Thursday, February 19, 2009

Response to Wally Bowen's Posts on Mediation

Wally Bowen, MAIN's executive director, posted the following to the WPVM Facebook wall today after being questioned about his postponement of mediation:

I asked the Mediation Center to re-schedule the Feb. 9 mediation, and here's why. At the Jan. 27 meeting of the MAIN board, these volunteers showed up unannounced. It appeared that our new acting chair, Robin Smith, coordinated their surprise visit. During "new business" he allowed them to ask for a special board meeting to "just listen" to their proposal.

I argued against this special board meeting on the grounds that: 1. The board had already unanimously approved the "MAIN 2.0" process, so entertaining a separate "radio only" proposal would confuse the integrated-media "MAIN 2.0" planning. 2. I had been calling for mediation for five months, with no response; therefore, any proposal BEFORE MEDIATION would be coming from a place of anger and conflict. 3. The "just listen" caveat was disingenuous, as the group would certainly demand a board decision on its proposal. Also, at least two volunteers that day expressed doubts about the value of mediation. (to be continued)

Mediation (continued): On Jan. 9, I wrote to Edwin Shealy about MAIN 2.0 and said that "it makes no sense to put a proposal on the table and risk the perception of it being 'rejected,' thus possibly spurring another round of angry and dysfunctional rhetoric. I think we all agree that we don't need any more setbacks. As always, I'm willing to meet and listen and talk, around a table or on the air. It's been strange to have all these exciting breakthroughs in Washington shaping and energizing our future, yet hearing so little about these historic developments on WPVM."

Still, the board agreed Jan. 27 to hear the proposal as a courtesy to these vols. A few days later, in a contentious phone call, acting chair Robin Smith accused me of not wanting "to listen" to the vols. I replied that I had called for mediation for five months, had offered to meet and talk on the air with any show host, yet had been removed by these vols from the WPVM listserve, "Who's not listening?" I asked. I then challenged Robin to use his influence to bring us to mediation rather than interfering between staff and vols. That afternoon Edwin emailed saying they were ready to mediate, asap. I immediately accepted, and we agreed on Feb. 9, one day before the special board meeting. However, I soon learned that their idea of mediation was 14 vols -- one of whom I didn't know and two with whom I had no history of conflict. On Feb. 3, I told a fellow board member how odd this seemed. She asked why board and staff weren't invited. The next day it snowed . . .
Having been at the Jan. 27 meeting of MAIN's Board of Directors, I have a few observations/queries:

1. Is he blaming the volunteers for the actions of the Interim Chair of his own Board of Directors? Or is he blaming his Interim Chair, Robin Smith? And what exactly is he blaming his Chair for? Not following proper procedure? "Coordinating" a surprise visit by volunteer leaders to an open meeting of his own Board? Interfering between staff and volunteers? Does he really want to malign his own boss this way? Does he really want to walk down this path regarding the improper procedures of his own Board? What other procedures has his own Board not followed? Where are the minutes to all the Board meetings since September? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. To the best of my knowledge, none of us was ever contacted regarding mediation before the process was initiated by Edwin Shealy. If Wally Bowen, the Executive Director of the organization, wanted mediation for months and months, why did he not set it up? Indeed, why did he never reach out to the volunteers, as a good manager of a volunteer organization should, instead of fuming about the "lies" being told about him and complaining that he was not asked to give his side of things on the air by the volunteers--which itself is a lie; he was given the opportunity for airtime on the station, but did not acknowledge the authority of the democratically elected, MAIN Board Subcommittee-sanctioned Programming Committee that offered him that time.

3. Doubts about mediation were well-founded. Why shouldn't people have doubts about mediation, and why should they be excoriated for vocalizing those doubts? Mediation, in order to be meaningful, has to have clear goals. Additionally, it has been my personal experience since I first came to WPVM that Wally Bowen is extraordinarily deficient in his capacity for dialogic listening, which I believe was notably displayed in the onair staff meeting Wednesday night. That said, we were willing to try mediation, and it was postponed indefinitely by Wally Bowen. Edwin Shealy will have plenty of information to refute Wally's assertion regarding who all should be involved in the mediation. I was told that you, Wally, added my name and others (including Steven Howard), for instance. I certainly did not ask to be involved in the mediation, as I was not serving on the WPVM Managerial Board at the time. But I was willing to go once I was invited. Your version of events regarding mediation bears no resemblance to what Edwin shared with me, but again, I'll let him clarify that.

