A Larimer County judge orders mediation for KRFC and its critics.
By BRIAN HULL (original at Rocky Mountain Chronicle web site)

“Why don't you put the conflict behind you?"

That’s one of the frequently asked questions listed on the website for Save Grassroots Radio. The nonprofit citizens group has been pushing for reform at KRFC 88.9FM since former station members alleged they had been dismissed without due process by the KRFC board two years ago.

Save Grassroots Radio cofounder and former KRFC programmer Paul Bame replies that he holds no grudges against his former colleagues at Larimer County’s only community radio station, but the group isn’t ready to forget about the conflict or drop ongoing legal action against the station.

A lawsuit resulted from a number of station-management decisions that members of Save Grassroots Radio believe compromised the original mission of KRFC. That includes a revision of the mission statement, without approval of the general station membership, and the “fast-track” manner in which members were allegedly dismissed. Bame and others say the moves reflected a philosophical shift at the station and skirted KRFC bylaws.

On January 14, Larimer County Judge Stephen Schapanski ordered the two parties to participate in some form of alternative dispute resolution, to be completed by April 25. This resolution could take the form of mediation or arbitration. Bame hopes the process can bring reconciliation between Save Grassroots Radio and KRFC.

“One unfortunate thing about the ongoing conflict and lawsuit at KRFC is the demonizing going on from each side, resulting in angry language and hurt feelings all around,” Bame says. “I expect that people on both sides almost always operated from their best intentions for the organization. People worked hard, sometimes through difficult problems or painful situations, to do what they sincerely felt was right.”

Current KRFC President Catherine McClintock and Interim Station Manager Chris Kennison have both declined comment on the pending case. KRFC’s initial stance toward Save Grassroots Radio members can be gleaned through an April 2006 letter from the board to station members, which claimed that station dissidents were using false pretenses and bullying to gather petition signatures to force a membership-wide vote on the mission-statement revision.

“People probably said some things that were pretty damned angry, but that happens, and it wasn’t necessarily people from [Save Grassroots Radio],” says Eddie Arthur, another station cofounder and programmer who was dismissed, also allegedly without formal explanation, by the board. “At the time it was hard to tell who was saying what, with all the anonymous comments being posted [on the station’s online message boards].”

Part of the initial conflict stemmed from questions about who dictated programming policy. At the time, members of Save Grassroots Radio saw the former station manager as averse to constructive dialogue. The board countered, in the letter from April 2006, that the station members in question were divisive and utilized a dysfunctional style of communication.

Arthur believes the fast-track dismissals have had a chilling effect on the rest of KRFC’s staff.

In formal charges brought by Save Grassroots Radio lawyer Lonn Heymann, the plaintiffs have alleged that because Bame and Arthur weren’t given substantive charges or bases for termination, they were wrongfully terminated, in breach of state nonprofit statutes.

In a court document responding to the allegations, KRFC’s lawyer, Zachary G. Wilson, has denied the charges.

However, Wilson has acknowledged that Sandy Lemberg, another former station volunteer, was denied access to a list of station members, also in violation of Colorado’s nonprofit laws. Lemberg, concerned by the membership revocation of Arthur and other members, told the board that he wished to use the list to ask current members to support fair hearings for the terminated volunteers and to consider the rejected petition. Wilson has argued that although Lemberg provided KRFC with a purported purpose for the membership list, the station had no way of assuring that no improper use of the list would occur.

Members of Save Grassroots Radio hope the dispute resolution will lead the board to commit to due process and eschew “fast-track” removal of volunteers in the future. Clarifying the governance structure at KRFC is another of their declared goals.

Bame says Save Grassroots Radio is going through with the legal actions with the hope that current KRFC volunteers are justly protected under the law.

“If any member is going to feel safer, knowing that their rights will be protected, then this lawsuit is in their interest,” he says.