Public Comment

A Failure of Transparency At KPFA

By Brian Edwards-Tiekert
Thursday September 03, 2009 - 11:15:00 AM

In J. Douglas Allen-Taylor’s latest article about Pacifica’s moves on KPFA’s money, Grace Aaron is quoted as saying “[Brian Edwards-Tiekert] should have attempted to verify his facts.” To be clear, I asked KPFA’s Business Manager to confirm with the bank that they were under orders to transfer $100,000 out of KPFA’s account; they did. I also wrote two e-mails to Pacifica’s Interim Chief Financial Officer (ICFO) seeking clarification of the issue (Grace Aaron was copied on them). In five days, I received no response. I’m not sure what other verification efforts she wanted me to make—I guess I could have waited for the bank to actually move money out of KPFA’s account and asked for a receipt. 

I’ve worked with Pacifica’s current ICFO in various capacities for nearly four years—she normally responds to my e-mails within 24 hours. With five days to go until the transfer was to take place and no response from her or any other manager at Pacifica, I wrote a letter to my co-workers explaining the situation and asked them to sign a petition asking the Pacifica National Board to intervene. 

What’s bizarre is that, after stonewalling for a week, Pacifica’s ICFO decided to attack me for raising the concern in the first place. 

And KPFA LSB member Tracy Rosenberg accused me, in these pages, of raising the issue to score political points. 

As a staff representative on KPFA’s Local Station Board, and as that Board’s elected Treasurer, I see it as my responsibility to educate the people I represent—KPFA’s Board and Staff—about what’s happening with Pacifica’s finances. I also see it as my responsibility to organize to stop Pacifica from mishandling our listeners’ money. 

This is not new: three years ago I collected signatures on staff and board petitions to protest the National Board’s decision to create an unbudgeted paid consultancy for one of its own members. Pacifica’s current ICFO, then a member of KPFA’s LSB, was happy to sign on then. 

This past winter, I circulated a staff position against Pacifica entering into a six-figure unbudgeted “management consulting” contract that seemed to promise little of concrete value for the network. The National Board backed away from that proposal. 

This spring, when the Pacifica National Board adopted a policy that would force KPFA to devote more than 60 hours of on-air programming to our internal elections, I circulated a petition asking the National Board to re-think its position. They didn’t, but the elections supervisors they hired have—they’ve quietly cut the programming requirements by more than half. 

And this month, after more than 60 staff signed onto a petition asking Pacifica not to raid KPFA’s accounts, Pacifica’s top management broke their silence to deny they ever intended to do so in the first place. 

The point of the kind of open governance system we have in Pacifica is that, when there’s transparency around the major decisions being made, stakeholders like KPFA’s staff and board can weigh in to sway the decision-makers. That’s democracy. 

The failure in this case was a failure of transparency: Pacifica stonewalled on this issue for nearly a week, and something that could have been resolved internally turned into a public spat. Hopefully the new regime at Pacifica will handle things better in the future. The trend, however, is not promising: Pacifica has yet to produce a plan for managing its cash shortfalls that does not involve taking KPFA’s money in one form or other; and it has yet to produce a cash-flow forecast that looks past the end of this September. That’s exactly the kind of management style that produces conflict over sloppy, last-minute financial decisions. 




Brian Edwards-Tiekert is staff representative and treasurer, KPFA Local Station Board