Mayhem & Muddle
by Sheila Dawn-Tracy, May 18, 2016
On May 2nd, a tranquil spring day, the KZYX Board of Directors met for the annual membership meeting at the Point Noyo Restaurant's bar room in Fort Bragg. For the second consecutive meeting the Board's Treasurer, Clay Eubank, was absent. Directors Futcher and Sakowicz also were not present.
The meeting room was cramped, dominated in the center by a pool table converted into a dining table by way of a plywood board and cloth covering. A simple fare of finger food--cheese, crackers, popcorn, veggies and dips was laid out. Board President, Meg Courtney, requested that the nearly thirty members present "restrain themselves from eating before the meeting's end." She encouraged them to support the restaurant's hospitality by partaking of the establishments' dinner menu. No plates were provided, perhaps as an added discouragement, though several members of the audience made quick trips to the table for sustenance throughout the meeting. Former Board candidate, Jeff Wright, ordered ten plates of garlic fries to supplement these spare provisions.
Curiously, there was no follow up of Larry Pendleton's (General Manager, Lorraine Dechter's husband) statement at the March meeting that the responsibility for audio taping future meetings and providing microphones for the Directors would be assumed by the current Program Director, Raoul Van Haul. Neither the audio equipment nor Van Haul was present and no explanation was given for the absence. As several of the Directors' voices (most notably, Director Courtney's) were barely audible, multiple requests were made by the public for repetition of information. The meeting was videotaped by programmer Derek Hoyle and can be viewed online at mendocinotv.com. Programmer Sarah Reith who is a freelance reporter for the Ukiah Daily Journal (UDJ) was also present.
Approval of the minutes of the March meeting as well as approval of the station's line of credit were listed as Action Items on the agenda. Although Courtney mentioned approving the minutes, she failed to call for a Board vote and the minutes were therefore not approved.
General Manager Dechter explained that Board approval was needed to receive a $75k line of credit for the upcoming fiscal year. Wright correctly pointed out that Action Items had previously been designated as open to public comment. He wanted to know how much Campbell had been paid through his four month contract as Interim General Manager. He was ignored by Courtney. His loud denunciation of Campbell drew unfavorable comments from the audience. Director and meeting facilitator Hartley attempted to silence Wright by holding up a Quiet Please sign.
Courtney went on to thank outgoing Directors Page and Sakowicz for their time and service to the Board, characterizing Sakowicz' input as "expensive". She presented them both with gifts of "gold watches" (chocolate?). Sakowicz' gift was received by his friend, Mary Massey, who apologized for Sakowicz' absence, explaining that he had a scheduling conflict.
Introductions of incoming Board members were made. Jonathan Middlebrook, representing District 1, hoped to bring his experience to benefit the station. He advocated transparency as much as possible stating that doing so was the best way to avoid controversy in regard to quelling rumors of nondisclosure. At large member, John Azzaro, has many years experience in the music business. He favored creating an atmosphere of harmony to be able to serve the largest possible diverse audience. Stuart Campbell was happy to give another three years as Programmer's Representative, having had to resign his position to fill in as Interim General Manager before a replacement GM could be found.
After another interruption by Wright demanding Campbell's resignation, Hartley warned Wright that any further disruption would cause the Board to consider a call to the police. (Wright's adversarial relationship towards Campbell had initially been ignited by Campbell's failure as acting Vice President to provide a copy of the rules by which the Board ran its meetings-- a request also made by other members at past meetings that has still not been addressed by any Board member.)
Nominations to the MCPB Executive Committee proceeded. Campbell nominated Courtney for President. It was seconded by Hartley and approved by the Board. Courtney then took over the nominating process but had difficulty remembering the name of the Director she had "chosen" as Vice President. Recalling Director Jane Futcher's name, she nominated her for the position but failed to get a second to the nomination before she announced that Futcher had already accepted the nomination. The Board voted to approve the nomination. There was a disturbance at the back of the room as an argument between programmer Tim Bray and Wright broke out. Bray was accused by Wright of throwing water on him, which accidentally also hit the video equipment and the cameraman (Hoyle) operating it.
Instead of bringing back order to the meeting, Courtney went on to nominate Jenness Hartley for Secretary but little could be heard above the din.
Wright had been punctuating each nomination with objections.
Courtney then nominated Campbell for Treasurer. There was a question around whether the vote of the Board had been called on Campbell's nomination so it was repeated by another Board member whose voice could be heard. With the court of Courtney thus secured, the meeting moved shakily forward.
A nomination for Clay Eubank to be Chair of the Audit Committee was going to be postponed due to his absence but GM Dechter informed the Board that Eubank had communicated with her that he was agreeable to his nomination for that position. The nomination was made, seconded and duly approved by the Board.
