The Man Who Fired Katie Whiteside
I am writing to add my voice to the numerous letters you have no doubt already received regarding the summary firing of Katie Whiteside and the numerous troubling allegations against KHSU’s General Manager, Peter Fretwell.
First, a bit about myself and what I bring to this discussion. I am a 20-plus year veteran programmer for KHSU and have been hosting Alternative Therapy (8 to 10 p.m. Saturdays) since 2000. I was a member of President Rollin Richmond’s KHSU Task Force, which was convened to develop a strategic plan for the station. I have participated in virtual every fund drive for the last 20 years. I served on two hiring committees for KHSU GM’s – for Ed Subkis - and for the current GM, Peter Fretwell. I have worked in public media (first at KEET-TV and now for Access Humboldt) for almost 25 years.
I doubt there is much I can add to what others have said about the reckless, cruel and completely unnecessary firing of Katie Whiteside. The chickens have come home to roost with regards to this ham-fisted disaster. If one were to deliberately set out to crater a great public radio station, no one could have done a better job than Mr. Fretwell.
Perhaps of even greater concern is the hostile work environment Mr. Fretwell has fostered for KHSU staff and volunteers. His attitude upon arriving here quickly devolved into arrogance and malevolence, with regular reports emanating from Wagner House of violent fits of temper at staff meetings and threats against anyone who “steps out of line.”
The browbeating of staff (and volunteers) has been the order of the day. Morale among the very people who know and love the station the best, has sunk to unprecedented levels. One would hope, with past revelations of John Sterns’ psychological abuse of HSU personnel and the more recent attempts of Penn State and Michigan State official’s attempts to paper over more serious abusive situations, Humboldt State have immediately moved to protect station employees. Instead, even knowing what they know, the University appears to have turned a blind eye.
HSU administrators may be laboring under the notion that this disaster will blow over. As even the most casual observer can see, it will not. Mr. Fretwell has turned himself into a permanent liability for KHSU. A liability which will hang like a millstone around the neck of the station – and the university – until the day he resigns – or is fired. Fretwell will always be known as “the man who fired Katie Whiteside” and for that reason alone will never be trusted by staff, volunteers and many listeners of KHSU. Support will continue to erode, as less and less people find reasons to support a public radio station who’s leadership has behaved in this manner.
I urge KHSU listeners and underwriters who truly care about the station to contact HSU President Lisa Rossbacher. Let her know that allowing Peter Fretwell to continue as general manager is unacceptable. Ask that Katie Whiteside be reinstated without delay. I hesitate to suggest that the community withhold it’s monetary support. Unfortunately, money may be the only leverage we have with an administration that appears to care about nothing else.
Yours Very Truly,
KHSU: The bigger picture
Based on the recent actions of KHSU General Manager Fretwell – the firing of Katie Whiteside, verbal harassment and intimidation of employees and demoralization of the volunteers and staff, I recently informed David Reed, KHSU’s development director, that I had decided – like many other community members – to not leave a planned giving contribution for the KHSU endowment and also suspended my sustaining donation. I’ve had some time to think about the causes of the current crisis and I’d like to share some thoughts about long-term solutions that would give me a reason to reconsider these actions.
It is important to put the current KHSU crisis in context. None of the community uproar, staff demoralization and related problems would be occurring had the HSU administration not used a fundamentally flawed hiring process. Hiring a general manager for KHSU MUST involve the listening community in the selection of an initial pool of qualified candidates. Given (1) the dependence of the station on community support – funding, volunteers, and underwriting; (2) the cooperation and teamwork approach that characterizes the functioning of volunteers and staff; and (3) the deep half-century involvement of the community in shaping programming, it makes no sense at all to hire someone who is a top-down, autocratic “leader” who lacks any appreciation or belief in the value of the cooperative collaborative approach KHSU has used since its origin to offset limited resources and take advantage of flexibility.
Senior HSU administrators mostly come and go leaving the effects of their decisionmaking behind, while our community remains to suffer the consequences, as does KHSU. The HSU administration’s closed loop culture and transient nature is clearly unsuited for reliably hiring a KHSU general manager whose persona and style of management needs to fit in with a station that from its earliest years has been operated by volunteers and staff who place a premium on open, robust communication, both internally and with the community of listeners who have been the backbone of the station. KHSU and the community are bound together in a tight and intimate fabric.
In my opinion the solution is to involve the listening community and station volunteers and staff in the initial selection of candidates. They should have an advisory voice, if not a vote. A screening group consisting of a member of the Community Advisory Board, a station volunteer selected by the volunteers and a staff member selected by staff should be allowed to independently interview candidates and provide advice to the university’s hiring committee as to the suitability of the initial pool of GM candidates. This is a common screening model used successfully by service providing non-profits and agencies. A community filter would ensure the HSU hiring committee would be choosing someone from a pool of candidates who all bring the management style and experience needed to successfully lead KHSU. Fretwell is clearly the product of a failed hiring process that will continue to have problematic results so long as it lacks an effective community screening component. Fretwell is a mistake that must be rectified, but only after an appropriate hiring process is put in place.
