KZYX Shuns Transparency
by Sheila Dawn-Tracy, April 4, 2012
Overcast skies and cool temperatures were the order of the day as the Board of Directors for KZYX&Z met in the Abalone Room of the Little River Inn on March 12th.
The question of having a quorum was raised as only half the Board was present at the scheduled time. Happily for all, especially Board member, David Jackness who reluctantly substituted as Secretary, three Board members arrived within minutes of each other, including Secretary Katharine Cole. Board member Fran Koliner was absent due to illness.
The meeting began with a check-in of members. President Bob Page specified that check-in time should be related to activities involving the station as opposed to health and vacation reports. The majority of comments referred to responses received from a telephone campaign intended to spur lapsed members into supportive action. All reported positive outcomes.
Programmer representative, Doug McKenty, asked if it was possible to get help from staff to edit public affairs shows for Facebook and Twitter viewing. He noted the market expansion in Facebook use and thought a small investment of staff time would be worth getting programs to a broader audience. Vice President David Hopmann suggested that social media integration be addressed as part of the upcoming strategic planning meetings.
In the General Manager's report, John Coate commented on the 91.5 signal going down on a Saturday morning in January for the same reason the 90.7 signal went down the previous fall — the failure of a thermistor which reads the air flow in the cooling system. Fortunately, due to the foresight of management ordering two replacement parts at the time, the signal was up and running the next day.
In February, completion of the rebuild at the Bald Hill translator facility was accomplished by hanging the dual antennas at the proper distance from each other. Cost of repairs totaled $5,000 with a benefit of increased signal distance to inland areas.
Audio improvements have been made in the News Department to increase the sound quality of recorded interviews.
In finances, the station continues to struggle to keep the budget in the black. Both in February and in year-to-date totals, the station ended up in the loss column — over $11k in the former and almost $45k in the latter. A brief reprieve will come from the spring grant of 54k-plus from Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB.) The surplus of $10k will be used to cover payroll. Accounts payable, $154k for NPR and auditor costs among others, are dependent on a strong spring pledge drive and a solid summer of fundraising events. Currently, KZYX's bank balance is slightly over $3k with almost $20k in allowed credit. Judging from the numbers, the shoestring is wearing thin.
Two fundraisers are planned in the upcoming months. The first benefit features musician and producer, Bill Botrell. The date is April 19th at the Old Albion Schoolhouse on Albion/Little River Road. For the second fundraiser, the station has reserved the Boonville Fairgrounds on July 14th for a Louisiana style BBQ, picnic and music.
A candidates' forum was held on March 21st, the only contested seat being the At-Large seat being contested by both King Collins and Holly Madrigal.
Collins is a former Board member who has campaigned on the theme of station transparency. Having written The Secret Life of KZYX, an expose of behind the scene manipulations that the station would prefer remained secret, Collins somehow manages to be the only candidate that consistently faces an opponent.
Madrigal is well known as an eight year member of the Willits City Council, and former supervisorial candidate. She also serves on the coordinating committee for WELL, a group working toward economic localization.
District 4 (the Coast) once again failed to generate the interest of a potential candidate. The Board has the option of appointing someone to fill the vacancy.
In his candidate statement for District 2, Ed Keller, a realtor with a construction background, lists serving on the Waldorf School Board, the Yes on Measure H and the Ukiah Skate Park Committees among his community service credits.
Eliane Herring, candidate for District 5, is a fairly recent arrival, having moved to
Mendo from Washington DC in 2006. She has a background as legal counsel to large and small organizations.
The last day to return ballots was March 31st. Results are being tabulated by Nielsen's Computer Services of Anderson Valley and should be announced by mid-April.
There was some discussion by the Board, led by Hopmann, of the energy and expense of providing refreshments at the annual meeting as in previous years there has been less than overwhelming attendance. Board member Laviva Dakers suggested holding the meeting at a local restaurant since the meeting is on a Monday — an off night for many eateries. Attendees, of course, would be under no obligation to order from the menu. An alternative of a pot luck was also suggested.
A programmers meeting, held on February 12th, was attended by 60 programmers along with KZYX staff and some Board members. Presentations were given by staff about understanding the station's economic situation, the need for ongoing training, improvement of on-air presentations and the approaching pledge drive.
Earlier in the meeting, Board President Page clarified the parameters for Public Comment. Two minutes would be the allowed time frame since the intent of Board meetings was to focus on giving information on Operations and Finance matters. Additionally, “the public had other means of communicating with the Board in the form of Email, telephone and written comments.”
Wherever these conclusions are formed is a mystery as they are certainly not discussed at the meetings themselves.
Board member McKenty indicated from his experience with public affairs shows, three minutes was the minimum time needed to express an opinion adequately. As the only member of the public attending other than Coate's spouse, who chose not to comment, I handed in a written request for information including a copy of the Board's policy on public comment. I also informed the Board that in researching the requirements of the CPB grant, I found several rules with which the Board appeared non-compliant. In order of importance, they are:
• Station records must be open to the public.
• The station must announce its open meeting policy on three consecutive days of each quarter.
• Location of Board meetings must be announced at least seven days prior to the meeting.
I suggested the Board familiarize themselves with the CPB grant rules to prevent the possibility of being sanctioned for non-compliance. Time of comment 2 min, 40 sec.
The last agenda item concerned the Strategic Plan and the role of the Community Advisory Board (CAB). It appears that the Strategic Plan has somehow been rerouted away from the broad based community participation plan first presented by Secretary Cole in September. That plan called for experts in each area to be studied and several community members on each committee. It subsequently disappeared from the following meeting's agenda entirely only to resurface as a task taken on by the CAB to the exclusion of all others. The question that begs asking is: Who is making these decisions and when were they decided? It appears that crucial policy decisions are being made outside the Board room without any discussion by Board members. Is that business as usual?
Preliminary results from a member survey designed by the Community Advisory Board were available — primarily an online questionaire through the station's website. It was also mailed to members upon request. The question of whether offline members were adequately represented could result in skewed final results.
The survey was comprehensive, including all programming, both local and syndicated and allowed a range of response from Interesting to Avoid It. Also included were several questions on the quality of news programming with a focus on local news.
Member surveys are a welcomed change, allowing a much needed different perspective than judging a program's value by more than the income generated in pledge drives. The following statistics were gathered from 104 responses:
• 74% of respondents are over 55
• KZYX News rated 15 % excellent; 395 pretty good.
• Most popular show: Trading Time followed by Renewable Energy and Norman DeVall's Access program
• Not as popular programs: E Town & Latin Alternative.
• NPR programming was valued highly
• Other popular programs —Humble Pie, Audible Feast, Treehouse, some classical and jazz, Corporations & Democracy, Truth About Money, Oak & Thorn & Lunch on the Back Porch
In regard to my inquiries about several requested documents (after two phone calls to management to prompt a response) I picked up a certified letter from the Post Office from KZYX. I was informed that because I had made the request on a Freedom of Information Act form, the request applied only to Federal agencies. Hence, “KZYX need not respond.” A quick call to a local attorney verified this as accurate with the additional information that the request should be done under the California Public Records Act. So done on plain stationery.
One wonders what is to be gained by this dance with technicalities? Is management being obstructive for the perverse joy of it or is there some other reason for this obvious lack of even basic cooperation?
In a telephone conversation some months ago with CAB's chair, Frank Green, he made the comment that “Some people don't want transparency.” It seems pretty clear who at least one of those people might be.
Incoming Board members can be met at the annual membership meeting on May 14th in Ukiah. Announcements on location to be made on air or online prior to that date.