General Manager's Report
Dechter proceeded to give an oral report. No written report was available to the public. Director Keller left his seat and the meeting room for ten minutes.
Fundraising—The Mother's Day fundraiser so far had brought in over $400. She noted that the following day was the deadline for orders and hoped that final total would increase.
Dechter stated that David Steffan had secured a large contract to underwrite the weather reports.
Operations—The decision to disconnect the T-1 line provided to the station through MCN and AT&T appeared to have no effect on the station's broadcasting capacity because AT&T did not immediately terminate the connection. When the connection was severed, it was found that the Internet broadband was not strong enough to support office functions and broadcasts from the satellite studios or station programming during high Internet use times. As a result, the station has functioned at a reduced capacity for four to six hours and programmers have resorted to taping their programs rather than doing live broadcasts. She spoke of the serious situation that has developed by people abandoning their land lines when there is not adequate broadband service to cover the needs of the Anderson Valley community.
The Operations Manager, Jerry Fraley, has decided to leave the area but has agreed to stay until the problems are resolved. Recruitment for his replacement have been through notices both on air and through the station's Facebook page.
Staff is not planning to broadcast live events this year due to lack of adequate technical support. Permission has been received by the planners of the Sierra Nevada Music Festival to tape the event for airing at a later time.
While Dechter was giving her report, newly inducted Board member, John Azzaro left his seat to engage in a private conversation with Director Keller. As Board President, Courtney seemed oblivious to this break in Board decorum, I interjected my desire for Board members to focus on the GM report stating my opinion that not doing so was rude to Ms. Dechter. Azzaro apologized and returned to his seat.
The $5k grant from the Mendocino Community Foundation to upgrade the station's software has been received and the upgrade installation is in process.
Programming—Dechter announced the promotion of reporter, Sherri Quinn to the position of News Director. The news department will also be providing special coverage of candidates and issues to be decided in the upcoming June 7th election. The program, Mendocino Currents, will air on Wednesday evenings as well in its alternate Thursday morning time frame to meet expanded coverage needs.
Dechter's report was interrupted by the arrival of three officers from the Ft. Bragg Police Dep't. A discussion ensued between Wright and the officers who seemed reluctant to arrest Wright. Courtney's declaration that Wright was disrupting the meeting did not appear to be sufficient grounds for arrest. However, when a mallet was found in Wright's possession (his anti-gavel) a intensified level of threat was perceived and he was handcuffed and removed from the meeting. As he was led from the room, Wright threatened a civil suit against the MCPB Board. It was later learned that Wright was not arrested but cited for trespassing and disruption of a public meeting.
Dechter continued with her report, explaining that the News Dept. had been working out of the office she had rented with her husband when she was employed by the station's previous GM, John Coate, as an independent contractor in the capacity of a freelance news consultant. She cannot continue to subsidize the News Dep't from her own pay and is looking to enter into an agreement with the Board to pay for space to have a Ukiah presence for the News Dep't to facilitate its work. She stated that the station has been offered a grant to hire a news producer who will work in Ukiah. Details are still under discussion.
She further stated that an inexpensive facility on State St. (which had been identified last year by Director Keller) was still available as a suitable location for the station's need to have greater visibility in Ukiah. To avoid a conflict of interest, she stated that she and her husband have expressed an interest in subletting one or two of the units for their own possessions which included LP's that they were willing to make available for station use.
A financial statement was provided in lieu of the Treasurer's absence. As of March 31st station revenues totaled $398.6k while expenses totaled $410.1k. An additional $7.5k was raised in April. Areas that exceeded the total budgeted for the fiscal year (ending June 30th) were: advertising through underwriting trades-179.4%; fundraising expenses-110%; meals & lodging (lodging trades)-128.7%; repairs and maintenance (Philo awning and septic issue)-490.5%; telephone & internet costs-104.7% and engineering consultant costs for interim operations personnel-212.1%. Savings were seen in small equipment supplies-4.7%; legal & professional fees-11.8% and employee benefits due to an ACA change wherein only one employee received health insurance-52.6%.
Total Accounts Payable-$83.9k
Accounts receivable (pledges & underwriting)-$32.5k
Available line of credit-$33.5k
Current checking account balance-$19.1k
Community Advisory Board Report (CAB)
Director Benj Thomas was prepared to read a draft Memorandum of Understanding by the CAB for Board discussion. Courtney asked him to highlight its main points and bring the MOU back to the Board when it is finalized. Thomas said, "The CAB had a deep and thorough commitment to transparency and access." The CAB acknowledged that communications between the community and the MCPB Board have not always been optimal and realizes its considerable role as a vehicle in improving that communication. He stated that all CAB meetings would be open to the public and noticed on the station's website. The next CAB meeting has not been scheduled. (The proposed April public meeting never occurred.) Thomas said the draft MOU will be posted and a full report will be made at the June 29th Board meeting.
