2005-04/Apr Programmer Kate Tarasenko on Democracy

Posted: Fri Apr 29, 2005 11:21 pm
Post subject: Democracy means never having to say Shut up

Dear JoAnn, and Everyone --

I'm surprised that, given your background (with KRFC, teaching, activism, etc.) you would attempt to stifle dissent or mere discussion at KRFC, even when it calls into question the station's actions and decisions. Personally, I can't think of a MORE appropriate time to do it than when we're asking people to, once again, support it with their financial contributions.

The timing of the Soapbox is perhaps controversial -- if it was purposely timed to coincide with the fund drive, it was presumably done so to challenge listeners and donors to make more informed decisions about their donations, as well as to, hopefully, generate more debate -- not condemnation within the ranks for merely doing so. It's nothing short of a beautiful demonstration of democracy at work at KRFC -- cash in the bank, as far as I'm concerned. Fearlessness like that is right up my anti-Patriot Act alley.

Jeff and Kevin (thank god) makes the obvious point that producing and airing a rebuttal to a Soapbox is an even better way for listeners to consider the issues. This is actually a necessary component for a debate, in fact -- otherwise, it's just one hand clapping. Theirs is the default response for anyone disagreeing with something said in a democratic forum, which is the flag that KRFC flies. I'd much rather hear two opposing views (at least!) of an issue than not hear the debate at all! What are we so afraid of -- that people are too stupid to think for themselves, to educate themselves, and to weigh in with their own opinions?

Furthermore, if Rich's Soapbox actually has the effect of guiding people's dollars away from the station, which I read is your fear, is this not a message that KRFC should listen to (as well as the money that DOES come in)? Do we just care about the money that helps us stay on the air?

That's the particular balancing act for KRFC and other community radio stations (and not commercial radio, and not even public radio and especially "businesses" in any generic sense) -- we have to uphold our democratic ideals AND be good marketeers, but one should NEVER be sacrificed under the wheels of the other. How well we are doing it -- THIS is what drives much of the debate around the station (which is hardly limited to the 'rumbling little group' of newsies that you mentioned in your post). Far be it from me to lecture you about ANYthing, JoAnn, so please understand that I'm responding in the spirit of friendship and lively discourse, but I really don't understand where you're coming from. I don't see contrary viewpoints as a threat to us remaining on the air, and admonishing anyone to either not make them or not air them amounts to a very unfair accusation ("undermining KRFC") that encourages self-censorship. You want outrage? You got it.(That whirring sound you're hearing is Jefferson and Locke spinning in their graves!)

(But I love it that you've used the Forum here, along with others, to share your upset about it -- we need more discussion about these "general accolades and disturbances" at KRFC -- not less.)

But I'm with Jeff, et al, when he says that we should be honoring the Mission Statement by not only allowing -- but encouraging -- such discourse -- THIS is the bedrock of democracy. It just shouldn't matter if the criticisms are pointed directly at ourselves, or our Board, whose primary loyalty and responsibility are to the KRFC community (and not OURS to THEM, as Kevin points out). Ideas which are worthy will find their support and will flourish, while those unworthy will wither and go away. (And remember that we're talking about IDEAS, not PEOPLE, something that we are still struggling with as a large and sometimes unwieldy volunteer/community endeavor, with lots of folks and lots of conflicting personal and professional agendas not all of this being inevitable, and much of it, woefully, still unresolved.)

I didn't hear the Soapbox that you wanted to have pulled, so my argument here is strictly about the necessity of discourse --that implies dissent and disagreement. I certainly hope that the Soapbox's absence during the evening broadcast was not as a result of censorship -- what a tragedy that would be for KRFC, who so loudly and proudly touts the very idea of democracy when asking for listener and financial support.

The Mission Statement is an elegant and succinct document that both rallies and challenges everyone's vision, contribution and commitment. (And if you had a direct hand in its creation as one of the members of PRFR, JoAnn, I want to thank you. And I'd ask you what you meant then that doesn't apply now.) The Mission Statement outlines our philosophy as a community-run public trust (as Kevin reminds us). Democracy --- and all that the word implies -- is its heart. I became a Charter Member in the first place, a month before we even went on the air, because I was sold on the very idea of KRFC, as described by its Mission Statement. And that's why, whether I'm reading a newspaper, watching the news or listening to talk radio, I'm naturally more personally validated when I see someone speak up and voice my opinions for me, but I'll admit that I also get a strange thrill when I read and hear opposing views, too -- it means that my democracy is live and well. (So I guess that begs the question: Can anyone shed any light on why the Soapbox ran just once -- was it expected to run again?)

