Wednesday, March 11, 2009

WPVM Chronology: August 2008-present

Though the lack of a viable structure at WPVM goes back to the very beginnings of the station, the purpose of this post is to present a timeline of the public events during the past 7 months.

This post will be updated with relevant information as it becomes available. While visiting any of the links below, you are also encouraged to read the comments section below most articles, and leave your own.

AUGUST 22, 2008

The locally-produced "Seven Layer Dip" program airs during MAIN/WPVM's "Free The Airwaves" fund drive. You can download the show here. Upon hearing the broadcast, the Executive Director of MAIN (the organization which holds WPVM's broadcast license), Wally Bowen "indefinitely suspended -- effective immediately" the hosts of the show for "using offensive language and deliberately attempting to undermine our fund drive and our organization's credibility."


The Mountain Xpress issues this article which brings the situation to the public eye.


A special meeting of the MAIN Board is held to discuss the ongoing situation at WPVM. Read the Mountain Xpress coverage here.


The MAIN Board issues this press release:

Press Release:
From Mountain Area Information Network Board of Trustees
9 September 2008

In action taken 8 Sep. 2008, the Mountain Area Information Network Board of Trustees:

Refuses the resignation letter of Station Manager, Jason Holland;

Recommends a new governance structure requiring WPVM to report directly to a subcommittee of the board;

Encourages the Executive Director to strengthen his oversight of the wireless ISP, media reform advocacy, and fundraising dimensions of MAIN;

And issues the following statement:

The Board of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) wishes to thank Gillian Coats, volunteer at WPVM, for her remarkable contributions to the growth and success of the radio station, and the Board regrets the circumstances surrounding Ms. Coats' departure from the station. We will miss her leadership.

The Board holds itself responsible for the events that took place, since we failed to take action to resolve a longstanding disagreement over station policy between Ms. Coats, MAIN, and our Executive Director, Wally Bowen.

Given our lack of prompt action, Mr. Bowen had no choice but to take steps to bring the matter to a close. The Board apologizes to both Wally and Gillian for not having brought about a more graceful resolution.

George Peery,
Chair, MAIN Board of Trustees

Mountain Xpress' updated coverage of the story can be found here.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2008

UNC-Asheville's student newspaper "The Blue Banner" reports on the story here.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2008

Based on the September 8th action from the MAIN Board of Directors, this interim MAIN/WPVM structure is put into place.

OCTOBER 1, 2008

An op-ed piece by WPVM's Barry Summers appears in the Mountain Xpress.

OCTOBER 31, 2008

First day of the 2008 Fall Fund Drive on WPVM, organized completely by volunteers, which brought in a record number of donors. Listeners were encouraged to support "people-powered radio", based on the September 8th action from the MAIN Board.

NOVEMBER 24, 2008

WPVM's local news program "Making Progress" airs its last show. You can download it here.

DECEMBER 3, 2008

The article, "Some WPVM volunteers remain dissatisfied with station" appears in the Mountain Xpress.

JANUARY 14, 2009

"Organizing WPVM", a structural outline plan for the future of WPVM, was presented at the radio staff's monthly meeting. A unanimous vote was passed to present this plan to the MAIN Board of Directors, based on their September 8th action.

JANUARY 27, 2009

The MAIN Board of Directors votes unanimously to hear the "Organizing WPVM" proposal at their upcoming February 10, 2009 meeting.

FEBRUARY 10, 2009

Edwin Shealy, WPVM Managerial Board chair, presents the "Organizing WPVM" proposal to the MAIN Board at their meeting. Following the presentation, the MAIN Board goes into "Executive Session."

FEBRUARY 11, 2009

The Mountain Xpress covers the "Organizing WPVM" proposal story here.

Later that evening at the monthly WPVM radio staff meeting, MAIN Board member Robin Smith presented the following statement from the Board:

"The Board can not conceive a structure where the ED is not in charge of the management and daily operation. The Board has given the ED, Wally Bowen, the task to come up with a structure. The Board of Directors and staff of MAIN appreciate the input provided at the board meeting on 2/10/2009."

