Frank Rizzo | Democrat
WJFF trustees Art Steinhauer, center, and Steve Van Benschoten look on while Barbara Gref details some of the charges leveled at the board.
Tumultuous times at
By Frank Rizzo
JEFFERSONVILLE April 19, 2013 For those seeking changes at public radio station WJFF, the outcome came earlier than expected.
On Friday afternoon, eight of the nine Board of Trustees members announced their resignation (see sidebar).
The move followed the resignation of Station Manager Winston Clark on April 12.
Over the course of several contentious meetings, Radio Catskill board members heard a parade of speakers take them to task for alleged violations of their trust and inadequate oversight of the station.
Sonja Hedlund is, as of press time, the lone remaining trustee. How the eight other members (nine are required by the station’s by-laws) will be chosen could not be learned. Hedlund couldn’t be reached by phone but did return an emailed request for comment.
“Sudden changes in the makeup of the WJFF Board of Trustees has created an unprecedented situation for us,” Hedlund wrote. “We are working carefully with broadcast and nonprofit attorneys to ensure that the proper steps are taken to rebuild the board. Radio Catskill remains committed to making available to our listening community a broad range of ideas and ideals useful to a full and enlightened life. We are encouraged by support from our community of listeners and our family of volunteers and are eager to continue our services to the community.”
The next scheduled board meeting is May 15.
Interim Station Manager Adam Weinreich, appointed to his position after Clark’s resignation, said he was “shocked” by the board’s move when reached at the station Friday.
“The magnitude of this turnover is surprising to me,” he said.
The former assistant manager saw his role as “continuing to keep the station on an even keel in terms of financing and compliance while working to heal the wounds.”
Weinreich declined to discuss specifics of the criticisms leveled against Clark, with whom he served four years, or the work environment at the station. A number of volunteers have publicly charged that they were treated poorly by Clark.
A message left on Clark’s answering machine was not returned by press time.
Clark’s leadership during his four-year tenure made up a large component of the indictment of the board by its critics. Trustees were accused of not intervening when faced with numerous complaints about the manager.
Last Wednesday’s meeting at the Village of Jeffersonville Hall drew a large crowd, and many had to stand or sit on the floor, and even occupy the stairway leading to the meeting room.
“The past four years have not been fun here at WJFF,” said longtime deejay Jason Dole, detailing volunteers’ interactions with Clark. “The… term for describing it is ‘soul crushing.’ … It hurt to care about the station.”
Later, Dole stated, “The board tried as hard as it could to know as little as possible. This body never did a true, thorough evaluation of its employee.”
Another serious charge was the station allegedly not being in compliance with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) rules regarding the Community Advisory Board (CAB).
These rules mandate regular, open meetings of this board. If found to be in violation, the station risks losing CPB funding, which accounts for about one-third of its revenues. The CAB Inspector General (IG) has been monitoring the situation.
Former Board President Barbara Gref described her communications with the IG and assessed that it would be hard for the station to produce the required evidence that it has been in compliance.
“We have to be honest. The [CAB] hasn’t met in a full meeting with a quorum with a proper notice… A meeting of two people in two years is not going to cut the cake,” Gref said.
After noting that the CPB is required by law to cut off funding for such violations, Gref related that the IG also acknowledged that the agency does not like to take this severe step.
“If you as a community can fix this, that would be a lot better,” Gref quoted the IG, and went on to say that a volunteer-led reform would be better than risking a full CPB audit and investigation.
She then presented to the board a petition with 107 signatures from a newly-formed group, “Restore WJFF,” asking for the board president (Dawn Dorcas) and former president (Steve Van Benschoten) to resign. Dorcas opened the meeting with a prepared statement.
“The Board has… conducted a thorough review and is confident in stating that Radio Catskill and the Board of Trustees is in complete compliance with [the FCC and CPB] including the Open Meeting Requirements,” she stated.
“The Board takes seriously all of its responsibilities including its fiduciary responsibility. At the close of 2008, Radio Catskill had an operating deficit of $58,100.… On April 1, 2009 [it] had $116,822.92 in assets. On April 1, 2013 [it] had $344,538.19 in assets.… We have clean annual audits demonstrating a high degree of accountability in our fiscal management. There has been no financial impropriety by this Board of Trustees or station management.”
“It is with profound regret and sadness that we have resigned as members of the WJFF Board of Trustees.
In recent months, and in particular in our last two board meetings, we have been subjected to personal attacks and unfounded accusations of financial and ethical violations, none of which are true.
We believe our efforts have stabilized the station’s financial position and improved its programming for the benefit of the wide WJFF communities as we have strived to look outward rather than inward.
Any further debate as to the future of the station can now continue without us. We wish Adam Weinreich, the interim station manager, success in his endeavor and thank the many dedicated volunteers for their work and support.”
The statement was signed by President Dawn Dorcas, Vice President Rose Brown, Secretary Fern Lee Hagedorn, Treasurer Michael Propst, and Steve Van Benschoten, Deborah Chandler, Darlene Midlang and Art Steinhauer.