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WBAI area "Unity Caucus" responds to criticism of constituency model

constituency model

From: Bob Lederer
Date: Wed Nov 20, 2002 3:39 pm
Subject: Responses to various issues about autonomy proposal

Here are responses to several questions and challenges that have come up on local or national lists recently about Unity Caucus positions:

1. Self-identification of voters in their registration (constituency) categories is just that. Our plan involves no means to verify anyone's identification with a particular constituency. Each voter would decide which 2 categories they want to choose, without anyone else second-guessing them. Given the lines of oppression and stigma in this society, and especially with in-person polling places, it seems unlikely that there would be large blocs of imposters pretending to be part of an oppressed group. Similarly, it's unlikely people would drive far away to another part of the signal area to claim that they belong to that region's constituency. But as with any other part of our plan, and we would hope with ALL the plans, if there is major evidence of a large-scale, organized campaign of fraud, the proposed elections board would be able to investigate and take appropriate action.

2. As to our proposal's position on the National Board composition, the Sept. draft makes it clear that all seats are to be elected by members of the LSBs, except for one seat elected by Pacifica Affiliates.

3. Our proposal only grants autonomy to LABs (with iPNB concurrence) over a narrow band of issues about LSB composition and electoral mechanisms. For example, it does not cover such questions as the definition of membership, which we understand must be uniform nationally. We adhere to our position on what that definition should be, but whether the iPNB ends up agreeing with us or not, that will be a NATIONAL decision for the by-laws, binding on all five stations.

Also, we support prescribing basic national standards of election fairness in the by-laws. In that vein, we agree with Rob Robinson's consolidated draft that says, under Article 4, Section 6 (Fair Campaign Provisions): "The Board should collaborate on a version of the KPFA text. It may want to consider requiring the LSBs to promulgate their elections procedures to include: authorized voting methods; certification of eligible members; registration of voting members; nomination petitioning and certification; campaign and fundraising guidelines; ballot printing and distribution, plus alternative voting methods; tabulation of ballots and certification of delegates-elect."

In addition, we support KPFA's draft "Fair Campaign Provisions" (Article 4, Section 5), regulating air time and endorsements. We also support nationally mandating the creation of an independent and neutral supervisor of the election process at each station. (Note: The KPFA draft calls for a single elections coordinator; we think that an elections board, modest in size and perhaps working with an outside respected legal organization, would allow for more input on what may be some difficult judgement calls, as well as providing more people committed to do the large volume of work involved.)

4. Our autonomy proposal falls within the context of whatever national rules the iPNB decides to prescribe in the by-laws uniformly for all Local Station Boards. One of those decisions is whether to have grandparented seats and if so, how many. KPFA's draft proposes that up to 8 current listener members of each LAB could be grandparented. The iPNB's Sept. straw poll called for new LSBs to include between 14 and 18 listener members (plus another 4 to 6 staff members). Thus using the KPFA draft's logic, up to 57% of the listeners on the new boards might be grandparented old members.

Our original proposal (as published in Sept.), while allowing up to all current listener (not staff) LAB members to be grandparented, was designed in the context of a 36-member LSB, 30 of whom would be listeners -- thus the maximal allowable proportion of holdovers would be roughly the same as under KPFA's draft. Plus our proposal would require each prospective grandparent to get the signatures of 50 Listener Members. The iPNB has yet to decide whether it will allow such a large LSB -- we certainly hope it will. But in any case, grandparenting is not part of the local autonomy aspect of our proposal -- the rules will be set nationally in the by-laws, and that has not yet been determined.

5. In response to Larry Romsted's comment: "It is a grave error to give unelected LAB members the power to write the election bylaws when they themselves may run in that election." The settlement agreement entrusts all decisions on by-laws election procedures to an interim National Board that is, except for Carol Spooner, unelected by listeners (and some of whose members may themselves run in the new elections) -- with the concurrence of three of five LABs which are unelected, except for KPFA's. Our proposal involves the same set of players, just in reverse order -- LABs make proposals after an open, public consultative process, then the iPNB reviews and has power to amend/change, which includes the power to throw out parts of a plan that appear to be unfairly self-interested. So our plan is no more of a "grave error" than the plan set forth under the settlement agreement.

6. As to the aspersions cast on the fairness of our bringing forth this local autonomy proposal when we did, let me make four points:

FIRST: Let me remind everyone that our idea about granting LABs limited autonomy in designing electoral mechanisms is hardly new, or original to us. For instance, the WPFW By-laws draft, released on July 25, called for (in Article 4, Section 2) locally designed elections the first time, and then: "Having successfully conducted democratic elections in all signal areas, the Board shall promulgate nationwide rules and regulations to assure uniform, fair and effective election processes for all stations and signal areas."

Then, Dave Fertig's draft, released on August 23, included the following language:

Under Art. 4, Sec. 1 - Board of Directors - Number, etc.

d. It is Pacifica's stated goal that all boards (LABs and PNB) be composed of at least one-half women and one-half people not predominately of European-American descent, and furthermore that all boards seek to be substantially diverse in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, class, and geographical region within applicable signal areas.

