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Pacifica board members resign under much heat

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Friday June 15, 2001

Feeling the heat of a grassroots nationwide campaign targeting the majority of the members of the Pacifica Foundation Board, Chair David Acosta and Boardmember Karolyn van Putten resigned their posts Wednesday. 

The foundation board holds the licenses to five listener-sponsored stations across the country, including KPFA in Berkeley. 

While activists celebrated  

the resignations as a victory, Pacifica spokesperson Michael Powell of Westhill Media Strategies chalked up the resignations to “a very hateful McCarthyite campaign.” 

Those opposing the board majority – activists calling for democratizing the board and full disclosure of financial information – had picketed the homes and businesses of the majority board members and conducted e-mail campaigns calling for full financial disclosure of the board’s expenditures and assets. Powell said he understood that it would be difficult for people to sustain their positions on the board under such fire. 

In his letter of resignation, Acosta did not speak to the reasons for his leaving, but reflected on the positive experiences of his years on the board: “My experience with Pacifica for the last seven years has been a fulfilling one, and I leave knowing that together we have made the Network better than it was when we got here.” 

Neither Acosta, a Texas attorney, nor van Putten, of Western Public Radio in San Francisco, returned calls for comment. 

Powell, who promised to get back to the Daily Planet with information on how much the Pacifica Foundation was paying for his company’s services, said the board majority will select new members in the mold of the ones resigning, so the board minority and their supporters will not have advanced their cause as a result of the resignations.  

The activists “systematically try to replace the board with their own people. They’re not making any headway,” he said. 

How will replacement board members be nominated? 

“The executive director will recruit people who she thinks will move the station forward,” Powell said. “(Supporters of the board minority) don’t have the votes on the board to nominate the people they want to nominate.” 

KPFA Local Advisory Board Chair Sherry Gendelman said she’d heard something about possible resignations. People close to negotiations around the four consolidated lawsuits - filed by listeners, local advisory board members and some of the minority members of the board – had got the message that some of the board members were seeking a dignified way to leave the board. “The tenor of conversation indicated those kinds of overtures,” she said. 

Gendelman said she was happy about the resignations of both the board members, noting that van Putten was among those who brought the notion to National Public Radio of the advantages of programming from one central location and sending the programs out to various stations as opposed to programming locally.  

Gendelman said the resignations could have an effect on the lawsuits. The suits contend, in part, that the board was illegally transformed from one that represented the five Pacifica radio stations’ listeners to one that is self-perpetuating and unrepresentative.  

“Those who leave (the board) might be dropped (from the suits) for their departure,” she said, noting that it may be possible for the suits to be resolved around the negotiating table and not go to trial. 

Gendelman said she hopes additional resignations will be forthcoming - the split is now 5-7 – but winning the struggle against the board could mean going back to internal dissension. Currently there are various local groups pushing hard for program modifications at KPFA. 

“We need to be patient,” Gendelman said.