Concerned Citizens group, fearing station failure, challenges board competence
Many community residents are raising questions about what is happening at KMOJ-FM. The governing board has been accused of operating “under the cloak of darkness” without adequate accountability and transparency.
“Our question is, ‘Where is the KMOJ board?’ We are asking, ‘What are you doing to protect this essential community asset?” said Minneapolis Urban League President Steven Belton. He was among several others who stood outside the station’s North Minneapolis studios June 22 while speaking to reporters. They call themselves “Concerned Citizens of KMOJ.”
The group strongly questioned recent actions by the Center for Communications and Development (CCD) board, the station’s operating entity. They stated that the board is “illegal according to their own bylaws” — such as by having only five current members when a minimum of 13 board members is required. What’s more, only three board meetings have been held in the past months while a minimum of four is required each year.
The June 21 scheduled meeting did not take place and no one knows why, said the group. All CCD meetings are supposed to be open to the public, but according to Belton and others, only “closed-door meetings” have been held. Also, the CCD Community Advisory Board “has been defunct and non-operational for more than two years,” stated the group’s open letter that was distributed to the media.
Kristal Porter, an advisory board member, told the MSR, “This is our news outlet. This is our media. The community needs to know. This is a serious thing.”
“The station is at risk,” declared Belton. “We are not just out here complaining. We are here to help.” Also under scrutiny is KMOJ’s current financial situation, including an eviction notice, past-due employee payroll taxes owed, delinquent lease payments on its transmitter, and the firings in March of former station manager Kelvin Quarles and former assistant station manager Candace Breedlove.
Last week both Quarles and Breedlove spoke exclusively to the MSR in separate phone interviews. “I’d like that board to prove to me that I wasn’t doing my job,” said Quarles.
He admitted that the firing “caught me off guard. I raised revenues every year since I got here in 2004. My job was to move the organization forward, which I had done. I got a power increase for us. We have gotten beyond KMOJ and have been working on CCD.
“We got all new equipment — everything I said I would do in 2004 I have done,” Quarles continued. “Then to have an inactive board come in — when they never have been engaged or never really cared about the station, because they never did any fundraising — and make a decision about a radio station is very disturbing. That’s bad leadership,” said Quarles.
Added Breedlove, “I would like some answers, too. Before everything happened, I was told by the interim board chair Cedric Frazier and one of the other board members that I was being suspended, but to look at it as a vacation. It was a formality.”
That, she said, occurred on February 8. Nearly a month later she was fired.
“I found out from a staff member that [the board] had a meeting and told the staff members that I had been terminated without telling me,” Breedlove said. “I had to actually call the interim board chair and ask him was I terminated. He sent me an email letter” on March 17, she noted.
In addition to Frazier, the other CCD board members are John Dillon, Jessica Rogers, Eric Black and Cecelia Clemons. Our phone message to Frazier for comment was not returned by press time.
“I think Candace and Kelvin were dismissed illegally,” said Porter.
“The readers need to know what is going on,” said former CCD board member Jackie Cooper (1995-2006). She told the MSR, “Kelvin was the best one” among the eight candidates she and the board members at the time chose from when searching for a station manager.
“This isn’t about Kelvin and Candace. It’s about accountability and transparency and the community having a voice in KMOJ,” stated Belton. “It’s frightening if [board members] are meeting in private or not meeting and not [being] responsive. I sent a letter in March and another letter last week asking them to meet with us.”
“They have been hiding through this whole process,” said Quarles, “and doing it under the cloak of darkness, because they know the decision was the wrong decision. The community leadership tried to resolve this matter quietly without it going public. The interim board chair has been ducking and hiding… Either he knows he has made a mistake, or he’s just hiding because he’s scared.”
African American Leadership Forum’s Jeffery Hassan told the MSR, “We don’t have trust and confidence in [the board], who may be well intended, but who do not understand the history of our community.”
“KMOJ is the jewel of the community. We need to build on this radio station,” said Charinitta Ellis, one of the Concerned Citizens.
“Right now the board won’t engage with the community, and that’s a community radio station,” said Quarles. “The station belongs to the community, not the employees or the five board members.”
Asked if both of them want their station jobs back, Breedlove responded, “Of course.”
Quarles responded to the same question, “I would, but not under those five board members. They would have to add more board members. I never got evaluated for my job or any kind of employee evaluation. The last time I spoke with them on anything [before he was fired], they told me I was doing a great job.
“It is really insulting to me as a 31-year radio veteran… It is very disturbing to me that people who don’t know anything about the radio business are making decisions about the radio business.
“I’ve been good to my employees. It hurts me on what the staff is going through right now,” said Quarles. The MSR attempted to speak with current KMOJ employees, but none were willing to speak on the record.
“It is not a good feeling to be at a station where bad decisions were made,” said Quarles. “It’s a mess over there now. The morale is way down and the atmosphere is bad.”
“They have an obligation to meet with the community,” said Belton of the CCD board. “All of us assembled here are very concerned and are here because we don’t want to see KMOJ fail. We are just asking for some accountability.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.