The Mission Statement, while it sold me two years ago on KRFC, is NOT a mere marketing tool. My outrage is reserved for when it is shamelessly shilled as such, and when democracy, as a verb, breaks down. JoAnn, based on your e-mail, I STILL have no idea what your specific objections to the Soapbox are -- only that you disagree with it and found its timing rather "unpatriotic"... I'm certainly not lecturing you or anyone else on "democracy" -- but, JoAnn, the purpose of your post is lost on me.

And for the record, although our Board of Directors "represents" KRFC, as its very definition implies, you, as a former Board member, should know that it is not strictly "duly elected" by the membership (although you may have been more correct with your Freudian slip when you said that it's "duely" elected!^) Since Kevin got this particular ball rolling, and it is a personal crusade of mine to see this process "evolve," I want to take the opportunity here to go over how the Board IS currently "elected," as I consider it a very complicated and strange process:

1) the Board itself chooses a "nominating committee" (which somehow gets chosen without any mass e-mails going out to volunteers being asked to sit on the committee);

2) paid staff get to sit on this nominating committee, which, it has been previously pointed out, is a conflict of interest, since paid staff receive their performance reviews (and salary raises and disciplinary action, etc.) by the Board;

3) a "slate" of three people run together, instead of separately (and, historically, many of these "nominees" have been personally approached and asked to run by current sitting Board members);

4) it takes a collective tally of fewer than 25% of total negative votes in order for this slate to be "elected." (Take a moment to read that previous sentence again.) A sidebar of the current method is that abstentions -- by definition, these are votes which are not cast at all (those eligible to vote simply decline to vote) -- are actually tallied and counted as affirmative votes.

And that's how the KRFC Board of Directors gets elected! Now, on to how they make hot dogs... When I ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Board a couple of years ago (on a platform of devotion to KRFC and genuine love and respect for the Mission Statement!), I asked then-president John Steininger why KRFC had adopted such a convoluted process. His enthusiastic response to me was: "We've never tried this before!" (Being from Chicago, it was a new one on me, too!)

In case I need to make this point clear: I am not disparaging any Board MEMBERS -- past or present -- but simply the Board election PROCESS. I see it as rife with real and potential problems, and designed (accidentally or on purpose) in direct counterpoint to our much-advertised and beloved democracy at KRFC. The problems with such a process can be rectified with some very straightforward antidotes:

1) Direct nominations should come from the membership and community at large, with ads run in local newspapers and on the air to solicit applications from nominees (the same way the Fort Collins Food Co-op does it, as well as the City of Fort Collins and Larimer County governments when they have vacancies on their various community-represented Boards). It would also be great to hold well-advertised meetings to allow these contenders to speak directly to the membership to discuss their backgrounds and vision for KRFC.

2) Nominees should run (and be voted for) separately as individuals.

3) The top AFFIRMATIVE vote-getters win for the available seats. "Negative" votes aren't cast, and "abstentions" aren't counted as anything.

This method, which I think I learned back in my 4th-grade school elections, dispenses with the need of a "nominating committee" (as well as the whole mystery which currently shrouds it); the appearance and reality of a conflict of interest between the Board and its paid staff; and a confused, lumbering, dinosaur of a voting process that is truly not worthy of a volunteer-run, community-based public trust. This simple proposal also assures KRFC of a REPRESENTATIVE Board that comes right from the KRFC community at large.

(It's worth mentioning that I've had discussions with Board members themselves who have said that Board elections actually do not generate much interest among the KRFC members. I'm positively embarrassed that this is the case, yet I understand it, with the current system's many built-in disincentives.)

That's my rant on Election Reform, and I hope THIS issue generates much respectful discussion in the near future.

Thank you, JoAnn, for using the Forum for weighing in with your dissatisfaction of the Soapbox -- but I really want to read more about the ISSUES it generated that you object to. Thank you, Jeff, Chris, Kevin, Nigel and JC for weighing in with your own opinions. And thank you to Rich for taking the time and energy to record the Soapbox Ive personally appreciated the lively and respectful debate on the ISSUES it raises.

Kate Tarasenko