Public Comment

KPFA Manager "Resigns:" Pacifica Democracy vs. Reactionary Politics and Contradictions in the Latest Management Transition

By Robert English
Thursday April 15, 2010 - 10:13:00 AM

From 2009 elections the KPFA Local Station Board (LSB) was reconstituted with a majority of independent listener and staff representatives and new officers; the now minority Concerned Listeners (CL) allied representatives are fiercely loyal supporters of the station management and status-quo. In a March 5 commentary from a management and "core staff" viewpoint, KPFA News Directors reported that General Manager (GM) Lemlem Rijio was forced to resign by a "faction" on the Board. When the results of LSB executive sessions are broadcast and slanted, why hold closed sessions with people who feed confidential information to News staff? If not for confidentiality rules protecting employee privacy, it would seem preferable to conduct business publicly so we could assess the accuracy or spin of such reports.  

Ms. Rijio's imminent departure had been an open secret debated a month prior to the announcement by the Pacifica Executive Director (ED). A group of KPFA staff and supporters organized a campaign to reverse the supposed GM termination vote and addressed the February LSB meeting (see summary of comments below). However, other staff and community members assured the Board that removing her was long overdue and necessary to remedy the station's deteriorating financial situation, declining listener support and restore democratic process and respect for Pacifica's bylaws and mission.  

Rijio served an extended appointment as "interim" GM through September 2008, when departing ED Nicole Sawaya arbitrarily announced her permanent appointment, even though many pro-democracy staff and community members were then petitioning and advocating for fresh leadership, partly to resolve conflict at the station following the police beating and arrest of long term volunteer staff Nadra Foster; they implicated Rijio's divisive management in converting the workplace culture from collaboration to alienation and restriction, banning Foster and calling police rather than relying on standard supervision and peaceful resolution processes (see http:/  

Under her management regime - including former Program Director Sasha Lilly, department heads, a senior staff clique and their Concerned Listener (CL) allies on the Board - the gains of the 1990s-2000s Free Pacifica and listener democracy movements, democratic institutions and power centers at KPFA were obstructed, subverted or shut down: 1) the Program Council was reduced to advisory status, then dissolved; 2) the Unpaid Staff Organization (USPO) was de-recognized; 3) LSB meetings reduced to bi-monthly, working committees dissolved, proceedings controlled or stalemated by CL to prevent effective action or changes, and the few productive resolutions ignored by management; 4) LSB elections corrupted by management-CL symbiosis, manipulations and restriction of candidate air time and election information. The new Pacifica democratic process and boards were subjected to on air staff/guest attacks and media hit pieces, most recently a BeyondChron editorial (3/29).  

Here the talking and editorial points of GM supporters are summarized and addressed with some facts, background and observations: 


Claim #1: Firing the GM was fiscally irresponsible, detrimental to station stability. She maintained KPFA income, except in recent hard times, but was "forced out in a dispute over a financial transaction with the Pacifica national office…"  

In reality, bad management, excessive salaried staffing and moderate formula programming are responsible, immediately and over time, for the financial crisis. Although KPFA was nearly broke, staff were cut and fund drives more urgent, frequent and extended, Rijio inexplicably held a $375,000 foundation check, intended to earn interest income, over a year until it expired. Yet KPFA News offered no explanation: what part of what transaction is disputed? Failure to deposit a six figure foundation check is beyond incompetence, must be intentional, and clear cause for separation in any organization.  

Under the Rijio-CL management, Full Time Equivalent (FTE) paid staff increased 50% from 28 to 42 FTE, while KPFA subscribers decreased 20% from 28,000 to 22,000. In budget reviews 2004-2009, LSB Treasurers/members repeatedly advised that escalating paid staffing levels were unsustainable. The priority of "professional" staff is a continuation of the "Healthy Station" model and what the controlling staff think is normal and right for KPFA; those with a longer view know KPFA as a community radio station run primarily by volunteer staff and as many paid staff as revenues allow. While support for progressive alternative radio should have expanded under the Bush rightwing nightmare, KPFA contributors steadily declined; the potential loss of some "major donors" who favor Rijio and current programming is far outweighed by long term withdrawal of progressive listeners and management's failure to outreach and develop dynamic, community based news and programs to fulfill the needs of diverse communities.  


