Let me be clear right up front: This is not a call for donations, but for community action. I was rocked by the recent news of yet another change in top leadership at your public television station, that we have all come to lovingly refer to as Channel 18. As I have written about in previous articles, the station has weathered many storms over many years, over four and a half decades actually, and made it through, not only surviving, but thriving. However, one now must ask, how many storms can a nonprofit organization weather, before it just can’t manage to rise up again? This is my grave concern.
Since my retirement from ValleyPBS in February 2019, I have observed from afar the dizzying exit of talented and experienced staff, including the CEO and CFO, fundraisers, producers, cameramen, engineers, marketers, education and children’s services providers, and other support staff, out the door, either fired or left of their own volition, because “they just couldn’t take it anymore.” Over the course of about six months in 2019, the station staff shrunk from 28 to roughly 10; much of this attributed to the normal fallout after a change in leadership. When the pandemic hit, yet another round of staff was laid off, leaving one to wonder, how are the remaining staff shouldering all the work? Though some positions have been filled, is there anyone left with the institutional knowledge to pick up the pieces, or is something crucial being lost, and possibly never recovered, along the way?
Many community members have reached out to me over the past two years, their inquiries taking different forms, from “what’s going on” to “why doesn’t anyone return my calls?” The 15-member governing board, though admittedly not at full capacity in 2019, has dwindled to six voting members, mostly made up of an executive committee, who basically make all the decisions. The most recent CEO, Lorenzo Rios, a board member, took on the role of interim CEO and segued into the permanent role, seemingly without a proper public recruitment and search process, as required by the FCC and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). A search of public documents on the station web site sheds no light on this subject, since the most recent Equal Employment Opportunity documents, required to be on the web site and filed with the FCC and CPB annually by Aug. 1, are from 2018.
I fully recognize the difficult work required in running a nonprofit organization, especially in times of mounting challenges from every direction. However, it is crucial for those in a fiduciary role to never lose sight of the organization’s responsibility and necessary transparency to the community it serves, as it is the individuals of every community from Merced to Bakersfield, across the seven counties of the Central San Joaquin Valley, who represent the “public” in public television.
I urge community members, viewers, donors, supporters, volunteers, business leaders, nonprofit and media partners, former employees, former governing board members, advisory board members, and all interested parties and stakeholders passionate about their Channel 18, to get involved, contact board members, attend board meetings open to the public (see the web site for meeting dates), ask the hard questions. Insist upon rigorous due diligence and transparency in the search and recruitment process for the next station CEO. Please do your part to ensure the future of this local treasure, your public television station.