Scott Peterson addressed the Board about the lack of transparency in regard to its finances stating that the IRS form 990 is the only place where the station's finances can be reviewed. He added the station's own records are incomplete with no forms available from 2002 to 2006 along with the 2015 financial statement. He noted that a complete record can be found at the Registry for Charitable Trusts ( Nat'l Center for Charitable Statistics) and summarized the results of his inquiry. Figures showed in 2006, the station finances were in decline, decreasing by 50k a year. A set of policies were developed in that year by the Bd. of Directors that reversed the decline showing assets more than doubling. In subsequent years in which the policies were ignored, the station assets continued to decline until at the end of 2015, KZYX&Z had lost more than 75% of its net assets. He continued that in seven year's of Board's meeting minutes, policies were mentioned twice, not by Board members but by the public who wanted to know why those policies were not being followed. He noted the Board's response was shameful, vilifying members of the public. The same response was meted out to the Board's Treasurer in 2014 who after being denied access to financial information by station management went to the public and the FCC for redress of management's lack of transparency. Peterson asserted that the charges filed by Director Sakowicz were absolutely true. The meeting of 7/7/14 can be found through Google in which several Board members excoriated that Director for a lack of conscience in filing a FCC complaint. Peterson maintained that the true lack of conscience was in that Board's complicity to keep the public in the dark and in their lack of compliance with Board policies.
A demand letter to the Board signed by several members for financial documents from 2007 through 2015 has still not been forthcoming by Stuart Campbell, who was Board President at the time the letter's was received.
Ana Lucas spoke next to thank Dechter for adding the Native American news segment to the station's programming stating that it was a voice she hadn't realized she missed until it was there. In a second round of member comments which Courtney allowed due to it being a membership meeting she described herself as "left of left" but wouldn't want the station to become an anathema to listeners who held a different viewpoint. She asked for an end for the annihilating and destructive practices.
Former Board member, Doug McKenty agreed with both of Lucas' points regarding diversity. In regard to station finances, he believed that the station prospered in 2006 when policies were defined because it inspired community input into programming decisions. He outlined the difference between a community and a public radio station. The former produces its own content while the latter follows the National Public Radio formula of national news with a strong classical music format. He believed the station has increasingly leaned more heavily on an NPR styled radio presentation, disregarding the policies which required KZYX to operate more as a community station. He thought the shift in programming was reflected in the lack of community support as many people view NPR programming as National Propaganda Radio. He felt that anti-NPR voices need to be heard in an on air debate to validate those members who are proponents of independent news production. McKenty thought that following the 2006 policies would result in getting more community voices on the air waves.
Mitch Clogg spoke about his early days as a programmer of KZYX's Environment Show. He said he was the first to be fired by the station's manager, Sean Donovan who he thought "didn't like the cut of his jib." Before the advent of the station disclaimer, Clogg said Donovan outted him because in his enthusiasm for the topic being discussed, he had used the pronoun 'we' instead of 'I'. Donovan claimed that incorrect choice bound the station to Clogg's point of view which could not be allowed. Clogg described the 80's as a time when the environment was of great public concern. The internet was in its infancy and public radio was an important part of connecting an isolated rural community. He mentioned that Marco McClean lost his show for having Clogg on as his guest. He described a period of the station's history in which there was a trickling away of goodwill of both programmers and the community; where clarity and openness became bad words. Clogg told the new Board that transparency was paramount--more important than interpersonal relations or individual shows.
In a later comment, Clogg said the values of the 60'and 70's were still alive. In a community that stopped offshore oil, saved the whales and affected changes in timber and CalTrans practices, the statement of fair and balanced programming needed to be put in the context of what reflected the background character of an unusual community.
Marco McClean commented on the creation of committees. He said if committees have no power at all there is no point to them. If they have some power, they must represent more than the opinions of the person who appointed them. He thought the public should have power in deciding the composition of committee members. He pointed out how in the past, the Program Committee's input had been dismissed by both the Program Director and the General Manager resulting in the committee's dissolution.
He also thought programmers should be paid. Having heard the argument that programmers don't want to be paid, he thought it unfair that programmers who need to be paid could be voted out of being paid by those who didn't want to be paid. In a statement that echoed the current political discourse on wage inequality, McClean maintained that when people work for nothing and their bosses have all the power as well as getting all the money, it hurts workers everywhere. He added that there is money to pay them and it is easy to pay them through current computer programs. He offered to demonstrate to management how it could be done.
In a later conversation, McClean said if programmers did win the right to be paid at a future date, he doubted if those people who didn't want to be paid would donate their paychecks back to the station.