FEBRUARY 16, 2009

MAIN's Executive Director Wally Bowen announces Kim Clark as the interim station manager at WPVM. At the same time, Bowen suspends 9 longtime volunteers of the station. Read the Mountain Xpress coverage here, and visit this post on the WPVM Blogspot for more on this development.

The "Revolutionary Radio" program debuts on WPVM. The first episode takes a look at how non-profit boards operate and goes in-depth with the current situation at WPVM. Several of the nine suspended volunteers appear on the show, as well as Mountain Xpress reporter Nelda Holder. You can download this episode here.

FEBRUARY 18, 2009

A "Meet The Interim Station Manager" meeting is held at the Public Service Building on Wall Street in downtown Asheville. Audio from this meeting can be heard here.

That evening, Greg Lyon, host of WPVM's "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly", and also one of the nine suspended volunteers, was interviewed on WMBR's "What's Left" program. You can download the interview here.

FEBRUARY 19, 2009

A discussion between volunteers and Wally Bowen takes place on the WPVM Facebook wall. Please view both wall pages for the complete discussion which is chronicled in reverse order (newest to oldest posts).

FEBRUARY 23, 2009

MAIN's Executive Director Wally Bowen holds a presentation for MAIN 2.0 at the Pack Library's Lord Auditorium. You can download the audio of the Q & A session here.

FEBRUARY 25, 2009

This week's issue of the Mountain Xpress has several WPVM-related items. Please visit the WPVM Blogspot entry for direct links to each item.

FEBRUARY 28, 2009

MAIN's Executive Director Wally Bowen is interviewed on WPVM's "Drop Beats Not Bombs" program. You can download the interview here and read the WPVM Blogspot entry about this interview here.

MARCH 2, 2009

WPVM's interim station manager Kim Clark resigns. You can read her full resignation letter here and Mountain Xpress' articles concerning her resignation here and here.

MARCH 3, 2009

The volunteers of WPVM issue a statement of "No Confidence" in the Executive Director of MAIN. To date, the statement has been signed by a solid majority of the volunteers, as well as 4 former members of the MAIN Board and many listeners, supporters and donors.

MARCH 4, 2009

In this week's edition of the Mountain Xpress, you can read a Letter to the Editor from MAIN's Executive Director Wally Bowen, as well as another letter from a long-time supporter of WPVM. Additionally, there is also an article about the MAIN 2.0 presentation of February 23.

MARCH 10, 2009

Former MAIN Board member Randee Goodstadt-Evans releases a public statement in response to Wally Bowen's "Letter To The Editor" from the March 4th edition of the Mountain Xpress.

MARCH 18, 2009

In this week's edition of the Mountain Xpress, you can read a "Letter to the Editor" from former WPVM Management Board chair Edwin Shealy, as well as this short letter from someone viewing the ongoing situation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Former MAIN Board Member disputes ED's claim that Coates suspension was upheld

Former Mountain Area Information Network Board of Directors member Randee Goodstadt-Evans has disputed that the Board reviewed Wally Bowen's firing of Gillian Coates and upheld it.

From Mr. Bowen's March 4th letter to Mountain Express:

"Most volunteers are not aware that a behind-the-scenes power struggle—smoldering since 2003—intensified in early 2008, culminating in the August suspension of a volunteer who sought WPVM’s independence from MAIN. This was the first disciplinary action against a volunteer in the station’s five-year history. The board reviewed 14 documented incidents and upheld the suspension. "

Randee Goodstadt-Evans responds:

"I was a member of MAIN’s Board from August through November, 2008, and was never involved in any review of the so-called “documented incidents.”

"Likewise, the Board did not “uphold the suspension.”

"Actually, the Board sidestepped the issue entirely, issuing an apology for letting the conflict between the volunteer and Bowen get out of hand, and turning over general supervision of the station to a committee comprised of four board members: Josh Jourdan, Robin Smith, Terry O’Keefe, and myself. (At this time, Sept. 8, and shortly thereafter, the station still had a manager.)

