[A caveat: Although The Electron Pencil occasionally brings you news, you should not consider it a straight news site. Everything I present here is colored by my opinions and slants. As a good consumer of information, you should look upon all news sources in that light. One of my idols, Studs Terkel, once said there is no such thing as pure objectivity and I agree with him. I’m not terribly interested in false platitudes like “fair and balanced” nor do I consider a journalist someone who has some mystical access to a higher truth. That said, this is a reminder: I didn’t like the WFHB Board of Directors’ selection of Kevin Culbertson as the new general manager one bit. I also think the Board is in danger of becoming a kind of regal power, divorced from the everyday concerns of the station, its staff, and the volunteers. The fact that some members of the Board are not actual volunteers at the station concerns me. The added fact that they selected an out-of-stater indicates that they no longer understand the simple concept of community radio. Savvy? Okay, read on.]
The Mob Has Its Say
The WFHB Board of Directors met last night at City Hall. Their normal meeting room was deemed too small to accommodate the unusually large turnout of volunteers and interested parties who came to talk and hear about the Kevin Culbertson affair.
Board boss Joe Estivill swiftly corralled a janitor and convinced him to let the whole gang meet in City Council chambers. The Board members arranged their seats under the great seal of Bloomington and the lower gallery was filled with onlookers. It was an exciting moment in the history of the non-profit, community radio station.
To borrow and mangle a line from some poet/playwright you may have heard of, they came not to praise Kevin Culbertson, but to bury him.
Well, not him, exactly, but the whole fiasco that led to his withdrawing from the job at the eleventh hour.
All seven regular Board members plus the ex-officio member, acting GM Cleveland Dietz, were in attendance. Joe Estivill opened the meeting by allowing the public to make its statements before the Board would conduct its regular business. Here are the highlights from the public comments:
◗ Maryll Jones was first up. Jones started the Facebook group Friends of WFHB in response to a growing firestorm over the Culbertson selection. Last night, she decried the “lack of transparency with the hiring process, the lack of communication with the volunteers and the overall sense that the opinions of the volunteers did not matter in Board or station business.” She said she worried that the unusual length of time without a GM might adversely affect station funding.
◗ Marcus Lowe, a former WFHB GM followed. “We just want you to do something,” he said. He added, “Find a general manager to lead us,” and “Overall, I’m disappointed and looking for leadership and I’m not seeing it.”
◗ Volunteer Louis Malone was third. Referring to potential bad publicity from the botched GM search, he warned, “We need to be very careful about how we portray the image of WFHB.” Later he said, “Now we are sitting at a precipice,” and “Everything could have been done a little bit better.” He concluded by chiding the most virulent of Culbertson’s detractors who compared his past associations with Christian broadcasting companies to membership in the Ku Klux Klan.
◗ Anson Shute then took the microphone. “I’m going to put my name in nomination for the Board,” he said. Then, referring to online criticism of Culbertson, he said, “We could get sued!”
◗ Bring It On producer Clarence Boone told the crowd he was hurt by the reaction to Culbertson. “It was mean-spirited,” he said. Culbertson was run off by “bullying techniques.” He turned to the gallery and said, “I hope those irresponsible folks are proud of themselves.” He called for the Board to send an open letter of apology to Culbertson. “Mr. Culbertson,” he said, “has every right to retain an attorney and go for the jugular.”
◗ One of the founders of WFHB, Jeff Morris, came next. He felt the reaction to Culbertson could have been avoided. “I put the responsibility on the Board…. the secrecy breeds distrust,” he said. Morris called for the next general manager to be a member of the community. “I was appalled at Kevin being chosen…. Why are we hiring someone from out of state?” He also called for all Board members to be active volunteers at the station. He said, too, he had considered asking the entire Board to resign so it could be replaced. He did add, “We’re not in trouble.” He said Cleveland Dietz is “doing fine” as interim GM. “Let’s not panic,” he concluded.
◗ Music Director Jim Manion followed. ” I was never in favor of hiring a general manager with no experience with Bloomington,” he said. He also criticized the selection of someone who didn’t have a history of working with non-profit community radio. In response to those who feel Board members were bullied for their vote, he said they were, more accurately, scolded.
◗ Listener and financial contributor Peter Kaczmarczyk urged, “It’s important that the Board act quickly,” in finding a new GM. [Peter Kaczmarczyk has requested this correction: “…[W]hat I actually said was that I didn’t know if the board needed to rush to hire a new GM but that it was imperative that board act quickly to make clear to all concerned that the process was ongoing and that they were still actively engaged in looking for a new GM, to not put off restarting the process.”]
◗ Jeanne Smith, former GM of
IU student radio WIUX radio station WQAX, predecessor of WFHB, said she’d contributed some $20,000 to the station over the years. She shook her head when she got to the topic of liability exposure to the station. “I didn’t see any liability,” she said.
After a few more speakers, Joe Estivill announced a five minute break, but few left the Chambers because a debate had broken out between volunteer Anthony Piatt and outgoing Board member Kevin Jones. Piatt had stood up to ask which way each of the Board members had voted on the Culbertson decision. Jones stood up and told him in no uncertain terms that the way he voted was nobody’s business. Piatt responded that he always wants to know how his senators and representatives vote. Jones asked why. Piatt told him that was the essence of transparent government. To which Jones again asked why he needed to know how the Board members voted. Piatt said, “So I can know enough to vote some of you out and not all of you.”
Jeff Morris got into the crossfire by telling Kevin Jones his stance was “not participatory democracy.”
[Later in the evening, Kevin Jones would tell me that the insults hurled against Culbertson online were insults against him, as well.]
After the break, the Board got down to regular business. Many in the gallery left and only a very few remained to the end. When it came time to talk about offering an extension to Cleveland Dietz to remain as acting GM until December 31st, Joe Estivill called for a closed session.
Later in the night, Estivill called me to say nothing had been decided regarding Dietz just yet.
So, there you have it. Feelings were hurt over the Kevin Culbertson hiring and withdrawal. Many volunteers feel the Board is too distant. No timetable has been set to hire a new GM. Cleveland Dietz’ contract runs out at the end of this month with no commitment for an extension.
The show goes on.