Letters to the Editor June 13, 2018

KHSU firing unexplained

Three weeks ago long-time KHSU employee Katie Whiteside was fired. I had just seen Katie on a Sunday and spoke with her about coming back as a host and editor for Through the Eyes of Women. On Monday I arranged an interview with an internationally acclaimed author.

On Tuesday I emailed Katie to tell her the news and got an auto-reply that Katie Whiteside no longer worked at KHSU.  Needless to say I was shocked. Since then I have emailed KHSU’s General Manager Peter Fretwell, HSU VP for Advancement Craig Wruck, and HSU President Lisa Rossbacher.

I also attended the Community Advisory Board meeting held Wednesday May 30. Peter Fretwell did respond to my second email (Please see his response below), but neither Craig Wruck nor Lisa Rossbacher has bothered, not even with a canned response. Mr. Fretwell has said that he cannot discuss Katie Whiteside’s firing because to do so would violate personnel confidentiality. That is the canned response I expected and did I get from Craig Wruck’s administrative assistant upon calling his office. That seems to me a convenient duck-blind response to hide from inconvenient questioning and outrage from HSU staff, volunteers and community members.

Katie has worked for KHSU for 22 years. At the time of her dismissal she was fulfilling the responsibilities of three jobs, program director, operations manager and volunteer coordinator.

I began volunteering with KHSU in late 2011 and worked with Through the Eyes of Women until mid-2016 as a host, editor, engineer and, for approximately three-and- a-half years as executive producer.

Most of my training for those rolls came from Beth Rogers, former executive producer for TTEOW. But when Beth left the show Katie was the one I looked to for support.

Katie also trained me to be an on-air host for Fresh Air and KHSU’s Homepage. She was available 24/7 to support KHSU’s staff, volunteers and the station. She trained students and volunteers while coordinating a transition from analog to digital broadcasting, ushering in KHSU’s BBC broadcast and the newest addition to KHSU Radio Bilingue, subbing-in for volunteers when they were unable to attend to their shows and coming in at all hours to troubleshoot problems. Katie was the backbone of KHSU.

She was dismissed with no notice. There one day and gone the next. Katie, as an at-will employee had no protections. But as a dedicated, competent, well-liked 22-year employee she should at least have been shown some courtesy. Staff has had to take up the slack left by her absence, as far as I know, with no additional compensation. I heard that Katie was given her paid vacation days, but as far as I know no other severance package was offered.

I recently sent Peter Fretwell a list of questions that I thought answerable without violating personnel confidentiality. Two of those questions were, “Was there a transition plan in place for a new employee at the time of her firing?” and “Was a replacement search initiated before Katie was dismissed?” Mr. Fretwell’s reply to the email containing those and other questions was:

Hello Ms. Marshall,

From a university perspective, most of your questions do relate to information that is confidential. Since you are neither the employer or the employee, your right to be given that information does not exist. 

Thank you,
Peter Fretwell

On the same day I received Mr. Fretwell’s response I learned from a staff member that there is, in fact, someone new coming to the station to act as operations manager, and I don’t understand why Mr. Fretwell could not simply and politely answer those two questions with that information.

And Katie’s sudden firing is just one of many things that have caused upset at KHSU. KHSU maintained a staff and volunteer listserve for many years which facilitated interoffice communication; according to staff Mr. Fretwell dismantled the listserve. Apparently Mr. Fretwell also eliminated volunteer meetings, a practice that allowed volunteers to meet each other in person. I have also heard that his management style is authoritative and abrupt, a rumor that is certainly substantiated by his above referenced response to me.

As of Tuesday, June 5 KHSU has lost approximately $27,000 in community support. Underwriters and many members have cancelled their ongoing support, with the intention of reinstating that support when Mr. Fretwell leaves the station and Katie Whiteside is offered the opportunity to once again work for KHSU.

Because two-thirds of KHSU’s funding comes from community, withdrawl of underwriter and member support is a powerful message to HSU’s administration. I encourage more KHSU members and underwriters to withdraw support, coupled with a statement that Mr. Fretwell’s management style is not a good fit for KHSU or the surrounding community.

There is a KHSU mini-pledge drive scheduled to begin on June 12.  I personally will pledge exactly $1, which is not even enough to cover processing that charge on my credit card. I will accompany that pledge with the following statement.  “I will increase my contribution to $75 when Mr. Fretwell is dismissed and Katie Whiteside is offered an opportunity to resume employment.”

Kathleen Marshall, BSRN

It takes a village

For the Maple Creek School Café on May 1, many generous people donated soup, salad, tea, coffee, bread,and physical assistance. We wish to thank them all.

Half Dollar Holler donated the bread; the round breads were beautiful and the jalapeno bread was enjoyed by the adults and a few students. Folie Douce donated a roasted pepper turnip soup. Folie Douce has donated a soup to us every year for the last four years; everyone loved this year’s turnip soup.

Wildberries Marketplace, Eureka Natural Foods and the North Coast Co-op donated gift cards that we used to purchase salad ingredients. One of the students asked if the vegetables came from the garden because it all looked so fresh and tasted so good.

We also would like to thank Fifth District County Supervisor Ryan Sundberg and several community members who generously donated money to our fundraiser.

Maple Creek School families and staff appreciate all the support and help. It truly takes a community to run a school.

Gwen Neu
Education Coordinator
Maple Creek Elementary School