The interim station manager at Asheville’s low-power FM community-radio station has resigned, likening herself to a Band-Aid stuck on a mortal wound requiring immediate surgery.
Kim Clark issued her statement March 2, two weeks after her hiring as WPVM’s interim manager was announced by Wally Bowen, the executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network. A nonprofit Internet service provider, MAIN holds the broadcast license to WPVM, and Bowen oversees the station.
Since last fall, some station volunteers and Bowen have been embroiled in an ongoing battle over how the station should be governed. The station is usually manned by volunteers and one paid manager. The manager’s job has been vacant since last fall, when a controversy erupted over Bowen’s dismissal of volunteer Gillian Coats.
After Coat’s removal, MAIN’s board issued a statement last September saying it had removed Bowen from direct oversight of the station. The board approved a resolution recommending “a new governance structure requiring WPVM to report directly to a subcommittee of the board.” But a few months later, Bowen reasserted control of the station, saying that the earlier action had been temporary.
Clark’s arrival was heralded as a first step forward to ease the impasse. A former station manager at popular FM radio station WNCW, Clark said that she’d been through tensions between station management and volunteers at her station, and that she thought she could help WPVM improve internal communication and station operations.
The announcement of Clark’s hiring was accompanied by Bowen’s announcement that nine other station volunteers had been asked to stay away from the station for at least six weeks to give Clark room to work.
In her statement, Clark said the relationship between Bowen and volunteers needs immediate work.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
Clark goes on to say that on her first day, the radio station experienced major technical difficulties and that several of the volunteers who’d been asked to stay away were the ones who had the required institutional knowledge to assist, and that they did help. Clark’s statement says she asked Bowen to bring back the nine suspended volunteers, but that he turned the suggestion down.
In an interview with Xpress, Clark said she was hired as a contractor to perform a service and “it became clear to me that I would be unable to perform that service” with the nine volunteers locked out. Those nine “are really the backbone of the station,” she said.
“There has to be more of a process than just bringing in an interim station manager” to repair the damaged relationships at WPVM, she added. “I just didn’t want to waste anybody’s time.”
In her statement, Clark recommended five steps to begin fixing the situation:
• That the suspended volunteers be brought back.
• That the MAIN board consider whether its healthy for the organization to have Bowen in direct oversight of the station.
• That a mediator be hired to work through disagreements.
• That the board hire a station manager.
• And that MAIN upgrade WPVM’s broadcast equipment.
In a statement posted on WPVM’s Web site, Bowen said he and the MAIN board had accepted Clark’s resignation “with regret.”
“We knew that she was stepping into a difficult situation, made all the more challenging by the absence of technical operations documentation at WPVM,” Bowen wrote, asserting that station staff had made three failed attempts “to obtain documentation of station operations—currently known only to a handful of volunteers—in order to make these instructions more widely available.”
He added: “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.”