A standing room only crowd of over 50 people filled the Fort Bragg Redwood Senior Center's second largest room on March 3rd for the KZYX Board of Directors' meeting. Long gone are the quiet days when the Board lamented the lack of public interest in its meetings. If three or more people showed, it was a surprise.
The scarcity of on air timely announcements of meeting dates has given way to the General Manager, John Coate's, recent practice of sending group emails to urge attendance "of reasonable people" including the invitation to a local newspaper as was acknowledged in Frank Hartzell's report in last week's Mendocino Beacon.
Historically, an audience of 20 or more has only reliably materialized when unpopular changes are made suddenly to favorite programs such as local news or more recently, Open Lines - a listener based discussion in all areas of interest. The meeting was also videotaped by Terry Vaughn and can be seen at mendocinotv.com as well as on the station's website.
Another new development was the online publishing of the Board's agenda — a first in the station's 24 year history. The Board stated it would now be available 3 days before each meeting.
The first order of business was the approval of minutes from the October 2013 meeting. Board Chair, Eliane Herring was noticeably nervous and distracted.
A status report was given.
The Winter pledge drive brought in 49K. The station is reducing the number of pledge drives to three — a Spring drive in mid May and a Fall drive in mid October.
An update of the newly formed Community Advisory Board (CAB) was provided. Board member, Stuart Campbell, introduced three of the six members present in the audience who were roundly applauded for their voluntary service. Special attention was directed to the two questions formulated by the CAB which appear on the back of the green election ballot.
Herring then announced the names of the candidates running for the three open seats in this year's election.
Four candidates are vying for the At-Large seat - a position that is not restricted by residence requirements. They are: Paul Lambert; Doug McKenty; Tom Melcher and King Collins
Two candidates are contesting the District 3 inland (Willits) seat: Jane Futcher & Patricia Kovner
The District 4 coastal seat currently held by Board member, Meg Courtney is unopposed.
All the At-Large candidates were present at the meeting and were introduced by the Board Chair.
A more in depth look at the candidate's statements will be explored in the Election section of this article.
Under the agenda item, Matters from the Board, four minutes was allotted to each Board member to address the actions of fellow Board member, John Sakowicz. The statements of the eight Board members ranged from severe censure to more moderate expressions of disapproval.
The Board was particularly incensed by Sakowicz's written complaint to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in regard to the station's (KZYX) license renewal which is currently on hold. Among the allegations filed in the complaint were serious issues of management interference in Board elections, exclusionary practices toward former programmers, unnecessary obfuscation of financial documents by the General Manager and failure to advertise job openings at the station.
Member Bob Page's condescending tone brought to mind an image of a stern father upbraiding his wayward offspring for bad behavior. He said Sakowicz's complaint was based on misinformation, hearsay and inappropriate slurs against the General Manager and lumped the efforts of others who have advocated for peaceful change into the same ball of hot wax in which Sakowicz now finds himself. While stating that the Board tries to listen to reasonable requests and does not believe in the philosophy of "our way or the highway", Page concluded his remarks by saying,"Perhaps you 100 Members for Change should start your own Mendocino station - call it KMUD South, have the AVA as your first underwriter, make McKenty your GM... to channel your energy in a positive direction for once. He went on in an unpleasant tone, to warn his imagined adversaries that as long as he was on the Board and beyond, he would stand behind the hardworking manager, staff, programmers and volunteers.
Not exactly a warm fuzzy blanket to wrap around differing strategies for going forward as a community radio station.
Member Meg Courtney spoke next to address "some very disturbing occurrences at the station in the past few months." She described some of the time spent dealing with Board matters as counterproductive and demoralizing in that she found herself "having to respond to angry emails with false accusations and trying to mediate with people who seem intent on attacking the station no matter what the facts and/or the reality." She continued "that to the best of her knowledge, the Board and GM are trying to do their best to listen to and address the issues that are brought to them." She described the accomplishments of the GM in improving the station's infrastructure and financial situation and asked for the respect of those who are unhappy with the station and for a willingness to work with rather than against the Board and management.
She then turned her attention to Sakowicz to say, in a chilling voice, that she was dumbfounded by his behavior as a Board member. She read through a list of Board responsibilities stating that Sakowicz had violated at least eight of them. The one that provoked the most rancor was his alleged failure to keep the confidentiality of internal Board memos.
