Sako Faces His Critics

The Board of Directors of Mendocino County Public Broadcasting (MCPB) met last night, March 3. It was an interesting meeting -- in some ways painful, while in other ways cathartic.

It was a long meeting. Three hours, fifteen minutes.

I would estimate that 40-50 people attended the meeting, in addition to the nine Board Directors, station General Manager, John Coate, station Program Director, Mary Aigner, and station Business Development Director, David Steffen.

The AVA's fine reporter, Sheila Dawn-Tracy, was there, along with two other reporters (I think). So was my lawyer. And former MCPB Chair, David Hoppman (also an attorney).

Suspended host of "Open Lines" and Board candidate, Doug McKenty, videotaped the meeting. I appreciated the videotape as documentary evidence of the meeting in the event I either had to go to court or add to my FCC complaint, although I must say I hoped the meeting would be an opportunity to de-escalate and to communicate.

At least three other Board candidates, King Collins, Tom Melcher, and Paul Lambert, also attended the meeting. Several programmers were also in attendance.

So, one may rightly ask: Was I purged from the Board for filing an FCC complaint against the station on whose Board I sit?

No. Not for now, at least.

But I was pilloried by each of my eight colleagues on the Board of Directors. Each Board member got four minutes of comment. Most read a prepared statement. I sat and listened. I did not speak. Did not defend myself.

I was, however, allowed to speak last.

And so, I did.

I started out by saying that I am a lot of things, but I am not a coward. Not gutless. I came to the Board meeting to "face the music".

I came to the Board meeting on a cold and rainy night in Fort Bragg, even though I could have been in sunny, hot, and dry Rancho Mirage. The California Association of Public Retirement Systems (CALPRS) is having its annual meeting this week in Rancho Mirage, and I could have, and perhaps should have, been there at the CALPRS meeting instead of Fort Bragg.

But I was in Fort Bragg to face my many critics.

I went on to say I filed the FCC complaint, not out of any animus towards Coate, but as an act of conscience. Conscience. Public radio here in Mendocino County stopped being public radio a long time ago. I went on to say that I knew the FCC complaint might cost me both my Board seat and my radio show -- and I would fight that loss -- but I had to do it. I had to file the FCC complaint. I had no choice.

I went on to say it's in my genealogy to do a difficult thing no matter what the personal sacrifice. I mentioned my grandfather's cousin,  Kazimierz Sakowicz, the Polish journalist who, during WWII, chronicled the mass murder of 100,000 Polish , Lithuanian, and Russian Jews near the railway station of Ponary (Paneriai), in the Wilno Voivodship. The mass murders started in July, 1941 and ended in August, 1944. It was the first execution of Jews by the Nazis.

Kazimierz Sakowicz, an editor of the Przeglad Gospodaczy journal in Wilno, later became a member of the Polish Resistance. He was hunted down by the Nazis during Operation Tempest, and he was executed.

Kazimierz Sakowicz serves as my model for doing the right thing. And my filing the complaint with the FCC was doing the right thing, as I saw it.

Absolutely the right thing.

It wasn't fighting the Nazis, to be sure. But it was standing up to another kind of bully -- a sort of schoolyard bully, John Coate.

In my four minutes, I went on to say that among all the Board Directors at MCPB, I am the only Director who is a trained trustee. I was trained as a public trustee at Stanford Law School as a requirement of my duties at our county's retirement system. I also told the Board that I alone on their Board of Directors was a fiduciary. I am insured and indemnified as a fiduciary as part of my county responsibilities.

In other words, I know the job of being a Board Director. I know the job cold. I filed the FCC because I saw it as my duty as a local trustee of our airwaves and broadband.

Then, I went on to enumerate the six reasons why I filed the complaint:

1. the station's GM, John Coate, interferes with the Board's nominations and elections process -- a serious breach of corporate governance

2. the station has a long history of excluding other possible media partners, starting 25 years ago with Sean Donovan's exclusion of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, and continuing through the year with the exclusion of Beth Bosk at the New Settler Interviews, KC Meadows at the Ukiah Daily Journal, and finally KMEC

3. the station violated its own By-laws for the last 25 years by having neither a Community Advisory Board (only recently formed) nor a Program Advisory Committee (yet to be formed)

4. the station unnecessarily confuses its financial reporting -- line items do not carry across our audits, tax returns, and general manager reports; line items are called by different names and are posted in different categories, resulting in "apples to oranges" comparisons in our audits, tax returns, and general manager reports; our accounting methodology could not be more confusing

5. the station neither posts nor advertises job openings -- a possible EEO violation

6. the station censures free speech by cancelling its "Open Lines" show, previously the station's only opportunity for unrestricted public comment in a public forum -- absolutely scandalous for a presumably public radio station

No Director spoke up to contradict me. There was no argument. As I had politely listened to the Board members during each of their respective four minutes when they criticized me for filing the FCC complaint, they listened politely to me as I explained my action.

