Behind the scenes negotiations?
Below is the first of a series of reports on meetings that took place with Board member Bert Lee and several activists who attempted to unsuccessfully open a dialogue. I make no comment on that effort, nor the proposals suggested as they are completely moot at this point.
I would like to call your attention however to a paragraph that I have marked with *** - which reveals that Board members are being openly offered financial incentives in order to participate in the dismantling of Pacifica and the sale of stations.
I would appreciate any commentary by those versed in criminal law, especially California criminal law, as to whether such offers as described below, might be a basis for demanding arrests of those involved under criminal, not civil, law.
Bear in mind that Pacifica's most recent IRS 990 contains a whopping 1.5 million dollars of unexplained "miscellaneous expenses" as well as half a million on legal fees, including to Director Murdock's firm, Epstein Becker and Green
From: BOK KEEM NYERERE firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the first part of a three-part series regarding the meetings last month with Pacifica Board member Bert Lee. Next week we'll write Part II, a transcription of the conference phone call we had, again, at Bert Lee's insistence.
Following is a synopsis of that meeting:
Bert Lee was quite hospitable. He and his partner, Shirley, and his son, Bert Lee, Jr., were our hosts. All participants agreed that we wanted to see Pacifica continue. After thanking Bert Lee for inviting us to his home, Robbie Leppzer began to address our concerns.
Everyone present agreed that the current climate does not lend itself toward trust and productive programming. Bert acknowledged that until such climate was changed for the better, we would lose both listeners and financial support. Again, all agreed.
Bert suggested that we needed to separate out those areas where there was disagreement and dissent from those where there was consensus. He then suggested two areas: one, managerial, at the National Board level as it is currently constituted and, two, at the managerial level of the network, namely, Bessie Wash. He stated that it appears that Board members are insensitive to the listener- supporters and that Bessie Wash is not accountable for actions, which often appear arbitrary and capricious.
When we asked Bert about Board complicity or approval of certain actions that had been taken by the executive director, our recollection is that Bert said all members were not informed of her actions and could not be held accountable for them.
Bok-keem asked how decisions were made and how the Board selected issues to be dealt with; he wanted to know what was the process.
Bert and Rob Robinson's answer: the process should be listener concerns come to the attention of the Board. Bert replied that, however, the executive director is out of control and things don't happen the way they should. Even on the Board there is a breakdown of communication.
Bok-Keem noted that if Wash is moving unilaterally, she is disrespecting the process. Bert then abruptly said, ""Let's just stop this. We have to get rid of this woman, Bessie Wash. She needs to be brought under control, a suspension, until such time as we can determine her status. In fact, I think it should be done right now. And during that period we should begin an intense search for another executive director."
One of the participants then asked about WBAI, and Bert replied, "That woman, Utrice Leid, needs to go." But when Robbie Leppzer requested that Democracy Now! be immediately reinstated, Bert stated that we should take "first things first." He said that we need to establish listener confidence, that the Board is back in control and making decisions on behalf of the listeners. Further, he said, we need to be sure that managerial concerns are being addressed.
All the participants agreed that the target for these changes to occur would be October 1 because we wanted stability on the airwaves before the next fund-raiser. We began to discuss how the National Board could carry out its mandate and how the network could function without an executive director.
Rashidah suggested that the National Board form a three-person executive committee: two members from the current Board and one from the listener-supporter community. She encouraged the Board members present to make every effort to see that the three persons represent all the communities who listen and depend on the network. All agreed.
We agreed that this committee would exist about 60 days, during which time there would be an extensive search for a new executive director and a new general manager for WBAI. All present emphasized that the search committee would have to find a strong, well-respected interim executive director. Bert suggested that he would volunteer to be that interim director. The other participants said that to ensure listener confidence and support, the interim director should be someone from outside the current configuration.
Bert then said that the new committee should last a maximum of 90 days. Bert said he'd invite all the Board members to resolve the executive director issues, except Murdock and Ford, because they would subvert the process. Everyone present stressed that we look at WBAI immediately because of the current crisis there. It is in both managerial and fiscal crises, and the work environment is precarious and dangerous, as attested to by AFTRA and the Democracy Now! staff.
Rob Robinson suggested that we establish a timetable to get these things done. He said we should begin with an emergency meeting for the National Board, by telephone, before the scheduled September 19, 2001, meeting. The meeting on the 17th would be a good date, allowing us time to give the proper notice, at which time Board members would be asked to discuss just the two issues of executive director and WBAI general manager. Rob and Bert agreed that they would have to have a limited agenda. Rob stated that we have to establish listener confidence in the Board and a definitive decision to take care of the executive director's crisis in management. We all agreed that these issues are at the heart of dwindling listenership, which is translating into the critical loss of revenue. Listeners are concerned that Pacifica is entering a stage of financial insolvency that could lead to the sale of WBAI in particular and the network at large.
Rob and Bert concurred that resolving these issues would be an act of good faith that would demonstrate the National Board was serious about being responsive to and responsible for management, programming and overall conditions that exist at the stations.
****Bert remarked that Bessie was making financial offers to Board members who are in financial straits, even suggesting to him that if he were in a bind, there might be something she could do for him. He ruefully said that it seemed there were some Board members who would be part of dismantling the network so that they could reap financial benefit if the stations were sold. Janice asked Bert if he realized that there was a common perception that he was one of those Board members. In reply, Bert chuckled and shook his head.
Rob Robinson and Bert said they would begin to contact Board members about the meeting we'd had. We agreed to discuss the issues with other Board members so that they would have time to consider the issues before a September 17 phone meeting. Bok- Keem was to speak to Valrie Chambers. Janice would speak to Leslie Cagan. Rob Robinson agreed to talk with Tomas Moran and Bob Farrell. Everyone present agreed not to talk about the meeting with anyone else. We said we'd be in touch within the next 48 hours to check on status. Everyone left feeling very positive, thanking Bert for his hospitality.
Yours in struggle,
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