Claim #2: Most union staff supported retaining her.  

The "core staff" think they are KPFA and are used to running it as they please. A GM must be selected from their ranks or the station becomes a "management free zone": outsiders selected through the bylaws process were forced out. Historically, volunteers and paid staff were represented by one union; thanks to the Healthy Station project, paid staff breaking solidarity to join the CWA and non-recognition of UPSO, volunteer staff lack representation, benefits and budget funding for personal and production expenses. However, all staff now have voting power and in recent elections chose a majority of independent LSB representatives, indicating a split with management and CL; staff will have a special election on the proposed recall of management/CL stalwart Brian Edwards-Tiekert.  

Clearly, there was widespread staff and community disaffection with Rijio's management. 80 KPFA unpaid and union staffsigned an Open Letter on New KPFA Leadership Attributes/Priorities; 74 signed a "Statement Of No Confidence" 74 KPFA Staffers: No-Confidence for Rijio 29 Sept 2008 calling for a new GM appointment.  


Claim #3: The new LSB majority acted without an evaluation or careful deliberation process. 


This assertion ignores the relevant bylaws processes. The LSB can only recommend separation of a GM, which must be reviewed and approved by the Pacifica ED or National Board. Rijio was evaluated as GM; performance appraisals are available to LSB members, and if favorable, likely would be (but were not) credited by supporters. Her known prior experience does not appear to meet reasonably expected minimal management and radio/media qualifications for GM, yet she remained in the position for 4 years. If the confidential causes for separation were acute and required urgent action (see #1), this process can't be compared to prior extended LSB deliberations on charges against a former GM. 


Claim #4: This highlights a dysfunctional, expensive election system/governing structure with Boards that are unrepresentative, disruptive, factional and "micromanage" or usurp staff/managerial decisions and functions. 


Actually this repeated argument demonstrates the elitist, self-serving nature and reactionary politics of the management/staff group and amounts to a corporate establishment-like coded message of "democracy is too expensive and doesn't work, so let's forget it and let the professionals do their jobs." The new Pacifica bylaws and member elected boards were carefully developed from the democracy movement and court settlement in response to the autocratic, centralized, corporate culture of the old Pacifica "hijackers" regime. Staff and listener donors now have voting member status and the Boards have limited, defined powers and responsibility in collaboration with management. The old guard managers and senior staff who directed KPFA for decades have resisted and attempted to control the new governance through various means including political alliances, but as previously and currently when losing an LSB majority, they condemn and try to "dismantle" what they cannot control.  


Pacifica's Ranked Choice Voting is a form of proportional representation, a progressive election reform that provides for diversity and minority representation, has been adopted and proven in San Francisco and other municipal elections and countries with multi-party systems. Election expenses are not responsible for the financial crisis (see #1) and can be reduced as a worthwhile price of democratic oversight and participation in Pacifica governance and decision making. 


Claim #5: She improved programming by adding "Letters to Washington."  


Typical of much KPFA news and public affairs programming, "Letters" is uninspiring in the NPR mainstreamed style, Democrat party orientated, follows 4 hours of public affairs and initially bumped the only women's program, "Women's Magazine." Other highlights of the management regime's program policies, decisions and deficiencies include abrupt removal of the only weekend youth oriented show, "Youth Radio;" "Poor Magazine" cut from The Morning Show, a program slot for Lilly's associate Doug Henwood, ban of Labor Collective programming; selective exclusion of radical analysts, scholars, journalists, including popular local residents Michael Parenti, Peter Philips, "Taking Aim" producers Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone; lack of various labor, arts, community/cultural programs, coverage of alternative political parties and social movements.  


Tragically, 11 years after the 1999 KPFA community uprising, the Folio is not restored, some Transformation Proposal provisions for staff/program diversity and equity are unimplemented, while the program grid continues as a time capsule of "Pat Scott Radio."  



Bob English is a retired civil servant; long time KPFA supporter and listener democracy activist in Coalition for a democratic Pacifica and Peoples Radio, former LSB candidate; former union and labor democracy activist with Public Employees for a Democratic Union.