"The Board’s goal at the time was to take Wally Bowen out of daily involvement with the radio station. I possess documentation to support that."

Randee Goodstadt-Evans

March 10, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mountain Area Information Network Board of Directors Watch

Since the current turmoil started at WPVM in August, MAIN's Board has lost:


Directors. One's term expired, one due to health problems, Five to...well, would YOU want to be a part of what this Board is doing? This leaves six active members, with at least one inching closer to their term being up, and at least one privately hinting they want no more of this mess. This could bring them to, or below, the legal minimum of five. See the current (sort of - at the time of posting, at least two of those eight still listed have apparently resigned) makeup of MAIN's Board here.

The process for recruiting new Board members is unclear; the bylaws require that any and all new Board prospects be brought forward by a duly constituted Nominating Committee of the Board. It appears that this process has not functioned for some years, and the flow of new members seems to have come solely from the Executive Director himself (a questionable practice).

The Board has finally begun a Performance Evaluation of the Executive Director, something they are required by the bylaws to do annually, but this also has not been done in some years.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Interesting Statistics

Due to the recent purge of volunteers at WPVM, as well as the loss of several shows and hosts who stood in solidarity with the banned and other recent events at the station, WPVM has lost:

15 original programs

19 hosts of original programs

37.5 hours of original programming each week

69 combined years of experience and history at WPVM

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

No Confidence Statement

Below is a No Confidence statement drafted by the volunteers at WPVM. If you would like to electronically sign the statement, please send your name and your capacity (volunteer, donor, listener, supporter, etc...) to, as a solid majority of volunteers and a growing list of former MAIN Board members have. Thanks!

On February 16th, nine longtime volunteer leaders were fired ("suspended" without recourse) from WPVM by Wally Bowen, MAIN's Executive Director. The previous, arbitrary firing ("suspension" without recourse) of a longtime volunteer in August still has not been adequately addressed; instead it has been greatly magnified. The subsequent manipulation of the Board process by MAIN's Executive Director has not justified the actions he has taken; rather, these actions punctuate the failed and dysfunctional leadership that has led this fine organization into its current state of crisis.

Therefore, we reluctantly yet emphatically state our vote of no confidence in the continued leadership of the current Executive Director. His failed management of this valuable community resource is a betrayal of the trust placed in him by the listeners, donors, subscribers, staff, and volunteers that make up the MAIN/WPVM family. Asheville deserves better, and the volunteers of WPVM stand committed to serve the community, in spite of the ill-advised actions of one man.

We invite all interested members of this community to let your voices be heard. MAIN's Board of Directors need to understand the disastrous course their Executive Director has taken them on, and change that course immediately. This attempt to divide, conquer, and ruin will not stand.

The "Offer"

It's really hard to deal with someone whose approach to truthtelling is more aspirational than actual. They want to tell the truth, but ... something always precludes that as a realistic option. History, for them, has no real occasions, and is in a constant state of revision.

Today the WPVM website has a post by the current Director of MAIN that contains this proposition:

Since May, 2008, staff has made three attempts (late July, mid-September, Jan. 5, 2009) to obtain documentation of station operations — currently known only to a handful of volunteers — in order to make these instructions more widely available. All three attempts failed.

On Feb. 24, we proposed that the suspended volunteers begin documenting their knowledge of station operations as a “good faith” first step toward their return to WPVM. That offer still stands.

Now, coming across that, the casual reader might assume that, you know, there was an offer actually made as recently as last Tuesday to the nine "suspended" volunteers: just document what you know, and we'll begin to think about letting you back in the station (leaving aside for now the fact that the volunteers haven't actually left the station, and that Kim Clark in her wonderful, gutsy, and insightful letter of resignation - notably not posted on the WPVM site, but posted below - acknowledged that she'd been grateful for their commitment and technical support). You might think that, dear reader, but ... how can I say this delicately? you'd be wrong. I've checked, and while I've not heard back yet from every one of the nine, I have heard back from seven; no such offer was made to any of those "suspended" volunteers. The Director might wish it had been made, but ...

