In a recent commentary, Richard Phelps attacks me and several others as “responsible for this crisis” at our sister station, WBAI in New York. I am a reporter and not prone to hyperbole: so please believe me when I tell you that the man’s rambling attack is nothing short of delusional.
I have served as the Treasurer of KPFA’s Local Station Board for the past four years, with the support of the “Concerned Listeners” group that Phelps maligns. That position gives me a seat on Pacifica’s National Finance Committee. From that position, I have publicly raised concerns about WBAI’s yawning deficits for years. You don’t need to take my word for it—the audio of all prior meetings is archived at kpftx.org.
During that tenure:
• I have repeatedly criticized WBAI’s proposed budgets and voted against them.
• I have reported my concerns about financial management at WBAI and Pacifica National, both on KPFA’s airwaves (during our Local Station Board report to the listener), during public comment at meetings of the Pacifica National Board, and during report-backs to KPFA’s Local Station Board.
• At the local level, I have, with the support of the people Mr. Phelps maligns, won approval of nearly a dozen resolutions calling for greater financial oversight and discipline from Pacifica’s National Office.
• Last summer, when I led the Pacifica National Board’s budgeting process, we secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending cuts at WBAI and over $1 million dollars in cuts across the rest of the network. And I still withheld my approval from WBAI’s proposed budget because I thought it made unrealistic assumptions about how much money the station would raise. I was supported in that work by Sherry Gendelman—chair of the Pacifica National Board at the time and another one of the people Phelps attacks as somehow colluding in creating the crisis at WBAI.
The truth is the “Concerned Listeners” coalition, that I have endorsed in past elections and will happily endorse again in this one, has the best track record on financial accountability of any group on KPFA’s Local Station Board. Together we have repeatedly called for stricter financial controls in Pacifica, responsible budgeting, more restraints on national spending, and we have repeatedly stood against financial deals crafted to benefit members of the Pacifica National Board and their friends. To its credit, the faction Mr. Phelps is more supportive of (the name changes every year) has supported some of those positions. However, since its allies installed a new regime at the Pacifica National Office, the members of that faction have changed their tune—or at least muted their criticism—even though many of the same problems persist. Most recently, they have withheld their support from a resolution seeking to end the practice of handing out jobs to board members.
The Concerned Listeners members of KPFA’s Local Station Board do not change their positions so easily: we’ve stood for financial transparency, accountability and spending discipline—and will continue to do so, regardless of who’s in charge of the network. And we will continue to press those concerns as matters of policy based on principle—not as personal attacks prosecuted for political gain.
The attack-dog style of politics in Phelps’ commentary is already too prevalent throughout Pacifica, and too often directed inward. We stand for something better at KPFA and Pacifica: rejeuvenated programming, an expanding listener base, and an end to petty sectarianism.
The station has made tentative steps in that direction: experimenting with national broadcasts such as its live coverage of the Winter Soldier hearings last spring, spearheading the Pacifica Network’s coverage of the 2008 presidential election, launching a new national series—“Letters to Washington”—to cover the new administration, bringing on a much-needed left-economics show in the form of Doug Henwood’s Behind the News to cover the financial crisis and expanding KPFA’s news operation through new partnerships with its sister stations in Fresno and Los Angeles. I look forward to more progress in the months to come.
I’m reserving judgement on the most recent shakeup at WBAI: time will tell whether or not it pushed the station in a positive direction. From out here, we can’t do much to fix things in New York—but at least we can be an example.
Brian Edwards-Tiekert is staff representative and treasurer of the KPFA Local Station Board.