TELLURIDE – KOTO radio’s board of directors voted last week to hold a special election for four of its members, in response to an online petition calling for the resignation of boardmembers Ray Farnsworth and Robert Allen. Petitioners allege that the two disregarded KOTO bylaws in making decisions that led to the departure of longtime KOTO Special Events Coordinator Janice Zink.
Rather than singling out the two, former KOTO boardmember Todd Creel suggested the board hold an election for the four board seats that were up for reelection last December but were uncontested.
The motion to hold the special election passed by a 5-1 vote, putting Farnsworth, Allen, Mark Izard and Joe McClure up for reelection. Allen abstained from the vote. Boardmember Ashley Boling was not in attendance.
With Elizabeth Salem stepping down from the board, a fifth seat will soon be vacant, as well.
While the station is struggling financially, the election could cost it upwards of $3,000, according to board member Dave Johnson.
“That was the most amount of people I’ve ever seen at a KOTO board meeting,” said Izard after the meeting, adding that he appreciates the community feedback and encourages it in the future.
Dozens of past and present KOTO DJs, volunteers and staff attended the meeting, offering both support for and criticism of the board and Koebler for recent actions, which include reducing the number of fundraiser events the station holds to four: the Ride, Duck Race, Ski Swap and Lip Synch; the way public of board meetings have been noticed; and the restructuring of Zink’s job, which included a reduction in her compensation and led to her departure last week after twenty years with the radio station.
Zink’s defenders at the meeting said the decision to decrease her responsibilities and pay were designed to force her out, and would change the face of the radio station. Some questioned the board’s decisions to hold fewer fundraising events, which could, according to former KOTO music director Joan May, harm the fabric of the Telluride community. (May is currently a San Miguel County Commissioner.)
While KOTO fundraising events are the station’s primary source of revenue, the board cited the need to pivot the station’s focus from special events to news and programming.
After decades of selling beer at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which brought in $50,000 in its last year, KOTO lost the booth in 2012, the same year it hosted the first annual Ride Festival. The loss of beer-booth revenue dealt a major blow to the station’s finances.
Former KOTO Manager and Executive Director Steve Kennedy said the station, which does not accept underwriting, has no choice but to hold as many fundraising opportunities as possible to survive.
“I want to dispel a myth that special events are risky, and that they need to be limited,” he said, “Right now, with the board’s policy of not being underwritten, the board does not have any choice but to do special events.”
Lena Anderson supported the board’s decision to limit the fundraisers.
“I know that Janice has done a fabulous job for KOTO and I give her a hand for that,” she said, “but times change and money’s tight, so boards need to make decisions that not everyone likes.”
John Wontrobski agreed.
“KOTO needs to get its financial house in order,” he said, “and I think this board is addressing that.”
Peter Chapman, however, disagreed with the board’s decision to hold fewer fundraising events, saying, “special events are the only membership drives for this station,” and that the station must not become underwritten.
“I want to see KOTO be more fiscally responsible,” said Jim Dolan, former assistant manager. “KOTO was broke when I moved to town. It’s had spurts and gasps, but then it goes back to broke. All the fundraising events do not work. Nobody else goes that route. We like to compare ourselves to other radio stations like Pacifica, but that’s comparing apples and oranges.”
Dolan criticized Zink for receiving commissions on her fundraising efforts in the past.
“I don’t know of anyone that gets a commission that works at a nonprofit radio station, which is what Janice got for a long time,” he said. “Is it good to skim off the top of pledges for a nonprofit?”
“There has not been adequate communication in the past few years,” said Jerry Greene, a co-founder of KOTO. “That is what has not happened.
“Elections are never too expensive. Democracy is never too expensive.”