A note to aspirational truthtellers: when giving an aspirational reinterpretation of history, it's a good idea to choose dates far enough in the past that no-one remembers what actually happened on the given day, and may have lost whatever records they made of it at the time. Just sayin'.


Update. 3/4/2009: Just as I thought: I've heard from all nine of the banned now, and none received the "offer" Mr. Bowen claims he made. We can now declare that claim totally aspirational!

Monday, March 2, 2009

WPVM's Interim Station Manager resigns


Effective immediately, I am withdrawing from my interim appointment as WPVM station manager.

As I said at our introductory meeting a couple of weeks ago, I accepted the position of Interim Station Manager of WPVM because I wanted to help move the station in a positive way from its current state of turmoil and to help it get on a solid footing for the future. I now believe that this is not possible at the moment, and that my continuation in the interim position could be doing more harm than good. I am the band-aid and the aspirin that delay that inevitable trip to the doctor, who will tell you that you really need major surgery if you are to survive.

In my opinion, the problems at WPVM that have spilled out onto the public square are deep and systemic, and need to be addressed by MAIN's Board of Directors before progress can be made. The relationship between MAIN's Executive Director Wally Bowen and the dozens of volunteers that make the radio station work is almost totally broken down. This has been made much worse in my opinion by Wally's recent decision to suspend nine members of WPVM's volunteer staff. I can't judge the reasons for the suspensions, because I'm really not clear what the reasons are. But I can judge the effect that the suspensions are having on WPVM's operations. For the most part, these nine volunteers represent the institutional knowledge and memory of WPVM, and make up the station's engineering support as well. The first day I was at WPVM, we had a major automation failure. Every radio station has a list on the wall somewhere that says “In case of emergency, call...”, and I quickly found WPVM's list. However, all the names were of volunteers who were “banned”! But...some of those same banned volunteers came into the station later, “under cover of darkness”, and helped solve the problem. Their support- some clandestine, some not- to the station and their fellow volunteers has continued over the past two weeks. It has weighed heavily on my conscience knowing that volunteers who have been told to stay away are being asked for, and are giving, their help. So much so that last week I went to Wally and asked him to lift the suspensions on the grounds that the suspended volunteers had shown good faith by providing the assistance to keep the station properly functioning. I felt that if we responded with good will and brought them back, we could really move WPVM forward, and I could stop worrying about basic technical concerns and get on with the business of truly providing some management direction. Wally gave my request respectful consideration, but then told me he “just couldn't go there.” I felt that the most promising door to success closed with that decision.

I have at other times glimpsed what success at WPVM could look like. I had those glimmers of hope when I was talking with the volunteers who were coming in to do their shows or to take care of their station “chores”. Their passion for the mission of the station (and for MAIN's mission as well) and their dedication to their role in it is inspiring. Honestly, coming into this, I expected to cross paths with a bunch of anarchists who didn't want anyone telling them what to do. That's not what I found at all. I have had in-depth conversations with 15 or more volunteers, and every single one stressed the need for more structure in the station's day-to-day and overall operations. “Procedures” and “policy” are not dirty words to them. But...there is currently no foundation on which to build or rebuild a solid operational structure. It is all too broken. (In going through old station records, I found evidence that there had been a pretty strong structure at one time, but it seems that it all began to unravel a year or two ago.)

I feel I also have to mention that nearly every volunteer I spoke with-even the ones who are on the periphery and basically just come in to do their shows- felt strongly that the nine suspended volunteers are urgently needed back in the fold, and were unclear about the reasons for the suspensions in the first place.

