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by Malcolm Macdonald, March 12, 2014
At the beginning of the film version of The Ox-Bow Incident a dog runs across the dirt street of a small western town. At the end of the movie, the dog meanders back across the street. The ironic implication being that nothing worthy of notice has happened in the interim. In that defining interim, three men have been wrongfully lynched.
I didn't see any dogs on Fort Bragg's Harold Street as I approached the town's Senior Center, part of the larger building constructed by the CCC in the 1930s as a then new high school and auditorium. Long time locals are probably aware that Mr. Cotton moved his own residence to make room for the auditorium that bears his name.
No dog, and very little of substance took place at the KZYX Board meeting inside that venerable Fort Bragg building. What started out as a figurative lynching of KZYX board member John Sakowicz by the remainder of the nine member panel fizzled into something like a public spanking for Sakowicz, who has dared to question the powers that be (General Manager John Coate and Program Director Mary Aigner) not only at board meetings but in a letter to the FCC. Worse yet, Sakowicz has committed the seemingly ultimate sin of consorting with the pages of this very publication.
In those very same AVA pages, I have criticized Mendocino County's newly privatized mental health system and, by extension, the county mental health board. However, whatever one thinks of the outcome of Mendocino County's Mental Health Board meetings, anyone planning to attend is privy to a fairly detailed agenda for said meeting well in advance of the gathering. These Mental Health Board meeting agendas actually provide time limits for each agenda item. The Fort Bragg City Council also provides detailed agendas in advance of its meetings.
At the KZYX board meeting of March 3rd, I got the distinct impression that the agenda resting on a table at the back of the room was something of a shocker to the few long time observers of our county's public radio station. There were no time limits listed on it, except that public commenters would be held to three minutes each. There were no specifics beyond "Announcements/Status Reports (Board President)," "General Manager's Report," "Action Items - None," etc.
"Action Items - None"? You would have thought action was going to be taken when, early on, during "Matters From Board Members" both Bob Page and Meg Courtney rose to their feet (I want to say "petty, tyrannical feet," but perhaps that is an inch or two of rope length too harsh) to rebuke, ostracize, and otherwise chase John Sakowicz from the sacred land of wine and cheese liberalism. Other board members followed with slightly more wishy-washy chastisements of Sakowicz. Board member Stuart Campbell was the most reconciliatory in his remarks. Courtney's condemnation centered around Sakowicz's supposed violation of numerous parts of a document called "MCPB Board of Directors Responsibilities," a document that many of the board members themselves admitted not having read until recent days, when it was needed to slap Sakowicz.
Full disclosure, until the March 3rd board meeting I had never laid eyes on or had any contact with John Sakowicz other than listening to a few of the KZYX programs he hosts. Meg Courtney, on the other hand - I've seen her sit on her hands at several Fort Bragg City Council meetings over the past few years. Why she couldn't convince her fellow KZYX board members or the station's general manager to print out detailed agendas long before this is beyond me.
Sixty or so people showed up for the meeting, with the board barricaded inside several folding tables. Chairman Eliane Herring made every attempt to run a fairly orderly meeting. After the diatribes against Sakowicz dwindled to milder critiques, Sakowicz calmly defended himself for four minutes, during which he questioned the legality of the aforementioned "MCPB Board of Directors Responsibilities."
Before any reader makes the mistake of thinking John Sakowicz is a put-upon martyr here, think again. Mr. Sakowicz's credibility has been called into question by multiple sources (just put his name in your computer's search engine and you'll find those critiques). What I noticed on March 3rd is that practically every one of his comments was accompanied by a short self-serving aside, usually referencing a family member being put-upon. I'll give him the one about Kazimierz Sakowicz, a journalist who chronicled the murders of thousands of Jews in Lithuania during World War II before he was also killed by Nazis. But John Sakowicz is a tough sucker. His politeness at the March 3rd meetings stands/sits in contrast to his ability to "dish it out" in such venues as the MCN Discussion List.
The fact that Mr. Sakowicz shared internal KZYX Board chatter with the AVA seems to have especially galled fellow board members. Some of them, and supportive staff members like David Steffen, act very defensively about any questions being raised by Sakowicz or by suspended programmer Doug McKenty. KZYX Board Chair Herring did announce that McKenty's "Open Lines" show would return in April, with rotating hosts. McKenty will be one of the hosts, but how many others he will have to rotate with is unknown at this point, even to McKenty.
McKenty is one of four candidates for the "At Large" seat on the KZYX Board in this year's election, though fellow candidate King Collins has apparently thrown his support behind McKenty. Paul Lambert and relative newcomer to Mendocino County Tom Melcher are the other "At Large" candidates. Meg Courtney is unopposed (!) in her district while Patricia Kovner and Jane Futcher square off for the District 3 seat.
