Shakeup at KPFT? Some Board Members Accuse Colleague of "Oppression," but They Don't Believe the Public Deserves to Know
For over 40 years, Houston's Pacifica affiliate, KPFT, has delivered important community-oriented (and über-liberal) shows that listeners can't find anywhere else. Which is why it's a big deal when there's a shake-up that could potentially affect programming -- and an even bigger deal when the station's board members don't want to tell the listening public why.
What exactly is going on at KPFT?
Six members of KPFT's Local Station Board are calling for the termination of the board's secretary, and have publicly posted an agenda accusing him of threatening people's safety and making bomb threats. If you think a station that traffics in democratic ideals and speaking truth to power would require its board members to substantiate such serious allegations, you'd be wrong.
Here's what Secretary Ted Weisgal, who's served KPFT off and on for about 11 years, is being accused of:
-- humiliating and threatening the safety of people who disagree with him at board meetings
-- trying to "split listenership and threaten one group with another" and making "threats of the use of a bomb to a very excited and angry crowd."
-- "inappropriately misrepresenting KPFT at public events"
-- using his expert knowledge of Robert's Rules of Order to hijack meetings and bully others
-- inciting "many board members to quit."
As for the bomb threat: In a written response to his accusers, Weisgal alleged that he made a "misunderstood joke" during a heated meeting after others had made "what he thought were some serious comments regarding damaging KPFT property," in the hopes that it would cause "such a stir that the meeting quickly returned to order."
However, "jokes" about bombs at KPFT -- a station that was actually bombed by the Ku Klux Klan -- aren't taken lightly.
Weisgal has 17 minutes to defend this "bomb threat" and the other allegations at a special board meeting November 16; a two-thirds vote is required to remove him. (The LSB has 24 members, and a quorum must be present for the meeting to move forward).
We'll get to Weisgal's story in a moment. Right now we need to point out that board member Richard Uzzell -- who said when he was running for the board that he saw the importance of helping "our culture to be more just, fair, open, responsive" -- hung up on us when we tried to ask about this upcoming meeting. (Being "open," it seems, is for other people. Uzzell simply cannot be bothered.)
Board member Nancy Hentschel -- who's also on Pacifica's national board -- at first agreed to speak with us, but then changed her mind and explained in an e-mail that "all issues like this one are executive session matters. it is KPFT's intent to honor the dignity of our employees, volunteers, as well as our board members." (Just to be clear: It's perfectly okay for Hentschl to publicly accuse a fellow board member of criminal behavior; it's just not okay to be asked to comment on that.)
Curiously, Hentschel also accused us of having "already decided what you want to publish," and then stressed the importance of "solid information, due process, and respect for dignity."
The odd thing is that Hentschel and her colleagues also accused Weisgal of using his business -- Leisure Learning Unlimited -- "to teach people how to fight KPFT with letters and complaints to the FCC etc."
Hentschel teaches an LLU course (individuals pay $35; couples pay $60) on "Protesting for Better Home Construction," which dovetails with Hentschel's work on property taxes and "homeowner association reform" she advocates through Texas HOA Reform. Hentschel is passionate about property taxes in part because, according to this 2009 Instant News Fort Bend report, she owned two Sugar Land homes while not actually living in Sugar Land. (Nothing screams lookin' out for the little guy like complaining about paying taxes on two homes in Sugar Land.)
Weisgal has accused Hentschel of destroying KPFT's Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee. In a letter to KPFT colleagues, Weisgal wrote that the committee, which he chaired, "organized regular Town Hall meetings" and "interviewed and broadcast interviews from prominent elders in the Houston African American community during Black History Month." Weisgal wrote that Hentschel "orchestrated a takeover" of the committee and then "after a year of doing nothing, she introduced a motion to kill the committee. It no longer exists, nor do these outreach efforts or Town Hall meetings."
Board Chairman Robert Mark didn't return our calls. Board member Darelle Robbins called us back, but we didn't get to speak with her in time. So the only accuser we spoke with was Hank Lamb -- who was incredibly gracious and open, and who told us he'd probably get in trouble for his candor.
We expected more from board members like Mark, Uzzell and Hentschel -- after all, a 2012 audit of Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants to Pacifica determined that the nonprofit was in "noncompliance with statutory provisions of the Communications Act for open meetings, open financial records, and documenting operating procedures."