Another problem exists that has been painfully revealed under Fretwell’s management: at-will staff have no rights or means to have legitimate grievances addressed and resolved fairly and objectively. Staff deserve a fair and equitable evaluation process and procedures that assess performance relative to job description requirements. Currently, at-will employees such as Katie lack a job description. This is ludicrous.
Going a step further, I believe all KHSU staff should have the option of being represented by a union of their choice; most other university employees are indeed union members. KHSU at-will staff should be accorded the protection and representation that shields them from arbitrary, vindictive and intimidating actions inconsistent with established personnel management standards.
The administration would earn back some lost community respect if it made these proposed improvements.
A favorable resolution of these two big picture issues is a win-win solution – it would stabilize and strengthen the station by rebuilding the community’s trust, and it would begin rebuilding the administration’s damaged relationship with the community.
KHSU Memo of the Week
KHSU COMMUNITY ADVISORY BOARD MEMORANDUM
To: Craig C. Wruck, Vice President, HSU University Advancement, Dr, Lisa Rossbacher, Humboldt State University (HSU) President
From: Tom Hinz, KHSU Community Advisory Board (CAB) Chair
Subject: KHSU Community Feedback to HSU University
Date: June 29, 2018
Cc: Peter Fretwell (KHSU General Manager), CAB Members
Since May 15, 2018, the members of the KHSU Community Advisory Board (CAB) have received a deluge of communication from community members at an unprecedented level. We have been contacted via social media, phone and email, receiving correspondence addressed to the CAB as a whole and to individual CAB members. Casual meetings with friends, acquaintances, and strangers at public places or events, and even in our work places have led to outpourings of questions and concerns regarding KHSU.
The last two CAB meetings were held in larger venues to accommodate increased crowds of concerned individuals, a significant change compared to the typical attendance at the CAB’s monthly meetings. Members of the public, the community of listeners who engage daily with KHSU and those who support KHSU have spoken loudly, repeatedly, and with great passion with regard to their concerns, the strained relationship between HSU and KHSU, and their lack of confidence in the KHSU general manager.
The message from those of the KHSU community who have engaged with the CAB in the last month is clear, and the CAB would be remiss in its duties if we did not share that message with those who make the guiding decisions for KHSU. The members of the KHSU community who have voiced their opinion, through the conduit of the KHSU CAB, formally submits their vote of no confidence in Peter Fretwell as General Manager of KHSU, and respectfully requests his termination.
There is a troubling lack of transparency from HSU with regard to community relations in regard to KHSU. The community hopes that HSU understands how important KHSU is to all of us. The listeners and volunteers, in partnership with HSU, have kept KHSU vibrantly alive for over 50 years. Many of us are HSU alumni and consider KHSU to be our most important link to HSU.
Thank you for your time and attention.
A quorum of the KHSU Community Advisory Board
Grateful for KHSU platform
Tonight, June 27, I attended a meeting of the Community Advisory Board of radio station KHSU.
Board members, station staff and volunteers, and community discussed recent administrative decisions which have affected the station. I have been a listener and supporter for decades and was glad to be able to hear the voices of many of the staff and volunteers whose work and dedication I have appreciated so much.
I am so grateful to KHSU for providing a platform for these people to share their talents with listeners. They give inspiration, education, networking and musical entertainment which sustains our community.
Tokes for tariffs
Humboldt County may have a headache due to its backlog of several thousand various pot-related permit applications submitted for review, but the U.S. Commerce Department has an even bigger one. Because of the Trump-imposed steel and aluminum tariffs, the department now faces over 20,000 requests for exemption filed by businesses that claim there is no suitable domestic metal supply to fill their needs. And so far, only 98 have been decided.
Perhaps the Board of Supervisors should consider sending them a Care Package of a little local product to help them with the pain.
McK senior thanks
The McKinleyville Senior Center is writing to express our appreciation to the community for its generous support of our fundraising events which were held during Pony Express Days.
We offered a raffle, a plant sale, a bake sale and a rummage sale, all thanks to donations from so many people. Thank you to the individuals who contributed and to those who purchased.
We would especially like to thank these businesses for their strong support of the McKinleyville Senior Center: A&L Feed, Blue Lake Casino, Cher-ae Heights Casino, K-Mart, Mad River Gardens, Miller Farms, Orchids for the People, Rite-Aid, Singing Tree Gardens and Sushi Spot, with a special thanks to Bertha Herd for her help with the Plant Sale.
Bonnie Lowry and Rosemary Freret contributed their beautiful handicrafts for the raffle. Your help makes all of our programs possible.
Candra Day, director
McKinleyville Senior Center