Mike Grady was on the Board from 2005 to 2011. His insight was that it was very difficult to keep the station running smoothly. He concluded that it is sounding better than ever before and is impressed by the professional job of the news staff. He did not agree with the criticisms of the station, stating he felt there is some need for some people to destroy what they see is working well. He intended to support the station by having dinner and beer in the restaurant after the meeting.
Sheila Dawn Tracy-I was glad to hear the Community Advisory Board's new policy regarding transparency of their meetings. I reminded the Board that at the prior meeting, I was not permitted to report on my conversation with Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB) spokesperson, West Smithers, who deemed improper any private meeting of a quorum of CAB members. At the end of that earlier meeting, when CAB member, Ellen Saxe attempted to explain away the CAB ignorance of the rules by asking how were they to know what questions should be asked, I responded that it should be common sense. Since the CAB is charged with collecting input from the public, holding not one but two meetings without a public presence is illogical and questionable. Additionally, I learned that at least one of those meetings was held at the home of then Interim General Manager, Stuart Campbell, which appeared to me to be a conflict of interest. I have sent a request to the Board for the minutes of those meetings.
I also requested the minutes from the December 2015 Search Committee. The bylaws state that committee meetings are open to the public and the content of those meetings is public information. I would like to know how and when the title of Executive Director was added to Lorraine Dechter's GM contract. At the time I had attended the Search Committee's second meeting, then Chair, Clay Eubank had decided not to include it until a discussion on the matter had taken place. I had suggested to Eubank that the contracts of previous GM's be compared to the contract given to John Coate, where the addition of the title of Executive Director appeared for the first time. I felt that the authority granted in the title of Executive Director had been abused in the past and could be abused in the future.
I spoke about someone I had met whose relative had worked for NPR but had quit because of what he described as "regime change." I saw a parallel to that type of change in the News Dep't at KZYX when I had worked there as a volunteer reporter for seven years. Within a short time all of the volunteer community news reporters were canned by the Director, Paul Hansen. I thought it was time to put community voices back in the News Dep't through a training program for reporters who would produce their own material as I had been encouraged to do.
I asked the Board to respond in writing to my requests for information.
Derek Hoyle told the Board that he has thirty four years experience in broadcasting, fourteen years as a programmer for KZYX. He has also been the Chair of several Boards as well as the Executive Director of a non profit organization. He had never had any problems with any of his affiliated associations. He described the MCPB Board of Directors handling of station affairs as a "train wreck."
He thought Stuart Campbell was unfit to represent the programmers because he had never once represented the interests of the programmers in his past term as Program Representative due to what Hoyle felt was a conflict of interest. He accused Campbell of intimidating a member from speaking up about the rescinding of Safe Harbor because it was none of his concern.
While applauding the new look of KZYX, Hoyle was of the opinion that Campbell represented the "old school" dynamics of past management practices whose interest was in preventing reform. He would like Campbell to resign and asked the Board for information on the process for his removal.
Returning to the audience as a station member, former Board member, Bob Page felt it was OK to have a difference of opinion but thought there was no value in attacking people. He said changes need to happen. He believed Board members volunteered their time without pay for the station's best interests. He believed this meeting would be his last because of the continuous friction of the meetings.
Courtney mentioned that the new Board would be meeting in a week to discuss the forming of committees.
I stated to the Board that it was not acceptable to conduct board business in private meetings in private homes out of the public eye. I asked the Board how it intended to add community members to their committees when the public was not invited to participate. I also asked, as a reporter for the public, to be invited to observe the process.
The sign up sheet for committees distributed last year by Campbell as Board President, never responded to any member who volunteered for committee work.
Without answering my question, Courtney only responded cryptically, "We're way ahead of you."
The agenda had a question mark concerning whether the location of the next meeting was to occur in Anderson Valley or Ukiah. For reasons unexplained, Anderson Valley had been skipped in the regular rotation of meeting locations in favor of Fort Bragg. One can only conjecture whether it had something to do with easy access to the FBPD. (At a prior Board meeting where removal of a member was discussed, Director Ed Keller made the mistake of making a motion to that purpose but failed to get a second for his motion as none of the Board members wanted to take on the role of enforcer. The Board was better prepared at this most recent meeting.)
The meeting was adjourned and the room quickly cleared out. Only Board members Benj Thomas and Jonathan Middlebrook stayed briefly to chat with this reporter. GM Dechter also stayed to converse with a programmer.
Prior to 2013, socializing with members had always occurred before the meeting accompanied by wine and edibles. Doing so helped to create a convivial atmosphere. This year's social was largely abandoned by Board members who seemed to prefer their own company and that of past Board members to that of the members.
Only ice water was available to drink and the table of appetizers, spread before an empty room, had been barely touched.