Summer Reese, the fired executive director of Pacifica Radio, says she’s still not leaving the left-leaning organization’s California HQ in Berkeley, and is now sporting an inflatable air mattress at her office.
Reese, 40, was fired by the non-profit foundation’s board in an 11-7 vote on 3/13 and was locked out of the headquarters. However, after cutting the padlock to get into the building, Reese has hunkered down for nine days (as of 3/27) with a team of supporters. Reese and 12 of her compatriots — including Reese’s mother, a longtime anti-war and civil rights activist — refused to let Board Chair Margy Wilkinson, her husband and two of her allies pass.
Pacifica Foundation Radio oversees five Pacifica stations serving New York (WBAI), Los Angeles (KPFK), Berkeley (KPFA), Houston (KPFT) and Washington, D.C. (WPFW).
At least on a day-to-day level, Reese still claims to be running the network.
“This has shaken everybody up,” Reese told Reuters/The Chicago Tribune, from behind her desk. “I’m being asked to follow the illegal actions of a rogue board.”
She and her team have equipped themselves for their working sit-in, which “Reese said involves around-the-clock shifts, with an inflatable air mattress leaning against a cubical wall and takeout food boxes plopped around the offices.
Reese argued she was not given a reason for being fired and that the move violated her contract, which required her to be terminated for cause,” said the story.
After chairing the Pacifica national board for two years and working as both the chair and interim executive director for a year, Reese signed a contract in January to permanently take on the organization’s top role. The agreement guaranteed her $315,000 over three years, according to a copy of the contract.
She said the board likely ousted her because she was demanding greater financial accountability.
Wilkinson agreed the organization has struggled financially but denied Reese’s allegations. Wilkinson said she was prohibited from providing further details about Reese’s dismissal, citing employee privacy rules.
“I think her response since she has been terminated totally validates the decision to terminate her,” she told Reuters/The Trib. “I think the board took an action that was appropriate and necessary.”
The board is looking at legal options, Wilkinson added.
Four days after being fired, Reese sent an email to the entire Pacifica staff announcing that she was not recognizing the board’s authority: “I want to assure you that I am in possession of a signed and valid contract for three years of employment from the board of directors and that I fully intend to complete that contract.”
Later Reese read for all the staff, in her deep and booming voice, from the Book of Joshua: “Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage.”
“I’m not leaving the building until this is resolved by either the Attorney General’s Office or the court,” Reese told LA Weekly. “I don’t want these people to destroy Pacifica.”
Making matters worse, the federal government, via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, is withholding Pacifica’s grant money, thanks to the network’s “failure to provide documentation” for a 2012 audit.
Reese accuses her enemies of plotting to cover up financial malfeasance and even embezzlement. Reese’s opponents accuse her of incompetence and scheming to turn over control of the organization to Gary Null, an alternative-medicine guru and longtime Pacifica host, who sells his own vitamins and nutritional supplements during pledge drives — for which he takes a healthy cut, according to several board members and managers who spoke to LA Weekly.
Raff Radio Marketing Managing Director Franklin Raff tells RBR-TVBR: “The organization is perpetually in crisis. Disgruntled former Pacifica employees, who are numerous, will tell you that the reasons have to do with ‘corporate’ something or other, but ‘corporate evil’ comprises Pacifica’s blanket perspective on pretty much everything except their sponsors. The truth, sadly, is that despite having excellent signals (great licenses and towers, great frequencies, lots of power, great engineers) and significant budgets, (Reese certainly took a “corporate” income,) nobody listens. Just look at the books. They’re eating from NPR’s bowl and yapping away, but they’ve never been very good at creating content that appeals to a broad-minded audience, and even in top markets, there just aren’t enough ears to go around.”
RBR-TVBR observation: We asked Francisco Montero, Managing Partner, Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, P.L.C, about the legalities of what Reese is doing: “Under many employment agreements, an employee can be terminated either for cause or without cause. If they are terminated without cause, that may trigger certain payout obligations on the part of the employer and satisfaction of salary obligations through the contract term. But if the employee is terminated “for cause,” the employee may forfeit many of those rights. Depending on the language of the employment agreement, “cause” can include willful refusal to follow directives from the Board of Directors, deliberately causing injury to the company or misappropriation of company assets or a felony indictment, to name a few. Without my seeing the agreement, it is impossible to know if this employment agreement contained such provisions or if termination for cause was warranted. But whether for cause or not for cause, the employee’s recourse for termination is to seek monetary remedies under the contract.”