Then, the public was allowed comment. Comment was mixed, but most speakers said I went too far in filing the FCC complaint. They said I hurt the station. They said I was wrong. Some said I called me crazy, vindictive, destructive, and a bunch of other names. I listened and listened.

I did not speak except to say that in the future I would moderate my comments about station management. I said I would try not to vituperate Coate, in particular, for his strong-armed, autocratic, bullying management style. I agreed to do this, not out of respect for Coate, but out of respect for MCPB, its Board, and its members.

Board Chair Eliane Herring then moved to the next agenda item which was a discussion of "Code of Responsibilities for Board Members". It was clear that Chair Herring was seeking unanimous acceptance by the whole Board for the Code of Responsibilities. I said I could not, however, sign off on the Code, because it seemed too restrictive in some ways, and, in any case, it read like a contract. If it were, indeed, a contract, I suggested that legal counsel should review the Code of Responsibilities and offer a legal opinion for the Code's advisability and whether or not it was enforceable.

It was agreed that the issue of the Code of Responsibilities for Board Members would be carried over to our next Board meeting on May 5 at a yet-to-be-announced location  in Ukiah.

One final thing.

During the "Other Business" part of the agenda, I brought up the issue of a Ukiah studio.

MCPB's mother ship, of course, is in Philo, with satellite studios located in Mendocino and Willits.

I reminded the Board that MCPB does not have to seek anything like a merger with KMEC in order to get a studio in Ukiah. Instead, we can lease studio time from KMEC. We don't need to rent office space and build out a studio, as Coate insists. We do not need a tower in Ukiah or a satellite uplink, as Coate also insists. Instead, an MCPB studio in Ukiah can broadcast Voice over Internet Protocol, also known as Voice over IP, or simply, VoIP.

VoIP can be implemented in a variety of ways, using proprietary protocols and using protocols based on open standards.

When I first started my radio show at KZYX&Z, my co-host was a bright young software engineer named Jay Johnson. Jay had been Mendocino County's first IT Director, I think. He was a brilliant dude. And the best part? Jay and I never had to travel to Philo to do our radio show.

Why? How?

Jay built a small studio in his office on State Street in Ukiah, and we sent the VoIP signal from Ukiah to Philo where MCPB's control board picked it up, and sent it to the tower and repeaters for broadcast over the MCPB's airwaves -- 88.1, 90.7, and 91.5 FM. Jay built it all to look like a Private Branch Exchange that used VoIP.

It was a thing of beauty.

Sheer beauty.

Radio over IP, or RoIP, could be another option.

RoIP is not a proprietary or protocol-limited construct but a basic concept that has been implemented in a number of ways. Several systems have been implemented in the amateur radio community such as AllStar Link, IRLP, and EchoLink that have demonstrated the utility of RoIP in a partly or entirely open-source environment. Many commercial radio systems vendors such as Motorola and Harris have adopted RoIP as part of their system designs.

The motivation to deploy RoIP technology is usually driven by one of three factors: first, the need to span large geographic areas; second, the desire to provide more reliable, or at least more repairable links in radio systems; and third, to support the use of many base station users, that is, voice communications from stationary users rather than mobile or handheld radios.

Geographies may be more economically reliably served when spanned by the use of IP technology due to the constantly decreasing cost and increasing functionality of the evolving packet-switched network equipment and software. Traditionally distant radio users have been linked via dedicated microwave equipment and/or leased telephone lines.

Generally, the cost of operating a radio network is decreased by the adoption of IP technology, replacing the traditional microwave and leased telephone lines. Economical and reliable distant radio links such as those needed by state troopers, energy utilities, and Medivac helicopters are well served by RoIP technology. Air Evac Lifeteam, for example, is a 14-state radio system. U.S. military units are using RoIP to protect convoys spread out across large geographies.

My vote for a Ukiah studio? Rent some studio time from KMEC. Use VoIP. Or use RoIP.

Why not?

Let's see if Coate stands in the way. There's no reason we can't work something out with KMEC, unless, of course, Coate is just dragging his heels on a Ukiah studio he never wants to see deployed. The other scenario could be that KMEC just doesn't want to fool around with MCPB -- too many difficult personalities, too much politics, too much baloney.

I could say all that, but I'm on my best behavior now.

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