I couldn't help but notice that she skipped over the responsibility that stated "missing three consecutive meetings shall be cause for dismissal" which might have embarrassed both the Board member who missed considerably more consecutive meetings and the entire Board who chose to look the other way. (Sakowicz has perfect attendance.)
Member Fran Koliner, who has served on the Board for six years, made some thoughtful remarks that displayed none of the antagonism of the previous Board members. She admitted the station did have problems with communicating with its members — that Board meetings were not a suitable format for discussion adding,"Folks need to be acknowledged and know that their communication is heard." She hoped that the CAB would facilitate a better process.
Koliner acknowledged the station's Strategic Plan was sadly out of date and stressed the need to work together. She said the Board stood behind the GM because of his hard work and his improvement of the station's website among many other contributions.
She chastised Sakowicz for not bringing his issues to the Board for discussion instead of going directly to the public. She hoped the Board could look forward to working as a unified team.
Member Holly Madrigal noted that she had found a lot of public support for the station. She said the "aggression" the station was experiencing was a distraction from the real work of the Board — increasing membership as well as transparency. She included developing a Strategic Plan for the station as an important goal.
Madrigal referred to Sakowicz's inflammatory remarks toward the station's recent hire of newsperson, Sheri Quinn, pointing out the inaccuracy of his claim to the FCC that they were best friends when, in fact, they had met only once. She found this to be an unfortunate case of public bullying. She closed by reading Sakowicz's campaign statement from the previous year in which he stated he fully supported KZYX's management which she interpreted as the reason he was elected by the members — a vote she felt that should be taken seriously.
Board Chair Elaine Herring then took the floor. She emphasized the duty of Board members as trustees of the station. She, however, stated in the next breath, "As directors of a private concern, a 501(c)3 corporation (which appears to be a direct contradiction of terms) we cannot abdicate or ignore these duties." She continued, "We are cheerleaders and good will ambassadors, never public critics or detractors. There is the duty of loyalty, to be faithful to the organization. The law also imposes the duty of confidentiality because we are in a position of power and trust. To work productively as a team , we need to show that we are trustworthy and discreet — able to air our concerns privately." She accused Sakowicz of a breach of fiduciary duty in engaging in a campaign to impugn the reputation of the 'Executive Director' which she believed to "be fueled by personal animus." Finally, she asked him to act in a way that is appropriate to a Board member so that the Board could move forward in an atmosphere of trust and respect.
Programmer representative, Stuart Campbell, who has taken on most of the heavy lifting of Board responsibilities in the last six months as Election Coordinator and organizer of the CAB, described his reaction to Sakowicz's FCC complaint as surprised, shocked and dismayed. He told him he disagreed with his strategy and intent. Campbell felt that, although he disagreed with the disruptive behavior, a way had to be found to make room for all voices, dissident or not, as part of the Mission Statement. Although new to Mendocino County, in speaking with a variety of people, he felt that dissidence was a part of the station's history, a statement that evoked laughter and tangibly lightened the heavy atmosphere of the room. He said he didn't believe in the fantasy that if one could just get rid of all the dissident voices, everything would be great. He thought that was an impossible scenario and encouraged communication in the community in who we are.
Member Ed Keller said he thought very highly of Sackowicz professionally as a programmer but had reservations about supporting him as a Board member because of his negative manner and tone. He felt so much of the friction could have been avoided if Sakowicz had come to the Board with his concerns instead of going public with them. He believed Sakowicz had much to offer and hoped he could take the views of fellow members to heart.
The last Board member to speak, Laviva Dakirs, talked about the polarization of the labeling that occurred at the station. She asked that preconceptions based on individual personalities be separated from the ideas or issues. She asked for an end to derogatory name calling as immature and unnecessary behavior that served no ones interest.
Sakowicz told a piece of his past ancestral Polish history to make the point that his reason for filing the FCC complaint came from a place of deep conscience.
He told the Board that he had been trained as a public trustee by Mendocino County and understood the job and his responsibilities. He noted that he was also the only one on the Board that carried fiduciary insurance.
He gave the Board specifics of the reasons for the charges filed with the FCC mentioned above and in a published article in last week's AVA. He said, most important of his reasons was the suspension of Open Lines — an open forum for public comment. He told of his experience of taking on the Bd. of Supervisors for rules that restricted public comment and his success in having that rule changed. He said he is a free speech advocate and believed that Open Lines should be restored to the airwaves immediately.