I am inspired by Wally Bowen's vision of service to the community for MAIN and for WPVM. (All the volunteers I talked with are highly supportive of it as well.) I attended Wally's Main 2.0 presentation and was very impressed with his plans for providing affordable access to cutting-edge technology, and for making WPVM a hub for professional-quality citizen journalism. He does strongly believe in WPVM. When tossing around options, I even threw out the idea of shutting down the station temporarily, letting the smoke clear, and then rebuilding it in a way that might be more to his liking. As I recall, he said that that would not be fair to many of the volunteers.

So, here we are- with a fantastic vision, and a volunteer staff that most non-profit organizations would kill for. But the battle lines are drawn hard in the ground, there's plenty of legitimate ammo, and lots of land mines are strewn about in the middle. I don't think you can hire someone to “manage” WPVM out of this situation. Very basic structural and systemic issues need to be addressed first.

My suggestions are: (1) Get the suspended volunteers “officially” back into the radio station. Their absence is making basic operations more difficult, hurting morale, and keeping emotions high. If there are some that Wally feels shouldn't be brought back, then be clear about why and allow for some type of appeal process. (2) The Board of Directors needs to consider carefully to what degree it is healthy (for the organization and its people) for the Executive Director of MAIN to be involved in day-to-day operations of WPVM. Then the Board needs to be clear and consistent on this issue. Establish a grievance procedure (even a temporary one) ASAP. (3) Bring in a professional mediator. And not a “kum ba yah” team-building mediator. This will need to be hard-nosed stuff, where everyone (Board members, volunteers, Executive Director) lays their baggage out on the table, and there are signed understandings and agreements at the end. (4) Then....hire a manager. Avoid the “interim” path. You'll need someone who is fully invested in the future of WPVM and MAIN. Give that manager the authority to truly run the station, within guidelines and goals set out by the Executive Director and the Board. (5) To the degree that it is financially possible, upgrade WPVM's broadcast equipment. The sub-standard condition of the station's equipment and computers is having a negative effect on broadcast quality, consistency, accuracy, and morale, and is creating training/compliance issues.

It's funny the twists and turns life takes. I thought I would help WPVM by being its Interim Manager, but it seems I will be most helpful by withdrawing from that post so as not to delay the real work that needs to be done. I hope my insights have been useful.

Kim Clark

Blue Banner Article from 9/18/08

Check out this article from The Blue Banner, UNC-Asheville's student newspaper, published September 18, 2008.

Here's an excerpt:

On Sept. 8, MAIN's Board of Directors held an emergency meeting. The following day the board announced a new governance structure for the station via a press release that also refused Hollands' resignation.

"We are hoping that by changing the structure and the way the board does business with WPVM, volunteers will feel they're on the same page and not have the sense of working at cross purposes with MAIN," Chair of the Board of Directors George Peery said. "We, by not paying attention to them, allowed that perception of neglect to exist."

Peery said the board proposed a new structure which requires WPVM volunteers report to a subcommittee of the board, rather than directly to Bowen.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

MAIN's Executive Director on WPVM

Last night, Wally Bowen appeared on WPVM to answer questions from listeners on "Drop Beats Not Bombs", the popular hip-hop show hosted by Molly McDonough-Leota and Lucia Daugherty. The audio (minus music breaks) can be downloaded here.

Among other notable comments, is the exchange between Bowen and McDonough-Leota at timestamp 47:50, where a listener emailed in a question that started with a section of the September 8th resolution from MAIN's Board, which removed Mr. Bowen from station operations:

Molly: "...the Board recommends a new governance structure requiring WPVM to report to a subcommittee of the Board." And the question is, does that statement stand today?

Wally: That doesn't sound like the statement that I saw come out of Sept. 8th - I just don't think that's an accurate statement.

There's no question that it is accurate - it comes straight off the MAIN website:

On the audio clip, Mr. Bowen goes on to blame the controversy on poor communication and wishful thinking on the part of the volunteers, ducking the question completely. The fact is, that his own Board said in so many words, on HIS website, that they were recommending "a new governance structure requiring WPVM to report directly to a subcommittee of the board."
This is inconvenient, so Mr. Bowen is pretending that it didn't happen, raising serious questions about accountability and honesty.