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December 04, 2016
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Lone WJFF board member presses on; Majority resigns in the wake of heated criticism

Turmoil leads to turnover at WJFF.
TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

The mass resignation of all but one of the board members of radio station WJFF prompted this statement from Sonja Hedlund, the lone remaining member. “Sudden changes in the makeup of the WJFF Board of Trustees have created an unprecedented situation for us. We are working carefully with broadcast and non-profit attorneys to ensure that the proper steps are taken to re-build 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.”

That came after an earlier statement from eight of the nine board members issued on April 19: “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.”

That followed a heated meeting on April 17 of the WJFF Board of Trustees (BoT). “The past four years have not been fun at WJFF.” That statement, made by one long-time volunteer during the meeting, apparently characterized the feeling of many volunteers toward WJFF management during station manager Winston Clark’s tenure; Clark resigned his post on Friday, April 12. Adam Weinreich was named interim station manager until a new station manager can be hired.

Tempers flared in a room so full of volunteers that they spilled into the hallway and down the stairwell of the Jeffersonville Village Hall. Most of them were forced to stand for the duration of the meeting.

Board president Dawn Dorcas opened the meeting with a prepared statement acknowledging the dissatisfaction among volunteers that prompted Clark’s resignation. Defending WJFF management, she asserted that actions by Clark and/or the board had been taken to ensure WJFF’s viability and sustainability. Dorcas stated that at year-end 2008 Radio Catskill had an operating deficit of $58,100. On April 1, 2009, it had $116, 822.92 in assets, and by April 1, 2013, it had assets of $344,538. All of these assertions were challenged by volunteers, who called for an audit of WJFF’s books and requested that the board step down.

The tension was sparked by three central issues. The first issue was the board’s alleged complicity in Clark’s unilateral decision-making. The second issue was the question of whether or not Radio Catskill is in compliance with FCC and Corporation for Public Broadcasting regulations requiring regular, open meetings of a Citizens Advisory Board (CAB); the board contended that Radio Catskill is in full compliance, but the volunteers insist that it has been in violation of those regulations since the board-ordered dissolution of its CAB in 2009. The third issue is an allegation of voting irregularities in the most recent board election. A complaint was lodged claiming that volunteers were being pressured by a board member into supporting one candidate over another. And board members acknowledged the possibility that not all eligible voters had received ballots.

Some positive notes were sounded during the meeting. Several audience members identifying themselves as listeners, members and volunteers praised both the board and the volunteers for their many unpaid hours of service on behalf of Radio Catskill. Weinreich announced the possibility of a translator swap that would increase the Radio Catskill listening area to include Delaware River towns Port Jervis, Matamoras and Milford.

Hedlund contributed ideas for WJFF CAB practices modeled on those of other public radio stations with demographics similar to those of WJFF. An ad hoc committee was appointed to write a station manager job description. The fundraising committee announced that in lieu of a full week of pledging, it will hold three fundraising events. Visit www.wjffradio.org for more information.

Also, WJFF’s BoT announced it will hold a special meeting on Thursday April 25th at 6:30pm in the Jeffersonville Village Hall, and all are welcome.