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KPFA Funds Not Being Transferred to Pacifica

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday August 13, 2009 - 10:58:00 AM

One hundred thousand dollars in funds from Berkeley radio station KPFA are not being transferred to an account of parent company Pacifica Foundation, as alleged by a KPFA official in a Berkeley Daily Planet story last week, but controversy continued this week over whether such a transfer was thwarted by the allegations themselves, or if the money transfer was never contemplated in the first place, and reports of it stemmed from a misunderstanding in a telephone conversation between Wells Fargo Bank and KPFA. 

There was also controversy over whether KPFA Local Station Board Staff Representative and Treasurer Brian Edwards-Tiekert acted prudently or precipitously in initially drawing public attention to allegations of the fund transfer. And there were allegations that Edwards-Tiekert may have raised the issue of the purported fund transfer to beat off an attempt to recall him from his seat on the KPFA local board. 

Last week, the Daily Planet reported that Edwards-Tiekert had sent an e-mail to “KPFA colleagues” and posted an online petition charging that Pacifica was removing the money from a KPFA Wells Fargo account without notifying KPFA officials or receiving their permission. 

Pacifica is a Berkeley-based nonprofit corporation and community radio network that owns five listener-supported commercial-free stations throughout the nation, including KPFA. 

The alleged—and now nonexistent—$100,000 KPFA-to-Pacifica transfer has been confused with a current KPFA-Pacifica-Wells Fargo Bank transaction also involving $100,000. A year ago, by all accounts with the knowledge of KPFA officials and within Pacifica and KPFA guidelines, Pacifica secured a $300,000 line of credit with Wells Fargo by using $400,000 in KPFA money as collateral. The transaction tied up KPFA for a year. This week, after paying off the line of credit, Pacifica released $300,000 of the encumbered money (plus $20,000 in interest) back to KPFA, while holding the remaining $100,000 as collateral for another line of credit. Because Edwards-Tiekert mentioned both $100,000 figures in his original e-mail, the two separate transactions—one actual and one alleged—have gotten intertwined in the discussion coming out of the fund transfer controversy. 

This week, Pacifica officials and Edwards-Tiekert agree on one thing: there will be no $100,000 money transfer from KPFA to Pacifica. 

In a telephone interview, Pacifica National Board Chair and Interim Pacifica Foundation Executive Director Grace Aaron told the Daily Planet flatly that there was “absolutely no truth” to the allegation that Pacifica was appropriating $100,000 in KPFA money, either with or without KPFA’s knowledge or approval. Aaron said that Pacifica owns the assets of all five member radio stations and can shift money from one member station to meet the financial responsibilities and obligations of another, but such a financial shift would have to be approved by Pacifica’s 22-member national board. That national board is made up, in part, of five representatives apiece from each of the five member stations, including KPFA. 

Aaron said, “I think there was a misunderstanding” about the alleged $100,000 KPFA-to-Pacifica fund transfer. 

That position was echoed by Pacifica interim Chief Financial Officer LaVarn Williams during a Pacifica Foundation National Finance Committee telephone conference meeting held on the evening of Aug. 5, the day the Daily Planet article was published. During the meeting, Williams said that the allegations of the $100,000 fund transfer were “absolutely untrue” and that it was “never my intent” for such a proposed transfer to take place. Williams said she attempted to determine the source of the allegation after reading about it in the Daily Planet story, including speaking with Wells Fargo officials and KPFA Business Manager Maria Negret. “Somehow, in some conversation,” Williams said, “I’m not sure how it happened, somebody got it confused.” 

The conversation in question may have been a July 31 conversation between a Wells Fargo official and Negret, in which Negret called Wells Fargo about another matter and was told something about a KPFA-Pacifica financial transaction. 

In his original e-mail sent to KPFA staff members Aug. 5, Edwards-Tiekert said that “this past Friday, a Wells Fargo agent told KPFA’s Business Manager that Pacifica National had instructed the bank to transfer $100,000 of KPFA’s money to a National Office savings account.” 

A KPFA official confirmed that Edwards-Tiekert was notified about the July 31 telephone conversation between Negret and Wells Fargo, and that the Edwards-Tiekert statement in the August 5 e-mail accurately reflected what took place during that telephone conversation. 

In communications following up the Aug. 5 Pacifica Foundational National Finance Committee telephone meeting, in which he participated, Edwards-Tiekert has intimated that the alleged $100,000 transfer was originally planned, but was aborted. In an Aug.7 e-mail to undisclosed recipients identified only as “colleagues,” Edwards-Tiekert wrote that “Pacifica will not take $100,000 of KPFA’s funds (The iCFO says she never intended to. KPFA’s Business Manager says the bank told her—twice—that that those were the orders they’d been given).” And Edwards-Tiekert’s online petition protesting the alleged transfer now has an August 8 addendum that reads “Pacifica now says it will not actually remove any of KPFA’s funds... The petition below refers to what the bank told us was an order from Pacifica to divert an additional $100,000 from KPFA’s account. That much appears to be off the table for now.” 

Aaron said that Edwards-Tiekert “should have attempted to verify his facts” concerning the allegations of the $100,000 fund transfer before sending them out to KPFA and the public. 

In his initial Aug. 5 mass e-mail, Edwards-Tiekert had said that “Pacifica’s Interim CFO, LaVarn Williams, [had not] responded to multiple e-mails on this subject since Friday,” July 31. 

Aaron said that “it may be true” that Edwards-Tiekert e-mailed Williams with concerns about the alleged $100,000 fund transfer, “but that doesn’t absolve him.” Aaron said that both she and Williams were on the east coast for extended visits earlier this month dealing with Pacifica business. She said that in addition to her job as interim Pacifica CFO, Williams was recently named as interim General Manager for Pacifica’s WBAI, the New York station that is the source of much of Pacifica’s financial problems. Aaron said that in such a situation, “some requests for information [by e-mail] fall by the wayside. We were both extremely busy,” Aaron said, and allegations of a non-existent fund transfer were “not necessarily a high priority. I’m not going to apologize for not instantly responding.” 

Meanwhile, a listener representative on KPFA’s local board, Tracy Rosenberg, said by telephone last week that Edwards-Tiekert’s actions may have been motivated by political, rather than fiscal, concerns. 

Rosenberg, the executive director of Media Alliance of Oakland, said, “I think Mr. Edwards-Tiekert was trying to score political points against the Pacifica National Board in ways in which he feels unhappy about some of the actions they are taking. I think he thought there was an opportunity to make people look bad and so rather than being a journalist and checking data and asking for verification, I think he jumped, and the information was inaccurate. I think that’s hurtful to the station. I think it’s embarrassing. I think he may have been genuinely alarmed, but that being said, there were many sources to turn to for verification.” 

Edwards-Tiekert is a reporter in the KPFA news department. 

Rosenberg said that Edwards-Tiekert is the subject of a recall petition in his position as one of three staff representatives on KPFA’s local board, adding that “if you’re asking about motivation [for his allegations], I think there may have been a campaigning element to it and a making a case of ‘oh, look, what a great treasurer I am, I’m saving KPFA from the evil, marauding national board,’ even if it’s not true. To try to get some mileage out of it.” 

In the undated recall petition, which has been signed by at least 9 KPFA staff members, the petitioners charge that “during his tenure as a Staff Delegate, Mr. Edwards-Tiekert has exhibited conduct that is adverse to the best interests of KPFA, in particular by fostering a divisive and hostile work environment.” 

Edwards-Tiekert did not return telephone calls to respond to Rosenberg’s charges or the allegations in the staff recall petition.