Warring Pacifica factions take up court battle as financial woes mount

By Ben Mook

Fired Pacifica Executive Director, in an April 1 screen grab from a documentary filmed by the Labor Video Project. The video was shot during Reese's occupation of Pacifica HQ.

Fired Pacifica Executive Director Summer Reese, in an April 1 screen grab from a documentary filmed by the Labor Video Project. The video was shot during Reese’s occupation of Pacifica HQ.

The ongoing standoff over Pacifica’s leadership reached the California courts last week, opening what could become a protracted legal battle over the Pacifica Foundation board of directors’ decision to fire executive director Summer Reese.

Reese, who has defied the board’s March 14 vote to fire her and taken up residence in Pacifica headquarters in Berkeley, filed a civil lawsuit in Alameda County, seeking a restraining order to reverse the board’s decision.

During an April 9 hearing, Superior Court Judge Ioana Petrou denied the request by Reese and her supporters for a temporary restraining order on procedural grounds. Petrou will rule May 6 on Reese’s request for a temporary injunction to stay the board’s decision.

“I wasn’t surprised by the decision, a temporary restraining order is a high bar and this is a complex case,” said Amy Sommer Anderson, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, Pacifica Directors for Good Governance. “And, we’re encouraged by what the judge said and where we’re at going into the next hearing.”

The lawsuit names the Pacifica Foundation board members who voted for Reese’s removal, including Chair Margy Wilkinson and Vice Chair Tony Norman, as defendants. The complaint alleges that Reese’s firing violated Pacifica’s bylaws and was “improper, unlawful and fiscally reckless.” The plaintiffs don’t seek monetary damages, but ask the court to overturn the board’s decision and immediately reinstate Reese.

The Pacifica board is fighting the lawsuit. “We are working with the attorneys and authorities on how to move forward,” Wilkinson said in an interview. “We have a new interim executive director in place and we are considering our legal options.”

“The board felt it was well within its rights to terminate her employment,” Wilkinson said. “And, with the lawsuit, there are certainly big disputes we have about matters presented as fact.”

The board appointed Bernard Duncan, former g.m. of Pacifica’s KPFK in Los Angeles, to serve as Reese’s successor on an interim basis, although he and Wilkinson are shut out of Pacifica’s headquarters.

The two competing camps have denied each other access to financial information: Reese controls records stored within Pacifica’s offices and Wilkinson and Duncan are withholding access to KPFA’s books. The impasse prevents Reese from working on a long delayed systemwide audit, she said.

The Pacifica board has not ruled out asking the police to remove Reese from the building, according to Wilkinson.

Reese told Current that she intends to stay in Pacifica’s offices as long as she can. “Someone still has to make decisions and get things done,” Reese said.

Deepening financial woes

While the warring factions jockey for control, Pacifica remains in a precarious financial position.

Last August, Pacifica laid off almost all paid staff of WBAI-FM in New York, reducing personnel costs of the cash-strapped outlet to the bare minimum.

The network’s most recent independently audited financial statement, released in October, revealed a host of potential problems within the Pacifica’s internal financial controls in fiscal 2012. The foundation closed that fiscal year with a $979,000 net reduction in unrestricted assets.

“The Foundation’s net assets are currently in a deficit position, and the absorption of large losses at individual divisions cannot be sustained if the Foundation is to remain a going concern,” the auditors wrote.

Financial irregularities prompted CPB to withhold grants to Pacifica’s five radio stations. The foundation missed deadlines to address accounting and operations errors discovered in a 2012 audit by the CPB Inspector General’s Office.

CPB funding isn’t likely to be restored anytime soon, according to Reese. Delays in getting Pacifica’s books in order will make it very difficult for the organization to meet the Aug. 13 deadline to file tax statements, she said.

“So, the money we’ve been waiting for from CPB will again be postponed because of a lack of participation,” Reese said. “We are in a precarious situation and not getting the CPB money is not helpful.”

Questions, comments, tips? mook@current.org
  • PacListener

    Not a bad article, but missing quite a few facts and details that skew it to one point of view. For example, Reese is the one who laid off over 2/3 of WBAI staff, which mandated severance checks be cut, and to do this, Reese took $50,000 from KPFA to cover the expense. Additionally, Reese did this with no intent or plan to cover the mandatory deductions (FICA, Medicare, etc.), which have yet to be allocated or paid, which leaves Pacifica holding the bag on her errors. Reese also cancelled the mandated 2013 elections for new board members, which was supported by the same group that is currently suing Pacifica.

  • Kim_Kaufman

    Ms. Wilkinson is disputed chair. The Secretary has produced no minutes from the new board of any open session since February 7-10 meeting in Washington, D.C. when there was the election for chair. Those minutes will show the election was not resolved according to the by-laws. All their actions are based on breaking and ignoring the rules from the beginning. Duncan is the failed GM from KPFK, having produced two years of six figure deficits and heading into a third even bigger deficit before he resigned. Wilkinson and Duncan appear to be withholding KPFA’s records because there seems to be missing accounts of revenue and no reconciliation of books for the previous year, more than six months after FY end. Getting rid of Reese and installing sock puppet Duncan would eliminate those awkward questions like. where’d the money go? Why are your records not up to date and ready for the audit?

  • AmyGrateno

    Reese’s complaints about the CPB money are disingenuous. She’s the one who ran the network for the last 3 years, and prompted the audit from the CPB which is holding back current funds. And she’s the one who laid off nearly all of WBAI’s staff, causing a , when other, more sensible options were available. Anyone who wants to learn more about her history at Pacifica can find details at http://www.SaveKPFA.org.

    • http://about.me/mike.janssen Mike Janssen

      Hi Amy — CPB conducted its audit from January to June 2012, before Summer was appointed interim executive director. See page 25 of this document: http://www.cpb.org/oig/reports/2012-09-21-Report-1208-Pacifica.pdf

      • AmyGrateno

        Yes, but Reese was chair of the Pacifica board during 2011, 2012, 2013. Arlene Engelhardt (ED) and Lavarn Williams (CFO) were the paid staff in charge during that period – and they worked hand in glove with Reese as the chair. They all share responsibility for Pacifica’s failures.

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