4. The volunteers were tasked with coming up with a station structure by the Subcommitte of the MAIN Board in charge of the radio station almost immediately after the Sep. 8 resolution. Months of hard work went into that proposal. Mediation was scheduled for before the presentation of the proposal and was cancelled by Wally Bowen. We were told explicitly by Robin Smith that Wally and the majority of his NEW Board would not be at all receptive to the volunteer proposal. He was right. It should be noted that the Board lost 3 of its members since the Sep. 8 resolution (including half of the WPVM Subcommittee), not to mention that it currently has no full set of officers.

5. I have personally discussed the exciting news regarding the FCC rulings and other Washington developments MANY MANY times in depth on my radio show without any prompting by the Executive Director. Plus, all the Executive Director would have had to do was to write a radio-friendly (i.e. not overly long) press release and ask the Managerial Board to have it read on the air, and I have no doubt that this would have been done. I heard MAIN PSAs discussing the upcoming FCC vote on election day MANY times on the air, and I read it myself numerous times, extemporaneously elaborating the importance of it. I discussed the results of the FCC vote as well. The volunteers have continuously been characterized as not caring about MAIN's endeavors, and this is a complete distortion of reality. The accusation is one of many tactics on behalf of the Executive Director to make the volunteers look bad. I hope the public sees through it.

6. I will leave it to others to discuss the onair listserv. If at any point Wally Bowen had anything constructive to say, e.g. a call for a special meeting of the organization to discuss and constructively work through differences in an open forum, I believe I would have heard of it. There were other channels of communication. Did your own Board prohibit you from reaching out positively? If not, who else is to blame?

--Greg Lyon


  1. This from the WPVM facebook page: quote, Wally Bowen: 'Still, the board agreed Jan. 27 to hear the proposal as a courtesy to these vols.'

    This statement from Wallace sums up a major part of the controversy: He says the board will agree to listen to the volunteers (whom literally are the people who manage the day to day operations) as a matter of 'courtesy' but not as a matter of practice. Mediation would be great.

  2. As the original chair of the Managerial Board for two months from mid-September through early-November, I think I would've been made aware if Wally Bowen has ever wanted to go into mediation with us. This never, ever reached our ears. In fact, I tried repeatedly in person and via email (CC'd to the Board) to try to get the Executive Director to sit down with a group from the radio station, to talk about ways we could work better together, up to and including flat-out offering him a weekly show slot to do whatever he wanted with. He turned every offer into an insult, and never, ever agreed to sit down with us to talk privately.

    And yes, I learned to save every scrap of email evidence to back things up with. Which reveals some odd things that Wally Bowen does, like the curious act of letting a debate build up over several emails between him, myself, and a Board member, then quietly add a CC to his staff at MAIN, although they had nothing to do with what we were discussing. They just know that out of the blue, they see an email where Wally is reacting with mock outrage:

    "Barry, Randee -- Enough of the gameplaying and misinformation. I will not be drawn in to a confrontation."

    The emails that led up to it were completely free of any confrontational language of any sort; in fact, I was deliberately at my most non-confrontational, because I sincerely wanted to calm things down & convince Wally to sit down with us. But if you come into the conversation in the middle, all you know is that someone did something that hurt and pissed off your boss. This is how Wally manipulates language and communication to turn people against each other. Crazy-making.

  3. In an email dated 1/29/09 6:48pm from Edwin Shealy (WPVM Mangerial Board chair):

    "Laura coordinated with Wally today, and came back with a day and time: February 9th, 6 PM to 7:30 PM. Place to be determined (neutral site). She said Wally added the following to our list of attendees: Veronika Gunter, Greg Lyon, Francois Manavit, Stephanie Biziewski, Steven Howard, Jason Holland, and George Perry."

    Obviously, before February 3rd, Wally had the knowledge of who was on the list of attendees and had already requested 7 attendees himself, which did not include the full MAIN board or any staff. Yes, that does seem odd.