General Manager's Report
Curiously, with the attention of a large audience at hand, John Coate elected not to go into the details of his report as he has done in past meetings. He spoke about how each pledge drives' income would be used to pay down various upcoming bills. $7,500 of the income just received would go to pay the rent on the 91.5 transmitter and with 42K in funds from the CPB grant expected in March, Coate expected to pay a large NPR programming bill.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has changed the way they calculate its grant, rewarding stations with a listenership of a sizeable ethnic diversity. This will mean less money in the next fiscal year.
Financial Summary for January 31st 2014: Compared to this time last year, total income is over 50 K less, donations are 26K less but expenses are down as well by 13K. Net gain is 67+K compared to last year's 107+K.
Total Accounts Payable: 45+K compared to last years 71+K.
Accounts receivable (pledges and underwriting) Up 19 K from last year — 40+ K this year; 31+K last year.
Checking account balance: 56+K; last year 23+K So the bottom line is slightly better this year.
The new main control console was installed in January. Besides a mixing board, it is also an audio processor that improves the fidelity compared to the previous console. It was more difficult and more expensive to install (16K) than expected due to many layers of old wiring. The new console requires training of each programmer as it has differences from the previous console.
Two problems have been occurring to the station's signals — short "dropouts" where the signal goes out for a half second and problems on the 91.5 signal where sound distorts in a peculiar way. These are likely to be two separate issues. If it is faulty equipment, the station cannot easily swap a back up part into service because back ups aren't available for every component. It could also be increased interference from growing trees between the Philo studio and the tower on Cold Springs Mountain. Another possibility is radio equipment broadcasting at frequencies close to the STL frequency that bleed over to interfere.
The production studio — studio B continues to be upgraded so it can be used both as a recording facility and a back up live studio. Rewiring has been done so that if Studio A fails, a few pushed buttons on the FM processor will bring Studio B on air.
The station has acquired and installed a delay system. It is being tested and will soon be put into service.
A new Events Calendar has been added to the website which replaces the old PSA system. The advantages are that it is much easier to enter an event as well as find events due to a number of search options.
Sheri Quinn and Micheal Kisslinger are the new team for local news which has changed to a ten minute format. Both are independent contractors as was Paul Lambert who retired in December. Sheri has twelve years experience in producing and reporting radio news and public affairs. Kisslinger is a local resident of Ukiah and host of Give And Take on Thursday mornings.
Programs hosts on hiatus:
Sherry Glaser-Love — Our House Tues. 2-4 P.M.
DJ Ackshawn — New Slang Sat 1-3 P.M. New & Returning Programs
DJ Selector J — Sweet Smoke 10- midnight, Wednesdays
Dr. Richard Miller — Mind, Body,Health & Politics Returns in April Tues. 9 A.M.
Open Lines returns in April with multiple hosts
Joel Cohen — Music without Borders Tues. 10 A.M.
DJ Ryano now substitutes for Diane Hering — Songs in the Key of Twang Sat. 1- 3 P.M.
Re-arranging the signal to originate in Ukiah with the first link to Laughlin Ridge north of Redwood Valley. Setting up a Ukiah studio to accommodate inland programmers and guests.
Move the AV studio to Boonville to be closer to the phone building.
Put a booster or translator on Cow Mt. to strengthen signal to Lake County Also put a booster on the south coast to better reach Gualala & Sea Ranch
Increase local news As money allows to gather and report more local news.
Buy BBC again - possibly Prairie Home Companion — Expensive programming but can do it if we can consistently pay for it.
Better training for programmers — There is a need for quality training and good trainers to do the job.
Doug McKenty — Lives in Elk. Former Bd. member 2010-13 & host of Open Lines program for 7 years. In favor of having more work done by the Board through a committee system and programming decisions be more inclusive of membership and listener input.
Paul Lambert — Lives in Willits. Former station news contractor for 18 months and host of Mendo Matters public affairs program. Would like to see more volunteers in program creation.
Tom Melcher — relocated from Vermont in the past year. Journalist, author, songwriter, meditation trainer. Believes his listening skills and neutrality would help the station better communicate with all diverse viewpoints.
King Collins — Lives in Redwood Valley. Former electrician, currently an author and historian. Strongly believes in the responsibility of Board members to have open lines of communication with members and listeners. Advocates a monthly on air talk show for Bd. members to keep listeners informed of station business.
District 3 Candidates:
Patricia Kovner — Lives north of Laytonville in an owner built, off grid home. A retired physician's assistant who strongly supports a full local news program with adequate staff training and local recruitment. An advocate for greater community participation in programming decisions.
