WBAI DAY IN COURT LOOMS LARGE THURDAY:
Election Mis-Information, Hidden Truths and a disputed tally
By Dawn Vargas-Mitchell
Finger pointing, public accusations, charges and, counter charges led up to the November 16th vote in the WBAI Local Station Board elections this month. As a court injunction remains in place, there are no clear winners in the now suspended vote that goes before a State Supreme Court Judge on Thursday. The battle over WBAI radio's Local Station Board elections may very well determine the future of the non-commercial New York station some call the last independent voice on the air.
On November 16th a handful of staff and board members went before a New York State Supreme Court Judge seeking a temporary restraining order that day, following the discovery that thousands of election ballots had not reached potential voters. Those voters in the now disputed election are subscribers to the listener supported station. The order was granted. At issue is the election of the Local Station Board, which is actually a governing panel that has wide and sweeping powers that oversees business and programming at the radio outlet.
Supreme Court Judge Richard P. Braun had ordered the collected ballots sealed and granted the plaintiffs in the case a 'preliminary injunction' that prohibits WBAI and, the parent owner of the station, the Pacifica Network and, other named defendants, from counting the ballots.
At the center of the controversy is a widely held belief that members of the Justice and Unity Coalition, which some consider the dominant faction in the Pacifica system, of making an attempt to steal the election. Rumblings along those lines are also being heard in two California-based Pacifica stations, KPFK and KPFA-FM, which also held elections on the same day.
For those outside of the Pacifica radio sphere, what comes out in the popular press is often a confusing and convoluted picture of the players and groups involved in the spat. Such was the case in a recently published article in the New York-based Gay City News one week before the WBAI election. The strongly worded article by John Riley and Eric Sawyer, which appeared on November 8th, is provocative, thought provoking, angry and, misleading.
The writers contend that voices inside the New York station lead to just two waves of thought, broken down between two factions. There are, in fact, at least five. One WBAI faction is accused, for example, of being homophobic and mis-representing the public on issues important to the Gay and Lesbian community, principally, the matter of HIV and AIDS. They take aim at Gary Null, a former talk show host, who had a highly successful alternative health program on the station for over 20 years. The other is Steve Brown, a former but, highly successful direct mail executive, who currently sits on WBAI's Local Station Board. Brown's wealth, the two suggest, is behind a sinister plot in funding opposition to the Justice and Unity Coalition's (J-U-C) alleged 'Progressive Programming." A link to that article is provided here.
What is left out of the article is that one of the authors, John Riley, is himself a J-U-C sympathizer who also is a member of WBAI's Applicant Review Committee. This grouping of nine members, also known as ARC, conducts evaluation surveys of potential station General Managers and, Program Directors. Riley, a host of OUT FM, the Gay oriented program heard on the station Monday mornings, is also romantically linked to Bob Lederer, an ardent J-U-C supporter. It is a connection that cannot be overlooked.
Lederer, who sits on both the WBAI Local and National Pacifica Boards, is said to be the J-U-C's chief strategist. A close ally of Bernard White, the current WBAI Program Director, Lederer has had a long association with WBAI which dates back to at least 20 years. Seen at every Local Station Board meeting, Lederer is quiet yet calculating. J-U-C opponents have said that he is often the one board member who "stirs the pot" that often leads to breakdowns, chaos and even violent confrontations at local board meetings. When contacted, Lederer declined to comment.
Whether or not the J-U-C is behind the mysterious delay in thousands of Local Station Board ballots is open to question. As reported here last week, however, critics of the J-U-C point to the nearly $6,000.00 dollar post-election bill issued to WBAI for the successful delivery of 15,000 thousand J-U-C campaign fliers during the same period. Many J-U-C opponents told us flatly that they "smell a rat" One is the aforementioned Steve Brown who sent out an E-mail blast that read in part:
"Dear WBAI Supporter -- "Because many WBAI voters did not receive ballots -- and a suspiciously high percentage of them appear to be non-JUC supporters -- WBAI listener and staff members petitioned the court (on Friday, November 16) for a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) to halt the counting of ballots until a means is devised to insure that those who didn't get ballots, and requested replacement ballots, actually get them and can vote. "After reading the petition, the judge agreed to sign the TRO, which ordered all WBAI ballots up to November 15 to be immediately impounded. This TRO forces Pacifica management to comply with the election rules set forth in the Pacifica bylaws regarding counting of the ballots and other election violations that seem designed to prejudice the election in favor of JUC candidates."
Brown is not alone in his anger at what some are calling the hi-jacking of an election. Caught in the middle are the paid staff members at the station who may face pay reductions, or layoffs, as early as Mid-December or January. Fueling that anger and fear is the recent 300 thousand dollar short fall in the last fund raising drive that fell far short, and under, a projection target set by the current Program Director.
Calls to the station by angry subscribers complaining that they have yet to receive Premiums paid for in their contributions in the last fund drive are mounting. Insiders tell us that every division inside WBAI has received dozens of such calls in recent weeks from irate supporters. The recent resignation of Paul Ashby, a popular employee who had a big hand in running the key Premium Division, has hurt morale. Ashby was reportedly unhappy with the addition of two employees in Premiums, who lack the skills for the job and, are known friends and cronies of the Program Director. Bernard White, in a short, pointed, terse and blunt exit letter reportedly said to Ashby that he "wished him well in his new endeavor." Ashby is currently seeking employment.
Whatever way Supreme Court Judge Richard P. Braun rules in the election suit on Thursday, it will not fix the deep seated issues inside of WBAI immediately. In the short term it will produce winners and losers. But critics, subscribers, long-time listeners and donors will continue to debate among themselves whether or not one faction at WBAI radio tried to steal the recent election. Staff and volunteers at KPFK and KPFA-FM will be watching developments closely. The answer, however the court ruling shakes out, promises to shape the sound, staff and direction of the maverick New York radio outlet for years to come.
Updates on the suit and related information can be found at: http://radioactivist.net/