Shakeup at KPFT? Some Board Members Accuse Colleague of "Oppression," but They Don't Believe the Public Deserves to Know

Categories: Spaced City

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What exactly is going on at KPFT?
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.

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."


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6 comments
Houston24
Houston24

I've known Ted Weisgal for many years. I value his progressive ideas and his commitment to KPFT and to the Houston community. Over the years, I have been to meetings at KPFT, and I have also heard of the challenges that Mr. Weisgal has faced from a right-leaning board, perennially trying to rid themselves of their progressive representation. So, I am not impartial. What is impartial, however, are the KPFT rules, available on their website and listed here.

Aside from the rules themselves (which I'll return to), but integral to the discussion and the outcome, it is important to actually know what it is that Mr. Weisgal actually does (or says) that "pisses" everyone off there. Is it that these allegations against him are serious and true, or is that that he is a progressive surrounded by a right-leaning and possibly corrupt group of people (as the article alludes), who want to get rid of him for disagreeing with them and shedding light on things they'd rather hide?

Now, back to the rules, which can be used to solve the matter:

Clearly, allegations have been made that, according to these rules, must be defended by a "neutral, independent fact finder".... to bring about ..."a final and binding decision,"if a written complaint is filed (#8). If these accusations are proved to be serious "verifiable facts," Mr. Weisgal could be found at fault. If the accusers, however, choose not to openly defend their claims (#1, 2, 3), then the accusations against Mr. Weisgal would rightly be seen as verbal attacks (#5), slander or libel (of which legal action could be taken by Mr. Weisgal), and those who have used them against Mr. Weisgal, should then find themselves at risk of "exclusion from Pacifica and KPFT property and events," (#6) including presumably the board- instead of himself.

These rules, listed below, are reasonable ones. Of course, the board may have their own internal rules, but these public rules should be utilized in the course of public discussion, since this has become a public matter.

From the KPFT website:

CODE OF CONDUCT

Following is a Code of Conduct for the KPFT community. This Code was drafted with input from KPFT staff, LAB members, listeners and the Pacifica national office. 

This Code of Conduct is effective as of August 17, 2002. Treat other people as you would like to be treated yourself. 

1 Verbal and physical attacks are not tolerated on Pacifica and KPFT property, or at KPFT and Pacifica events and meetings.

2 Discussions will be centered on issues, not people; and on verifiable facts, not innuendo and rumor. This covers oral and written statements made anywhere, including on the Internet.

3 Information will be shared as much as possible, keeping in mind that some information must remain confidential. If information has been designated as confidential, it will not be divulged either publicly or privately.

4 Care will be taken with Pacifica and KPFT property, and it will be returned in the same or better condition as when it was received.

5 Staff, volunteers, visitors and guests will follow the rules and regulations of the station, the Pacifica Foundation, the Local Advisory Board and, where appropriate, all applicable laws.

6 Violation of this code will result in a penalty, which may include exclusion from Pacifica and KPFT property and events.

7 The General Manager is responsible for overseeing all matters relating to the operation of the station, and works with Pacifica's Executive Director, who has final authority to ensure the station is in compliance with the Foundation's Mission and policies, as well as all relevant laws.

8 Disputed charges of violation of this code will be brought before a neutral, independent factfinder, chosen and paid by KPFT, for a final and binding decision. Anyone wishing to file a complaint may do so on a form available at the reception desk in the station.

veggieburger
veggieburger

As a long-time supporter/volunteer…..KPFT is a hiding place 4 some who have few other places in their lives 2 dominate.  The 'child' analogy is apt 4 some.  I retreat from activism there due 2 the petty squabbles which retard any progress.  Geeze….this is supposed 2 b 'progressive' radio….and it is often anything but….not resembling a station billed as 'Radio 4 Peace'!

Ted is a dear friend….and can be annoying in meetings…..but he truly exemplifies what KPFT should b about….truth, light, fairness & dedication.  That is precisely why LSB members seek 2 exclude him.

Richard Cerda
Richard Cerda

It's funny, herding conservatives is much easier. You gotta love Jesus and hate the government and the minorities sucking at the tax payer teet. Bringing liberals together is much more complex, and indeed like herding cats. Just look at all the special interest shows on KPFT, not every liberal is a Vegan, or whole earth mom, or dead head, or an Arab, or Techie, or lgbt, or pro la raza, or this or that. It's a big umbrella and asking everyone to play nice can be a bit of a task I imagine. Good luck to them. I enjoy the first half of Democracy Now on the way to work and the last half on the way home.

Colleen Chriss
Colleen Chriss

No judgments here, but you might want to proofread that one

Taggerez
Taggerez

@Richard Cerda What a spin, Richie! KPFT is dysfunctional because lefties are so great? All you have to do to be one is hate Christians, love the government and welfare bums and hate whites and America in general. Lefties are complex because they have more complexes than a 3rd grade has spitballs. I was a KPFT volunteer in the early 1980s and nothing at that dope-soddened rabbitt trap has changed. Do they still call each other fascists when disagreements arise? Screw that crowd.

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