Under Art. 4, Sec. 2 - Election of Directors

In order to be elected, a Director must be a member of, and be nominated and receive the vote of the qualified voting members of, their respective electing entity. Each electing entity, whether LAB, station staff, national staff or combined affiliates, may determine the methodology and electoral scheme for said designation of representative(s) to the national board, except as provided herein, and except that said duty to elect may not be delegated, and provided that the National Board may, as an amendment to these bylaws, modify any methodology and electoral scheme for said designation of representative(s) to the national board.

Under Art. 10, Sec. 5 - LAB elections

Said election scheme must contain:
a. A form of proportional voting and representation;
b. A mechanism to achieve the diversity goals of Article Four, Section 1(d), above;
c. A mechanism to prevent voter fraud.

As you see, some of the ideas we included in our autonomy proposal were inspired by these earlier proposals from Washington and Los Angeles.

SECOND: I will repeat from an earlier email that we offered these ideas publicly at the Houston iPNB meeting (broadcast live on most stations) in Sept., so by November this should not have been new to anyone following the discussion.

THIRD: Again, we included the autonomy proposal in our oral presentation to the WBAI LAB two weeks ago, so it was clear that what we were proposing was a mechanism for the WBAI LAB to consider supporting for this signal area. I am sorry that with the intense press of other work at the station that various of us are involved in (programming, GM search, etc.), we -- who squeeze in unpaid by-laws work to the rest of our lives, like all of you -- were not able to develop a detailed text until last week, but there's really nothing of substance that is new here. The issue about my dropping off the text at the LAB retreat is ridiculous -- as Ray Laforest said at last week's meeting: Because his email was broken and I live near the meeting site, he asked if I would simply deliver the hard copies to the meeting (as our Caucus had just finalized the text), which I did and immediately left, without speaking. Our text was quickly emailed by a LAB member to Carol Spooner, who posted it on the by-laws listserv, which we were about to do anyway.

FINALLY: We have consistently been available at the WBAI By-laws subcommittee meetings and iPNB meetings, and will continue to be, to explain, clarify and debate this proposal, as well as participating in on-line discussion. So we have been as open about this as humanly possible.

Time simply does not allow responding in writing to the barrage of other arguments that have come up on various list-servs. We will be glad to give more explanations at upcoming meetings.

Bob Lederer


[ a reply from a WBAI LAB member ]

From: Andrew Norris
Date: Wed Nov 20, 2002 9:50 pm
Subject: Re: Responses to various issues about autonomy proposal


First, excuse me if I cannot listen to or read every presentation by members of the WBAI Unity Caucus. I do not know who is in the WBAI Unity Caucus, and the only "official" or "officer" I know of is the WBAI Unity Caucus Coordinator, who is not you.

There are so many proposals out there, so many opinions, that I long ago decided to give preference to the printed written word. When it is placed before me unexpectedly at a WBAI Local Advisory Board meeting in Executive session, then I will pay attention to it.

I gave the 11/8/02 WBAI Unity Caucus proposal http://www.wbai.net/gov_constit_revised11-9-02.html particular attention because you specifically stated at the LAB Executive mtg that it had been sent to Rob Robinson. At that time, November 9, Rob Robinson was completing the bylaws draft document, already late having been scheduled for completion on November 4.

Your response to the criticisms of the 11/8/02 WBAI Unity Caucus proposal leaves me more concerned. What worries me in particular is that you downplay the significance of the responsibilities proposed for the LAB. The 11/8/02 WBAI Unity Caucus proposal is the first and only one I know of that makes the LAB/LSB responsible for splitting the listeners into multiple fragments, such as this pie chart http://pacifica.org/documents/pdf/LocalSBPIE.pdf

Here is the language that really bothers me (from the 11/8/02 WBAI Unity Caucus proposal, subject to a correction on 11/12/02):

"5. The Local Station Board may choose to establish categories of seats based on particular geographic areas within the signal area and/or based on representation of community issues that are important to fulfilling the Foundation's mission.

6. The Local Station Board may choose to require Listener Members to register in the categories of Delegate seats in which they intend to vote."

I have a habit: redact, eliminate superfluous words, rewrite so it that makes sense to me, emphasize the possible. The result was:

The Local Station Board (LSB) can restrict the ability of Members to vote only for a specific number of Categories of seats.

The LSB can require Members to register in the Categories in which they intend to vote.

The LSB can decide upon and establish the Categories of seats in each Election.

This was the basis for the question I asked of Leslie Cagan and Ray Laforest at the WBAI Bylaws subcmte mtg 11/19 (Leslie was not in favor of this proposal, Ray was).

This is the issue for me: I do not want to be party to splitting the listeners into groups, categories, constituencies or whatever.

There is no earthly reason to have the LAB/LSB involved in any of the above. These powers are incompatible with a board that should be concerned with the welfare of a radio station. I shudder at the prospect of the LAB/LSB spending the little time it has on defining this year's Categories, arguing over who is "in", who is "out". What has this got to do with advising/governing a radio station?

The powers that are proposed in the 11/8/02 WBAI Unity Caucus proposal are completely irrelevant to the operation of a radio station (unless you work for arbitron and/or are concerned with the fragmentation of community too common in corporate America, e.g. Madison Ave.). This debate should not even be happening at a Pacifica radio station. Commonality is everything, the radio is the unifier of the listeners and I will oppose any effort to separate what WBAI/Pacifica brings together.

Andy Norris

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