by Daniel Borgström
In the 9th week of our occupation of the Pacifica HQ, on May 12th, the judge ruled against us, issuing a temporary restraining order against Executive Director Summer Reese’s continued presence at the national office. We’d already decided that in case of such an event, we’d evacuate, withdraw from the building. So about a dozen of us went to the Pacifica HQ and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening packing up, eating pizza, and discussing details of how we were going to move on.
This was a disaster, and nobody could deny it. I guess we were all in shock, though doing our best to not to show it. Some were consulting computers. Virginia Browning was improving a salad. Richard Uzzell was on the phone, presumably discussing this with other Pacifica National Board (PNB) members. I was taking brief notes, keeping a timeline as always. At one end of the table, Barbara Deutsch had placed a bouquet of lush green leaves; among them was perched a magnificent caterpillar, munching its way towards becoming a butterfly — a blue-winged Swallowtail.
Evacuations aren’t easy, and after most of us had gone home for the night, Summer Reese and her mother, Geneva, with the help of Richard Uzzell, and Barbara Deutsch spent the night packing, hauling stuff away, and putting the place in order. Everything we’d brought in during the last eight weeks had to be taken out — air mattresses, food, even vases of flowers, and the caterpillar too. More of us returned in the morning to help with whatever still needed doing.
The court had ordered Summer out, but didn’t specify the rest of us. So we probably wouldn’t have to rush out the door, and the staff might want us to be there that morning because with us present, disputed PNB chair Margy Wilkinson and whoever came with her would be less likely to act badly. So half a dozen of us stayed in the HQ, including Richard Uzzell (from KPFT in Houston), Sally Sommer, Steve Gilmartin, Virginia Browning, Aki Tanaka, and me.
Margy and Barbara Whipperman, the Local Station Board treasurer, came knocking on the door at 9 a.m. “Open the door!” Margy demanded, “Just open the door!”
Barbara Deutsch had placed a bouquet of lush green leaves; among them was perched a magnificent caterpillar, munching its way towards becoming a butterfly — a blue-winged Swallowtail.
We didn’t argue with them, we just let them wait outside for half an hour while we phoned the staff, who were considering quitting, but had consented to a meeting with Margy. The staff asked us to stay and witness the meeting. We calmly waited for them in the reception area by the door. I was glad to have Richard Uzzell, a Pacifica National Board director, here with us; he seemed to know or sense exactly what to do, how to handle each thing as it came up, inspiring confidence in the rest of us. Yes, we had lost, but it’s possible to lose with dignity, just as it’s also possible to win without much dignity.
The staff arrived at 9:35 a.m. and we opened the door, let everyone in, went to the luncheonette/conference room where Margy, Barbara and five of the staff took seats at the table while the six of us sat behind, witnessing the meeting which lasted about 20 minutes.
“I’m Margy Wilkinson, Chair of the National Board,” Margy introduced herself. Perhaps some of the staff had not before met her face to face, though they certainly knew who she was, as she had been bombarding them with emails and phone calls for the last eight weeks, from the day the occupation began. Margy and her group had also attempted several times to forcibly push their way into the building — which is why we’d installed a bolt across the entrance to back up the lock. Her ostensible purpose in this meeting was to persuade the staff to remain at their jobs and complete the financial audit which they were working on. Or it might have been just to get them to stay until they found their own replacements.
The staff diplomatically replied to Margy that they didn’t have any problem with her or anyone else, except for one person. “The only person we have an issue with is Raul Salvador. We want nothing to do with him.”
Raul Salvador is the CFO who was let go by the Pacifica National Board last year for incompetence and abusiveness. This year the new PNB which fired Summer Reese, had rehired Raul.
The staff told Margy that Raul was abusive and incompetent. A staff member had testified in court on May 6th that staff had to redo IRS forms filed incorrectly by Raul Salvador, and that he didn’t seem to understand basic financial information. She had also stated in court that in addition to their previous bad experiences with him, he’d been harassing them with emails and phone calls, threatening retaliation. Summer Reese had protected them, the staff person had told the judge. Unfortunately, the judge had now ordered Summer out, thus leaving them vulnerable.
Another source of information available to Margy was a report from an HR workplace investigation into allegations of Raul’s bad behavior. Actually, Margy was the only one who had access to the report since she’d seized it back in March, allowing nobody else to see it, not even PNB members. Nevertheless, Margy expressed surprise at the staff’s extremely negative reaction to Raul.
“We don’t know if you don’t understand, or don’t care,” they said to Margy.
“I do understand,” Margy insisted. “I do understand.”
“Raul is the elephant in the room. Until we address Raul [ . . . ]”
“He will not be coming in the door,” Margy promised them. “He’ll be working out of his home.” She explained that he’d only communicate with them through emails and phone calls. “Until things are resolved [regarding Raul],” she added.
The staff were less than reassured and they told her so. They were also unhappy that Margy’s new interim Executive Director, Bernard Duncan wasn’t there to speak for himself. “I don’t know what I came here for,” said one of the staff.
Margy told them that on the following day, there’d be a meeting with Bernard. Unlike Raul, Bernard is reportedly easy to get along with, but is apparently not a capable manager. He was previously the general manager of KPFK, the Pacifica station in Los Angeles, where he acquired a reputation for being ineffectual and conflict-averse. For example, on one occasion when it was brought to Bernard’s attention that the station business manager was running a business of his own on station time and with the use of the station’s computers, Bernard famously said, “I don’t want to know about it.”
To win a court action or even a court case is one thing, but to run a foundation is quite another matter,
Margy wanted to know how soon the audit would be done. “When are you going to give us the financial data?” she asked.
“It’s KPFA that’s holding it up,” the staff told her — as if she needed to be reminded. It had come out at the April 12th Local Station Board meeting (with Margy present) that the financial people at KPFA had not even reconciled their books for well over a year.
The meeting ended at 9:59 a.m., and the staff then held a private meeting of their own. The six of us wondered if perhaps we’d fulfilled our task, and that we might leave now. But the staff asked us to stay a while longer.
We sat around talking or not talking, thinking about the peculiar scene we’d just witnessed, commenting on how at one time or another during the morning, each of the women had been in tears at the very idea that Margy would try to force them to work under Raul Salvador again.
Why would Margy and her group hire someone for such an important position whose competence and managerial abilities are so clearly called into question?
A courier would be arriving with the payroll checks, and the staff wanted us to be there and make sure that the courier’s package was delivered straight to them, not to anyone else who might be in this office. The staff seemed to fear that Margy might remove their paychecks from the package in retaliation. As per the staff’s request, we sat by the door, intending to intercept the courier. Actually, staff member Weiling was right there to receive the package as soon as the guy showed up, and after that most of us left. Richard and Aki stayed till both Margy and the staff left at 2 p.m. Several of us will have to return to the HQ on Wednesday to witness the next meeting, the one between the staff and Bernard, Margy’s new temporary Executive Director.
Margy & Co are proclaiming it a major triumph that the court has handed them control of Pacifica Foundation Radio. To win a court action or even a court case is one thing, but to run a foundation is quite another matter, and I seriously doubt that they’re up to it. Some of us are wondering if they even want to.