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KZYX’s Divine Comedy Runs On

The KZYX Board of Directors held a marathon five-hour meeting at the Community Center in Willits on June 29th. Mercifully, the weather was almost cool — the digital screen reading 88 degrees at 4 p.m. All members of the Board were present with the exception of Board Secretary, Meg Courtney. Director Sakowicz volunteered to take notes for the meeting's minutes.

The meeting was well attended. General Manager, John Coate's decision to resign had been on the station's website, mentioned on air and in print media for more than two weeks. Additionally, two Board members had also resigned — Paul Lambert chose to return to the southern part of the state to be closer to family and Jane Futcher opted to host a new program on all things related to cannabis. She had to relinquish her District 3 seat as the station's bylaws allow programmers to hold either the At-Large seat (just vacated by Lambert) or the Programmer's Representative seat (currently held by Stuart Campbell).

There were several action items on the agenda requiring public comment including a discussion and vote on the 2016 budget. Chairing his first meeting as Board President, Campbell added a fourth public comment to the agenda to allow final words of recognition or appeasement for Coate from those in attendance. An invitation to attend had been put on the programmers' website so a preponderance of programmers, staff and past Board members was noticeable.

Coate's resignation took many by surprise as no mention of his intention had been made at the May meeting. Coate cited family health problems-he was needed in the Bay area to care for his ailing 90 year old mother. Coincidentally perhaps, Coate's decision to resign came one day after receiving a demand letter to inspect many of the station's financial documents, Board evaluations of the general manager as well as copies of the names and addresses of current station members, citing several sections of the California Corporations Code. The membership information was requested because in its 25 years in operation, no Board has presented a viable means for members to communicate with each other, obstructing a bylaw that states the right of members to call a meeting if a required % of members assent. It was signed by Director Sakowicz and five current members, two of whom are former Board members.

Campbell thanked Coate for "his courage, vision and commitment to keep the station on an even keel through sound financial procedures." He mentioned upgrades in equipment, improvements in programming and Coate's work in providing the convenience of “on demand” listening for varied genres of music and a window for program archives through the Jukebox, keeping the station in line with changing technological advances.

While several Board members agreed and added to Campbell's list of Coate's contributions, Director Sakowicz registered his dissent stating that Coate had engendered much conflict through his autocratic management style and in purging three excellent programmers including himself. He hoped in the search for a new GM, the Board will abolish the Executive Director powers and separate them from the duties of the General Manager because he believed that structure allows for the abuse of autocratic authority.

New Board member, Benj Thomas stated his sense of things was that the station is in a better place because of Coate's leadership and in response to Sakowicz's remarks added that "the process for what the station has been is not the same discussion as what the station will be and that an open discussion allows for possibilities." He thought it needed to be a civil and respectful discussion and that has not always been done in the past.

Campbell announced that from this point on the Board would record all of its meetings to have an official record and to provide access to the public through its website.

Public Comment opened with former Board candidate Dennis O'Brien applauding the Board for the number of handouts provided to the public including a list of ten newly formed committees in which the community was encouraged to engage to help chart the station's future course. A sample of committee choices includes the Hiring, Long Range Planning, Elections and Nominating, Finance, Personnel, Programming, Fundraising and Membership and the Bylaws and Policies Committees. He happily exclaimed that he felt he had won the election without having to do all the work. He conceded that in times of financial duress the type of management exemplified by Coate may have been necessary but it is not a good model for a public community radio. A public radio station must make information about its operation as public as possible, and a community radio station has to engage with the community as much as possible.

Coate was given parting gifts — flowers from one programmer, three feathers from another and a picture of the news team by Valerie Kim. Most remarks were positive, praising Coate for being accessible, for rebuilding a compatible news team and stabilizing the station financially during his seven year tenure at KZYX's helm.

A few speakers focused their attention on Director Sakowicz stating they felt he had wasted the station's money and members' money by his complaints to the FCC and asked him to resign.

I commented that not being allowed to volunteer at the Philo studio (as I had been doing for years) prevented me from knowing what Coate was doing and limited my perspective to what I could see was not being done.

Campbell announced that the Board would be responsible for running the station in the absence of a GM.

Director Eubank was appointed Chair of the Finance committee. He stated that all meetings were open to the public, held monthly in Boonville and would be noticed 10 days ahead of the meeting.

Eubank is also Chair of the Hiring Committee while Director Thomas is Chair of the Personnel Committee and the two would work together along with programmers, community members and former Board member David Hopmann in the recruitment process. Eubank said they would begin by defining the process; that they were not in a hurry and that one of the criteria would be to find someone who was open and transparent.

Sakowicz objected to Hopmann's appointment without input from the Board.

Hopmann's influence on the Board was felt when, 90 minutes into the meeting, he called out from his seat in the audience that he thought the Board should take a 10 minute recess.

