When Nicole Sawaya steps into place as Pacifica Radio’s executive director—part-time in mid-November and full-time in December—she’ll have a couple of things that former executive director Greg Guma wished he’d had: one is a unanimous board solidly behind him and the second is a multi-year contract.
Guma has sat in Pacifica’s executive director slot since January 2006. He left at the end of September, having worked in the tenuous position of “at-will” employee without a contract, answering to a board very different from the one that appointed and supported him, he told the Planet on Friday in an interview at a south Shattuck café.
The problem, he said, is that some members of the 22-member national board change every year.
The board, which appoints the executive director, is elected by the local station boards of the five Pacifica stations, plus two representatives of the 125 affiliate stations, which carry some Pacifica programs. Local station boards are elected by listener-sponsors.
While the idea behind electing local station boards is to promote democracy, only 10 percent of the listener-sponsors vote in local station elections, Guma said. The result is that on local and national levels, board members “do not represent the broad spectrum of the network,” he said.
Of the board members that originally selected Guma—divided on his selection from the outset—only five or six people of that board remain. Having lost the support of the board majority, Guma said he chose to step down earlier than he had planned, turning in his resignation several months ago.
The division among the national board members is related to, in part, the members’ differing vision for the station. The question they face is whether the station acts as a cohesive network that includes strong national programming, which Guma favors, or whether it is what Guma calls a “feudal system,” with each of the five stations doing its own programming and rarely coming together with national programming.
“My vision was in conflict with more local-focused people,” said Guma.
For network-wide programming to take place, the local advisory boards of all the stations have to want it; support for it has to be built into their budgets, Guma said. At present, each of the local boards develops its budget and programming in a vacuum, he said.
Consistent and focused national programming that would include a national Pacifica news show, national specials and network-wide editorials would allow Pacifica programming to impact national media and the national debate, Guma said.
This cannot happen with fragmentation among the stations, where “one week you serve this group, the next week another,” Guma said.
Nonetheless, he feel Pacifica is doing much that is right. “Despite battles, disagreements, and limitations, Pacifica does produce some of the most politically significant, culturally diverse and educational radio available in this country. And its boards, despite any shortcomings, try their best to reflect constructive values and guide the organization—often at great personal sacrifice,” he wrote in an essay on his experience at Pacifica.
Guma’s not sure what’s next for him. He could go back to Vermont, though he said his partner likes the Bay Area. He will most certainly write.
Write about Pacifica? Guma said he might do that, though the story would best be told in fiction. “I could tell the essence and be less likely to be sued,” he said.
Most of his writing and editing has been nonfiction. He co-founded the Vermont Guardian in 2004, edited Toward Freedom, an international newsletter, and is the author of books including Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization, and What We Can Do and The People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution. He’s produced a documentary film, written plays, managed and owned bookstores and run non-profits.
Guma said he is hoping for the best for Sawaya. With the solid consensus of the board behind her and a five-year contract in place, Guma said he thinks she may be able to make some of the changes he was unable to do.
It won’t be easy, he cautioned, “She’ll have to stick her neck out.”
More of Guma’s thoughts on Pacifica can be found at http://kpft.wordpress.