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WBAI listeners and management meet at the station

From: Mitchel Cohen
Date: Tue Jan 22, 2002 6:42 pm
Subject: Mitchel's Notes of Meeting With Valerie and Bernard

Mitchel's Notes from Tuesday's Meeting with Valerie and Bernard 1/22/02

Silvia, Steve, Denise and myself, on behalf of Concerned Friends, met with Bernard White and Valerie Van Isler this morning at 9:30 am for more than 1 hour in Valerie's office at the station. Also present were Anthony McColl (from the LAB) and Rosalie Hoffman.

We were greeted very cordially despite the fact that we did not have an appointment. Our purpose, as CF reps, was to establish a new line of communication between listener group and station management.

Lots of ideas were bandied around, including several that had not been discussed at Concerned Friends meetings. They were generally constructive, and a couple I had problems with. (Nothing major, ask me in person about them.) Here's a summary:


- Silvia started off, conveyed CF's concerns about the importance of respecting the decisions of the listeners' groups that called the boycott and that have not yet decided to call it off.

- We stressed that these decisions involve groups across the country, and are not limited to the return of the fired and banned here in NYC. Many significant demands at other stations have not yet been met. (We listed what they were.)

Bernard and Valerie said that is why they limited the fund drive to one day, with that money going solely to supplies for the local station, not to Pacifica. Station was in desperate need.

Bernard said that he had talked on-air about the POSSIBILITY of going forward with the fund drive next week, but that after consultation with Pacifica Campaign and CF it would not begin until the boycott is lifted.


- We discussed the importance of full financial disclosure, local as well as national. All agreed. Afterwards, Valerie showed us itemized reports issued just before the Christmas coup that were displayed in a glass case on the wall, for "anyone" to look at. (She's sending us a copy.) This showed -- on very tentative glance -- that the station's debts had been fully paid off just before the coup, and that they were several tens of thousands ($60,000, I think) in the black as of December 2000. Steve asked about a "check by check" accounting, but didn't press it. It will no doubt come up again.

- Bessie Wash consolidated all the station's accounts in Washington, in a Pacifica account. The station, according to Valerie, was unable to write a single check for its own materials. (In my view, probably illegal and a grounds for voiding any settlement with the Coupsters and retrieving the severance package.)

- WBAI has now established a WBAI operating account in a NY bank. Valerie is also setting up another "Special Account" for funds that David Rothenberg and others bring in.

- Discussed the need for sideband leasing data sheets. Valerie said that she needs that info too.

- Dan and Leslie need to work on plan about debt retirement. (Mitchel: Debt needs to be renegotiated. Funds should not just be funneled from listeners into paying lawyers and severance packages.)

- Denise: Donated funds during Utrice's "tenure". Feels money was just thrown away. Listeners need to be guaranteed funds will stay at station and be used for what they say.

- Steve suggested a new proposal, a "new members" drive for $1 to join for six months, and each new member be given a membership card. (Rosalee and Bernard did not agree, felt it would be unfair to listeners who pay more.) Steve explained how thousands of new members would sign up, station would have their names and addresses and expand the base. My impression: Valerie was sold on this idea off the bat. Bernard modified his view. I think this is going to be a done deal, and a SMART political move as well. Question from Valerie: Would that be considered "breaking the boycott," assuming that it didn't resolve this week. I said I thought it would be fine - but then said we'd better check. Steve pointed out the difference between a $1 membership and soliciting large donations.


- Bernard agreed with idea of a "Report from the Listeners" discussing governance & bylaws, including airing listener resolutions for a democratic restructuring of Pacifica. Need to work out details. Expects Leslie Cagan and Dan Coughlin to be giving report later this week.

- Valerie was intrigued with the idea of electronic hookup of all station areas, so listeners could discuss governance on-air. I mentioned that KPFA had set aside a room for this. Valerie said we could possibly do same.

- They also expect a "Report from the LAB" once a month, with listener phone-in.

- We did bring up a 3-hour weekly listeners' show, repeated at night. Bernard was cognizant that this was, at least in some, form, in the judge's order. Devil is, as always, in the details. He said: "Well, start lining up folks to be on it." I said: They're already lined up and chomping at the bit. He said, let's talk about it later in the week. My advice: bring it up again, with CONCRETE suggestions, in writing, and at the Thursday meeting.

- Mentioned Program Council, but that is the purview of LAB to set up so didn't pursue it here.

- Bernard said he's played several times a cart made for the CF meeting Thurs. and would "of course" put on carts about our meetings.


- No one had a problem with this idea, except Bernard asked how to pay for that person. So we kicked around a few ways volunteers could be rotated biweekly or monthly in that position.


- LAB is supposed be allocating funds for a folio of some sort. (Now is the time to raise WHO does the folio, what it contains, etc. A governance section? Bylaws? We didn't discuss this aspect.)


This was a good beginning. Bernard said several times that "this is a new era" and need to work closely with listeners. We need to keep up such contacts, come up with specific suggestions and requirements, and not argue over vagueries. Walking from the train to 120 Wall St. at 8:50 in the morning was a trip I do not relish - I felt I was racing to work, scrambling once again with all the others in the maze for a 9 am meeting. And not even being paid. Aaaaargh!

While waiting for the meeting to start, Paul Williams came in, pretty tense. Clearly some folks are reassessing their own situations. Just said hello. He didn't stick around.

Seeya later, agitators!

- Mitchel Cohen
[listener member of Concerned Friend of WBAI and of the Green Party]

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