Public Comment

Fed up with KPFA Infighting? Vote No on the Recall

By Henry Norr
Friday June 29, 2012 - 12:55:00 PM

In my five and a half years on KPFA's Local Station Board, I've lived through more nasty bickering than at any other time in a half century of progressive activism (and believe me, that's saying something!). But in my book the current campaign to recall Tracy Rosenberg from the local and national boards takes the cake for unbridled factionalism and sheer vindictiveness - not to mention the waste of some $25,000 at a time when the station again faces a severe financial shortfall and the likelihood of more staff cuts. 

If you care about KPFA's survival, please take my advice and vote "No" on the recall ballot listener-subscribers should - finally! - be getting in the mail this week. It's the best way you can send a message to all of the powers that be at the station and its parent Pacifica Foundation - local and national board members, station and foundation managers, and the paid staff's union local - that you want us to cut out the craziness and concentrate on pulling the operation back from the brink of financial abyss, reinvigorating programming, expanding the audience, and catching up with 21st-century technology and tastes. 

Who is Tracy Rosenberg? In addition to her work with KPFA and Pacifica, she is executive director of the Oakland-based Media Alliance; in that capacity she's a nationally recognized leader in the grassroots movement to resist the corporate media behemoths and preserve and extend alternative people's media. From my personal observations I can attest that she is incredibly dedicated and hardworking: for years now, not only as a member of the local and national boards but also as chair of Pacifica's National Finance Committee - always a critical role, but especially in a time of severe financial stress - she has devoted countless hours every month to interminable meetings and grueling conference calls. Sure, she can be abrasive at times, and no one agrees with her about every decision she's been part of - I certainly don't. But overall she's the kind of qualified and caring person Pacifica needs in its governance structures. Instead of a smear campaign and recall attempt over policy differences, we should thank her for service to the station and the network. 

As for the charges against Tracy, go to, especially the page devoted to "Deconstructing the Recall Petition," if you want details. Just a few points here: 

• The main charges against Tracy involve her role (real and imagined) in the budget cuts Pacifica required KPFA to make in the fall of 2010, which resulted in, among other effects, the cancellation of the Morning Show. It wasn't Tracy, though, who caused the cuts - they had to happen because the station, after losing $1.4 million over the previous three years and completely burning through its reserves, could no longer meet its payroll. Tracy's contribution, when she and others at KPFA were consulted by Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt, was simply to point out the obvious: there was no short-term alternative but to reduce expenses and, since most of the station's budget goes for salaries and benefits and most other expenses are fixed, cutting expenses required, regrettably, trimming the paid staff. Tracy is accused of drawing up a list of staff to "purge from the station." In fact, what that list was was simply the staff seniority list, and the National Labor Relations Board has repeatedly ruled that the cuts were made in accordance with the seniority provisions in the paid staff's union contract. 

• The second allegation on the recall petition, under the inflammatory heading "Election Fraud," actually involves a disagreement over the interpretation of Pacifica's bylaws. Those rules, adopted in reaction to the near takeover of Pacifica in the 1990s by forces deeply involved in electoral politics, include a provision that any member of a Pacifica board who accepts "a political appointment" is automatically removed from that board. In January 2010 attorney Dan Siegel, a member of the LSB who had just been elected also to the national board, accepted an appointment as legal adviser to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. A majority of the Pacifica National Board - including Tracy - voted that, in accordance with the bylaws, that move made him ineligible to stay on the local or national boards. (His position in the Quan administration was unpaid, but the bylaws make no distinction between paid and unpaid appointments.) 

Whatever you think of Siegel - I happen to admire him for much of his work, in particular his principled resignation from Quan's administration to protest its handling of the Occupy movement - the board's position was at the very least a plausible interpretation of an important element of the bylaws. A local judge eventually ruled in Siegel's favor and he remains on the local and national boards. But should disagreement on such a debatable issue be grounds for recall? 

• The third count in the recall petition - "Email Theft and Misrepresentation" would be laughable if it were not so defamatory and destructive. Just go read the e-mail in question for yourself - it's at As you can see, all it does is promote the programming scheduled to air on KPFA's Morning Mix program during the week of March 7, 2011 - and, of course, plead for donations. There's not a syllable in it about internal Pacifica politics or anything else controversial among KPFA listeners. The backstory is that the unpaid crew putting together the Morning Mix, which was then in its first months and, admittedly, still struggling to find its groove, decided to try to encourage listenership by announcing upcoming programming via e-mail. You'd think that would be a routine approach to marketing in 2011, but believe it or not, KPFA lacked the capability to put out promotional e-mail. The Mix crew learned that Tracy had an account with a service that does e-mails blasts to lists provided by the customer - an account she frequently makes available to various progressive causes - so they asked her to send the message out, using a list of addresses provided by Pacifica. 

That, in a nutshell, is the case against Tracy Rosenberg. Only in Pacificaland, I'm afraid, could one imagine that such charges could be the basis for initiating a recall. It's especially tragic considering that the recall proponents claim at every opportunity that they're defending KPFA's workers, yet the process they've imposed will probably end up costing the station close to $25,000 for printing, postage, and administration - money desperately needed to forestall additional staff cuts. 

If this recall effort succeeds, it will undoubtedly encourage others in the future, and still more money and energy that could go improving the station will instead go down the tubes in factional infighting. If you think that's nuts, join me, Grey Brechin, Peter Franck, Jack Heyman, Cynthia Johnson, Barbara Lubin, Michael Parenti, Andrea Pritchett, the late Les Radke, Sally Sommer, Carol Spooner, and scores of other longtime listeners, plus Mary Berg, Dennis Bernstein, Davey D, Anthony Fest, Robbie Osman, Peter Phillips, Kate Raphael, Nina Serrano and many other KPFA staff members (see more names at in voting an emphatic "No" when you get your recall ballot. 

Henry Norr, a retired journalist and Berkeley resident, will finish his second term as an elected listener representative on KPFA’s Local Station Board in December