Jane Futcher — Lives south of Willits. Past Board member from 2005-8. Former journalist for a Bay Area newspaper — author of 5 books. Involved in creating a revenue steam from large donors while a Bd. member. Was on the Bd. that hired the current General Manager.
Deadline for the return of ballots -March 31st.
Though the meeting was three hours long, many people stayed to give comments to the Board.
Dr. Michael Brown offered to be on an ad hoc committee to try to increase membership between pledge drives.
Programmer Tim Gregory thought the kzyxtalk list serve was a good innovative way to have discussions about the station between meetings. He also recommended the station consider setting up a Facebook page to increase interest in the station.
Former programmer, Toni Orans used to read children’s stories on air and thought the station was not filling the niche for a younger audience.
Ellen Saxe praised the quality of John Sakowiczp’s show, “All about Money.” She was especially impressed with the guests on a recent show about water.
Doug McKenty praised the Board for the opportunity to hear the viewpoints of individual Bd. members. With the number of Bd. meetings reduced to four a year, he would like the Bd. to return to the use of committees to get work done between meetings.
Dr. Richard Miller thanked Stuart Campbell for his statement regarding inclusiveness of all views. He felt that outside entities should not have to be resorted to in trying to solve the station's problems.
Mindy Cairn believed bullying and threats should not be tolerated by the Board or management. She also stated people should show respect by not speaking longer than their allotted time.
Toni Rizzo, co host of Corporations for Democracy stated that the station is much improved through the hard work of staff and management. She corrected the notion that Open Lines had been cancelled, stating that it had been suspended until the bleep machine was initiated. She also believed its suspension was not a free speech issue.
Ann Rennacker, of Ocean Protection Coalition spoke of her displeasure at hearing ads for natural gas promoting the practice of fracking which she strongly opposed and felt it was inappropriate to have that type of ad so closely aligned to the environment show she enjoyed listening to. She said letters both she and her group had written had received no response. David Steffen, the underwriting manager, responded that the ads she heard were a part of the national programming package and the station had no control over that advertising.
Malcolm MacDonald said he had been a guest of a late night talk show and found the host afraid that the show might get her in trouble with the Program Director. He said he wrote for the AVA and that the paper shouldn't be such a whipping boy for members of the Board and for members of the audience.
Mary Aigner responded that there was no censorship of content at the station.
King Collins presented the Board with a wooden box that had 'talk to the members' written on it. The box contained a large uncut crystal that Collins said represented the members of the station. He passed around a petition that called for a Board talk show once a month on air in which listeners could call and talk with Board members.
My comment to the Board was to thank them for making positive changes in publishing their agenda, acknowledging the Simple Living Membership rate of $25 and having a private way to communicate with them on the website.
I defended the release of the private memo of the Board to the press as “an Edward Snowden moment of transparency.” I then pointed out that the General Manager veered from appropriate information about the station's finances to defaming four paying members of KZYX as enemies of the station. Without knowing they had been singled out to the Board with inaccurate information by the GM, those members had no way to defend themselves. I concluded the issue was not about Board confidentiality but about the inappropriate secrecy of questionable GM behavior.
I questioned why the General Manager did not abide by a court ruling requiring the breakdown of employee salaries in the annual budget report. I also spoke of the management decision to withhold the membership list from members who wish to contact members regarding station issues which is a right stated in the Bylaws. Management's offer to do the mail out at our expense would cost the members a prohibitive amount.
Others spoke but time and space prevent the inclusion of all comments.
The Board held a long discussion of the list of the 22 Board responsibilities, asking Sakowicz for his opinion on several, in particular, the one requiring confidentiality. When asked if he would agree to sign the list, Sakowicz felt many of them to be unenforceable and wanted to have his lawyer review them before committing himself. The Board also discussed whether incoming candidates should be asked to agree to them as well. It was decided that they were to be used as a guide for appropriate behavior until a later date when it might be put on the agenda as an action item. Bob Page agreed to review them to see if modifications were warranted.
The last item of Board business was the establishment of improved meeting protocols. After a discussion of how public comment was handled in other types of public meetings, Madrigal suggested that a second public comment be added to allow the public to comment on action items on the Board agenda. The Board agreed and a three minute limit on the second comment period was decided upon.
The next meeting of the Board will be the Annual Membership meeting to be held in Ukiah. Location and date will be announced on air and through the station's website, kzyx.org.