Annoyed that he felt he could dispense or disregard Board policy as he saw fit (the policy being that members of the public could only address the Board during the public comment period), I reminded the former President, Vice President and Treasurer of previous KZYX Boards that he was no longer running this meeting. A few minutes later, Campbell acquiesced to Hopmann's suggestion. I had the distinct impression that Toto had just pulled the curtain back on the Wizard of Oz, revealing who was actually in charge of ringing the bells and blowing the whistles at KZYX.

Sakowicz told the Board that he had not been contacted to Chair any of the eleven committees. Campbell, acting as Board President, is charged with Chair appointments. He responded that given Sakowicz's approach and rhetoric, he did not feel Sakowicz fit any committee. Sakowicz returned that he felt he had been mischaracterized because the two Directors had different visions. He stated that the one committee he would like to be a part of is the Hiring committee as there is no more important decision to be made by the Board than hiring our new leader.

In a written response to the demand letter for inspection of station documents dated 6/23/15, Campbell asserts (wrongly) that members do not have inspection rights to most of the 30 categories of records listed; that the station is not required to supply records that it does not maintain and that Director Sakowicz has not followed up and reviewed documents from a previous request made in October 2014 in which he asked for documents that pertained to nine questions he raised. Campbell also notes that the station engaged an outside attorney to formulate a "legally correct response" to requests made by King Collins and Dennis O'Brien to have access to the station's membership list. (That response was to require the members to spend $1400 of their own money to have a third party send a letter to the members.)

Campbell notes that the person with the best knowledge of where and how KZYX records are maintained (Coate) is departing so the request has been deferred until a new GM has been selected and had a minimum of 4 weeks to learn the ropes.

The option put forth by Dennis O'Brien to drop the demands of the letter if certain policies are adopted is a matter that can be considered by the Bylaw and Policies Committee.

Though member communication was not on the agenda as was stated at the May membership meeting, Campbell indicated that somewhere the topic had been discussed as he had received five proposals for member communication, including use of a list serve.

Campbell asked for a unanimous note to appoint Tom Melcher and Tony Novelli to the Citizens Advisory Board (CAB). Sakowicz thought it prudent for both men to be present at the next Board meeting before being voted onto the CAB. Director Thomas asked if the nominees could attend an upcoming CAB meeting as prospective members until they were officially appointed and was answered that they could.

Complaints had been received that emails to the Board had been going through the GM. Since Campbell will now temporarily take over the GM email he was concerned that he would be perceived as "the gatekeeper." He proposed that all emails to the Board would now be seen by all members of the Board and received unanimous consent.

A discussion took place over where public comment should be located on the agenda. Campbell reviewed the Board policy which states that public comment should be placed at the beginning of the agenda. The reasoning behind this was that it was for the convenience of those people who would not desire to sit through the entire Board meeting. However, it was pointed out at the February meeting, that such placement prevented the public from commenting on agenda items and any business of the Board. Sakowicz commented that he would like to see public comment on each agenda item as those comments differed from those received in an unrestricted comment period. The policy currently allows a public comment period before any decision that requires action by the Board. Campbell responded that Sakowicz's proposal should be discussed at Bylaw and Policy committee and tabled the motion for a policy change until the September meeting.

Director Ed Keller discussed, in the interest of lowering mailing costs, whether people pledging could be asked if they could be thanked by email. He said this would also save the Board energy from personally signing each note. Thomas noted that the reason written notes are given are for tax deductions. Freddie Long, an accountant who has experience in nonprofit tax regulations, volunteered that emails could be sent but the IRS requires a printed copy. The donor would have to assume responsibility for printing out their copy. Printing and mailing costs totaled $11.5 k in the 2016 budget.

The possibility of doing elections by email was also discussed. Campbell noted that Santa Rosa Junior College, where he teaches , uses Survey Monkey to have secure elections using pin numbers. Members will always be given the choice to opt out.

Keller said that the station currently has 2/3 of the membership's email.

Director Sakowicz gave a summary of his proposal to change the business model on which the station currently operates. He observed that model has changed very little in the past two decades. He would like to see the reduction of salaried employees reduced to one full time technical engineer and all other employees be paid on an hourly living wage.. Director Thomas politely interrupted to suggest that a full discussion of his proposal be referred to a standing committee.

Sakowicz credited the idea to Marco McClean who works as programmer at at low powered KNYO in Fort Bragg. He would like to take the savings and invest them into supporting changes in the infrastructure, particularly in moving the main studio to Ukiah. He would also like to see some of the money saved funneled into stipends for programmers for mileage reimbursements, many of whom are low income or retired.

Playing out in the rear of the room was a side show. Program Director, Mary Aigner had entered and was photographed with a flash camera by Jeff Wright who documents events with personal recordings and photographs. Having just returned from a final Grateful Dead concert in Santa Clara, Aigner did not wish to be photographed. As she approached Wright, he continued to take pictures  — the last one being six inches from her face. She turned abruptly and left the meeting.

It only came to the general attention of the attendees when coastal resident, Ana Lucas, used her public comment time to ask the Board to restrain Wright from activity which she felt was disrespectful of Aigner's wishes and bordered on harassment. Aigner, however, had already left the room.

(to be continued) 

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