McKenty was ostensibly suspended for allowing a f-bomb on the air during the "Open Lines" program last year. At the March 3rd meeting, the board announced that a seven-second delay machine, that will bleep offending language, has been purchased. No one on the KZYX Board seemed to notice the inherent contradiction of punishing programmer McKenty for not catching a curse word with a device that wasn't available to the station until now.
Board Chair Herring announced the formation of a Community Advisory Board, but discussion of a Programmer's Advisory Board seemed to be swept under the table. McKenty is a proponent of such a board or committee. It seems that, to this date, the KZYX Board has done very little heavy lifting in the way of forming committees to look into questions posed by current programmers like Sakowicz or McKenty, or, for that matter to look into anything beyond the barest basics of running a radio station. The general manager is apparently unwilling to reveal his salary. This is the general manager of a public station, in part funded by real dollars from real members of the public. That general manager sat silent during most of the meeting, one might say smugly silent.
I sit here looking at page after page of notes taken during the March 3rd meeting, and what I'm left with is this impression: when the meeting was down to its last agenda item, "Set Date For Next Meeting," the date, Monday, May 5th, wasn't as important as Chairman Herring's words, "Hopefully at a venue where we can partake in alcohol."
Are you freakin' kidding me?!
Nearly every other board member chimed in with favorite watering holes. In the hallway walking out, I asked Ms. Herring about the appearance of a Board, that theoretically represents public radio listeners across the entire county, not just championing alcohol consumption before driving home at night, but gleefully modeling that behavior. Suffice to say, she doesn't get it. The vast majority of the board doesn't get the difference between a private gathering of station staff or programmers and the public nature of what the elected Board does. This is essentially the problem, the KZYX Board seems to be just vaguely aware of the questions and problems surrounding them, like a drunk waking in a fog to find he or she isn't leaning against the old wine tree behind Perkins Street, but smack dab downtown in full view.
In the 1950s, when I was a small boy, we had one coastal radio station to listen to here at the ranch. That being KDAC. At night the big radio/phonograph in the living room could be tuned into KSFO for Giants games or KGO or KCBS. In those days one could still listen to Jack Benny's program on the radio. You could hear a half hour version of Gunsmoke, with rotund actor William Conrad voicing the Marshall Dillon role, as well as Have Gun Will Travel, with John Dehner speaking the lines Richard Boone portrayed on television. In the 1930s John Dehner was a Bay Area acting colleague of Margo Farrar, who moved to the town of Mendocino in the 1960s and played an important part in the very early years of the Mendocino Historical Review Board.
Farrar, and anybody who lived in Mendocino County fifty or more years ago is as lost to the KZYX Board as the man in the moon. Sakowicz's letter to the AVA, printed in the February 26, 2014 edition, points toward a lack of programming for, about, or by Native Americans. He suggests possible programs for Libertarians or the Green Party as well as a conspiracy theory show. Anyone who laughs at that better look up the ratings that George Noory's late night "Coast to Coast" program brings in on AM radio. Anyone who has even glanced at the MCN Discussion List knows there are many, many conspiracy theorists in this neck of the woods. The 5th District Supervisor believes in Sept. 11th conspiracies.
The day before the KZYX meeting I attended a presentation put on by the Mendocino County Historical Society just a few blocks away in Fort Bragg. Out of the dozens of people at the MCHS program only three, including me, were in attendance at the KZYX meeting. The Historical Society folks drove from all over the county, but I don't see or hear anything on KZYX that represents programming directly targeted at them.
That leaves us with the wine and cheese crowd, who seem afraid that if they give an inch on the matters brought forward by Mr. McKenty or Mr. Sakowicz then somehow Beth Bosk will storm the Philo station with a phalanx of Redwood Summerites and play Amy Goodman in the morning and intersperse the rest of the day with call-in shows centered around marijuana cultivation and curse words.
Just so our irrepressible editor knows, during the public comments section of the meeting, I had to defend the AVA against some of the pettiest, gutter snipe comments I've heard this side of the MCN Discussion List. It never ceases to amaze me that if people want the ideal of a "free press" then they have to be able to let that press say whatever it will, like it or not, Fox News to the AVA and beyond. And a public radio station's board will have to answer harder questions than where's the next boozing venue we can hold a meeting.
Nearly three and a half hours after it started the meeting was over and I drove my car west on Fort Bragg's Pine Street, heading for Highway One. A dog strolled leisurely across the street. He paused to glance toward the dim headlights then went on his way.
That's right. Essentially nothing had happened. We will have to wait for the Board Election process to finish and for the May 5th Board meeting to see what direction this KZYX Board is going. Will they leave the nooses at home and bring their hearing aids? We shall see.