Ms. Reese. The Pacifica National Board has 22 members. The Board did not provide notice to its own members that Ms. Reese’s termination would be voted upon at the March 13th meeting, and took the vote without hearing the objections of the Board’s own counsel who believed the firing to be non-compliant with both applicable law and Ms. Reese’s contract. Nor has the current Pacifica Board produced minutes of any of its meetings since the beginning of the year.

The above irregularities alone seem to amply justify Ms. Reese’s description of the Pacifica National Board as “rogue”. What responsible steward of a non-profit Foundation exposes the organization to damages on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars literally weeks after permanently hiring a chief executive?

Although there are numerous collateral issues, the “turmoil” at Pacifica really is more than the left’s traditional “two progressives three opinions” syndrome or “crabs in a barrel pulling each other down” tendencies. Ironically enough, the fundamental issue is a mini-version of the one that precipitated the American Civil War, namely the right of succession of the constituent parts of the federal union (bear with me:

Pacifica Foundation is a network comprised of 5 stations, one each in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Houston, Washington DC and New York City. The Foundation owns all 5 stations’ licenses. Summer Reese and her supporters (like Lincoln and his) are determined to preserve the Foundation’s 5 stations in the Foundation “union”.

The goal of Ms. Reese’s detractors and opponents is essentially to dissolve the Foundation and re-constitute each station as separate fiefs (under the control of the current rogue Board members). The goal of the rogue Board members includes cannibalizing the Foundation’s NYC station WBAI (whose broadcast license is worth many millions of dollars) and distributing the proceeds to the other 4 stations.

The catalyst for this attack on the citadel of Pacifica’s institutional integrity was to have been the ever-worsening financial woes at WBAI. Through extraordinarily diligent and difficult work, Summer Reese stabilized WBAI by making some very hard choices, including relocating broadcast facilities to less expensive quarters and (because there was no other choice given Pacifica’s finances) letting go most of paid staff there last year.

The very day the Board terminated her she had dispatched severance pay to the laid off WBAI staffers. In short, the Board terminated Summer not for any short-fall in performance, but because she had done her job too well and foiled the pretext the Board majority had planned to use to break up the Pacifica union.

One last point: at the turn of the century Pacifica experienced a period of litigious turmoil out of which emerged a democratic governance structure. Listener-sponsors at the 5 stations vote for Local Station Board (LSB) representatives, and those LSB reps in turn elect delegates to the Pacifica National Board (PNB).

I have voted in each election at the Los Angeles station (KPFK) over the past dozen years. Not one LSB candidate has ever advocated in their “platform” literature breaking up the Pacifica Foundation into constituent station parts, much less the idea of wholly or partially liquidating one of the 5 stations and distributing the profits to the other 4 stations. If anyone were to so advocate it is utterly inconceivable they would have been elected.

Most Pacifica station listener sponsors like the idea of Pacifica being a small but proud “national progressive radio network” and want to build that network up, not shatter it to pieces. Yet (without any such mandate whatsoever) the current 3 delegates to the PNB from KPFK, my home station here in Los Angeles, have evidently joined forces with like-minded cohorts from KPFA, the Berkeley station, to lead this effort to destroy the institutional integrity of the Foundation they have an ethical and fiduciary duty to steward with fidelity to its founding mission and in good faith.

It is a scandalous and shameful situation that will assuredly lead to increased turmoil in the form of recall elections and legal challenges if the radical and reckless attempted ouster of Ms. Reese, who is far-and-way the most competent and effective leader Pacifica Foundation has had since shortly after its inception, is not rescinded ASAP.

I hope Reuters continues to follow this important developing story.

Eric C. Jacobson
Public Interest Lawyer
Los Angeles, California

Mar 31, 2014 8:24am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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