Jul 26, 2012

Pacifica Foundation Board won't renew contracts for two top executives

The national board of the Pacifica Foundation voted Sunday (July 22) to begin a search for two new top executives. The board will not renew contracts for Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt and Chief Financial Officer LaVarn Williams, which both expire Nov. 30. The two were invited to apply for new terms in their positions.

The action was reported in an email to the SaveKPFA listserv and confirmed by Margy Wilkinson, chair of the local station board at KPFA, Pacifica's Berkeley station, who attended the meeting.

In a separate, related action, budget cuts totaling $1 million at Pacifica’s five radio stations, ordered by Engelhardt in the wake of an auditor’s report, were put on hold (Current, July 9). A motion passed on Monday (July 23) by the board ordered the stations to assess their upcoming income and expenses and submit plans to deal with any projected shortfalls. “It requires the local stations to take responsibility for their own problems,” instead of submitting to across-the-board cuts, said Wilkinson, noting that Pacifica’s two California stations, KPFA and Los Angeles’ KPFK, are both in relatively good financial shape. The plans are due July 30. — Elizabeth Jensen


Carol Spooner said...

Arlene Engelhardt joined Pacifica as Executive Director in December 2009. Since then she has reduced Pacifica's overall deficit spending from $2.7 million in FY 2009 to $2.0 million in FY 2010 to $0.6 million in FY 2011.

Arlene took a great deal of heat and abuse for it but she managed to stop Pacifica's steep plunge into bankruptcy -- or at least slow it down considerably, for the danger is not yet over.

I know financial realities aren't sexy like "who's your favorite radio personality?" -- but Pacifica cannot continue to spend more than its income. That is why further expense cuts are necessary. There are creditors to pay and, if they are not paid soon, Pacifica will almost certainly be in bankruptcy court within a year, or two years at the outside. At the end of FY2011 Pacifica as a whole had about 2 weeks' operating cash in the bank and $1.6 million in outstanding accounts payable to outside creditors.

Bankruptcy is an expensive craps shoot. It is the bankrupty trustee's duty to liquidate assets to pay the creditors. The trustee might not choose the assets to liquidate that we would prefer (like what?) -- but could choose any one of Pacifica's five broadcast licenses for which there is a buyer, or the buildings, or the Pacifica Radio Archives, or some combination.

The Pacifica Board, in its wisdom, decided to shoot the messenger rather than solve the problem.

Kim Kaufman said...

As Treasurer of KPFK, it seems that in evaluating the health of a Pacifica station, specifically KPFK, one of the west coast stations "in relatively good financial shape," one has to consider the number of fund drive days and the recent history of increases. Increasing fund drive days has become a kind of opiate, masking the real problems of increased expenses, with top heavy management, plus lack of efficiency and resistance to new ideas. Like many non-profits, perhaps, management doesn't want to cut itself or its perks or make other necessary corrections. One can pretend there are no consequences but the consequences are clear in a consistently decreasing listenership to virtually a flatline. The degree to which KPFK increases the fund drive days defeats the Pacifica Mission Statement, especially when regular programming is pre-empted for "special programming" geared towards exchanging "donations" for products.

Until 2005, KPFK was under 40 fund drive days a year and, as listenership fell, it was up to 67 in 2008, turning even more listeners off. This year the budget was 80 days and the only solution from management to meet it expenses for the rest of this fiscal year is to increase the drive days in August from 10 days to "two or three weeks" up to a total of 95 days. Management's present budget for next year starts at 94 days and, based on past history, may well exceed that.

Yes, opiates can mask the problem for a while but like any junkie with an always bigger habit, if they don't get into rehab, the user almost inevitably dies of an overdose.