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KPFK's Georgia to step down as general manager

August 29, 2007|Sean Mitchell | Special to The Times

Eva Georgia, the controversial general manager of KPFK-FM (90.7), will resign, effective Oct. 31, according to a statement issued by Greg Guma, executive director of the Berkeley-based Pacifica Foundation that oversees the Los Angeles public radio station.

The resignation was announced Monday in a memo that reaffirmed earlier statements of support for Georgia by the Pacifica national board in the face of two pending lawsuits against her claiming sexual harassment and racial discrimination and a recent petition demanding her removal signed by 18 current program hosts and staff members.

Georgia could not be reached for comment, and Guma's statement gave no reason for her stepping down except to say, "[B]eing the general manager of a progressive community radio station . . . [is] a tough and draining job." He praised her "innovative leadership" and initiation of programming "more relevant to the needs of the Los Angeles area's diverse communities."

Georgia, a native of South Africa, was appointed general manager in 2002, in the wake of a tumultuous internal dispute throughout Pacifica, provoked by charges that the antiestablishment network was leaning toward the mainstream and away from its historic advocacy for minority communities -- charges that were disputed and continue to be disputed by some producers, staff and financial supporters.

As a self-described "out-gay black woman," Georgia became an instant symbol of strong minority representation at the station, but her tenure was marked from the beginning by charges of a heavy-handed management style and abusive behavior, along with questions about inappropriate personal spending. Critics decried her use of limousines to travel on business for a station dependent on listener contributions and the fact that she took a five-month paid vacation last year to return to South Africa.

When the Pacifica national board met in Los Angeles at the end of July, a group of 18 program hosts and staff, including Ian Masters, Roy Tuckman, Lila Garrett and Don Bustany, calling themselves the Committee to Strengthen KPFK, read aloud a petition asking for a "change in management," citing, among other issues, declining audience numbers, lack of maintenance of the KPFK signal and "mismanagement and unaccountability."

Georgia's supporters, including Pacifica National Board Chairman Dave Adelson and Lydia Brazon, a director of the local KPFK board, disputed the declining audience numbers and offered unequivocal support for the general manager. In an interview with The Times, Adelson referred to Georgia as "far and away the strongest manager in the network."

The national board subsequently issued a statement of praise for Georgia, and Guma sent out a public warning to the attorneys representing litigants in suits filed against Pacifica, saying that the suits were opportunistic and their charges baseless. The two lawsuits are awaiting trial.

It remained unclear why Georgia decided to step down now after weathering the storms of criticism with the official backing of the executive director and the national board, to whom she reports.

"When Greg Guma rhapsodizes about the GM's accomplishment, we are impressed by his imagination but bewildered by his lack of information," Garrett, host of KPFK's "Connect the Dots," said Tuesday. "And if she's so great, why are they letting her leave?"

Brazon, the local board member who was on the search committee that recommended hiring Georgia in 2002, underscored that Georgia "was not being terminated."

"All the directors were hoping she would stay," Brazon said. "But she needs to be free to clear her name. She has long preferred that we go to court" in the lawsuits "and not settle."

A notice on KPFK's website says the station is now seeking applicants for an interim general manager, to begin duty Nov. 1 until the position is filled permanently. Meanwhile, elections will be held this fall to determine the makeup of the local board, with candidates representing the various factions now vying for control of the station and the type of programming it chooses to air.

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