Public Comment

Crying Wolf at KPFA

By Akio Tanaka
Thursday August 13, 2009 - 10:35:00 AM

As many Daily Planet readers may know there is a KPFA Local Station Board election coming up. I am running for re-election to the KPFA board so I was quite intrigued last Thursday when an article titled “KPFA charges Pacifica with Raiding KPFA Funds” by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor appeared on the front page of the Berkeley Daily Planet. 

The article concerned a petition that was being circulated by Brian Edwards-Tiekert for people to protest the raiding of KPFA funds by the Pacifica National Office. Eden Tosch, the KPFA volunteer coordinator and Philip Maldari of the Morning Show called on volunteers and listeners to attend the coming Local Station Board to voice their concerns also. 

It was a very serious and incendiary accusation that should have been thoroughly vetted, yet in the article Allen-Taylor only notes that he was unable to get hold of Grace Aarons, the Pacifica interim executive director, or LaVarn Williams, the Pacifica interim chief financial officer. 

Tracy Rosenberg, a KPFA Local Station Board delegate who asked Allen-Taylor about the source, reported, “Jesse Taylor e-mailed me back today and told me the Planet was indeed tipped off from someone, but that person insisted that their name be kept out of the story as a condition of getting it and he gave his word and cannot divulge his source. He did say he thought it was unfortunate.” 

Conn Hallinan, who is the KPFA LSB chair and a regular columnist for the Berkeley Daily Planet, opined that, “We don’t know that the information is false because LaVarn has not responded.” 

Ironically the Pacifica National Board finance committee met on the same night the article appeared. At the meeting LaVarn Williams stated that she did not authorize or give instructions for the transfer of any funds from KPFA to the National Office. 

So the online petition was untrue as are the accusations made by Brian Edwards-Tiekert in the Berkeley Daily Planet and forwarded to KPFA’s entire volunteer list-serv and most of its staff list, so it is worthwhile to look at what the Pacifica National Office is dealing with. 

The main issue that was facing Pacifica National Office was the deteriorating financial situation at WBAI which was the result of many years of mismanagement. In fact, when LaVarn Williams as a director of Pacifica National Board tried to inspect the WBAI books back in 2005, she was blocked by the then Pacifica executive director. 

Grace Aarons became the interim executive director only this January. And what she faced was that WBAI was three month in arrears on the rent and in danger of being evicted. Her first action was to replace the management that had brought WBAI to brink of bankruptcy. She fired the interim CFO of Pacifica, Ronnie Hicks, the programming director, Bernard White of WBAI, and she demoted manager Tony Riddle of WBAI to a staff position. 

Grace Aarons, in order to stem the tide of bleeding at WBAI asked LaVarn Williams to fill in as interim CFO because LaVarn is a capable financial manager who also has intimate knowledge of Pacifica finances. LaVarn has managed to slowly bring WBAI and Pacifica back to solvency. 

Grace Aarons also asked LaVarn to fill in as interim general manager of WBAI. LaVarn just oversaw the most successful fundraising drive at WBAI in years. 

LaVarn Williams and Grace Aarons should be getting kudos for doing a yeoman’s job of trying to reverse the years of mismanagement at WBAI and Pacifica. Yet Dan Siegel of Concerned Listeners, who himself was once interim executive director of Pacifica and now running for the KPFA Board, says in his candidate statement, “Pacifica’s survival is once again threatened by a national board whose main effort appears to be the consolidation of its own power and the elimination of people who hold differing views.” 

So the charges Brian Edwards-Tiekert made last week should be looked at in the context of the coming KPFA elections, because two candidates running on the Concerned Listener slate echo the charge made by Brian Edwards-Tiekert. John Van Eych in his candidate statement says ”Help defend our local jewel against further incursions by the PNB into KPFA’s property and funds.” Dan Siegel, in his candidate statement says “KPFA’s resources must be protected against efforts to have it serve as Pacifica’s bank.” Dan Siegel on the CL website also accuses the Pacifica National Office of ‘ethnic cleansing’ because the people Grace Aarons fired or demoted are all black men, even though the LaVarn Williams who is filling in as iCFO of Pacifica and as iGM of WBAI is a black woman. It would have been more accurate to accuse Grace Aarons of ‘gender cleansing’ of men. 

It is possible that Brian Edwards-Tiekert is using the supposed raid by Pacifica of KPFA as a straw man in the upcoming KPFA election. 

It is to be hoped that the election will be decided on real issues facing KPFA. The Unpaid Staff Organization, which represents two thirds of the staff at the station, was disenfranchised, exacerbating the rift between the paid and unpaid staff at the station. The Pacifica National Board had to step in to reverse the decision. KPFA is supposed to be community radio yet Program Council, a body designed to make programming decisions in a “fair, collaborative and respectful manner’’ as mandated by the Pacifica bylaws was disbanded. 

And it is to be hoped that Berkeley Daily Planet will be more judicious in its future reporting. 


Akio Tanaka is an Oakland resident.