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Star Crossed

Last week's mini-scandal at the Tucson Citizen, in which veteran sports writer Jack Rickard was forced out after lifting quotes from the Arizona Daily Star, was only a mild zap of excitement compared to the jolting changes down the hall at the Star.

At least plagiarism wasn't an issue as the Star shuffled some important employees around; this was pure bureaucratic maneuvering. In order to allow Bobbie Jo Buel to focus full-time on her job as executive editor (basically running the operation while editor and publisher Jane Amari travels around Gannettizing other Pulitzer properties), Teri Hayt, assistant managing editor for photo and design, was promoted to managing editor. Photo editor Victor Vaughan was promoted to Hayt's former position.

Meanwhile, a curious game of musical chairs was proposed. Business editor Jill Jorden Spitz, an able manager and obliging lieutenant, was promoted to assistant managing editor overseeing the news and business sections. That meant pushing out the man in that position, Dennis Joyce, who was made editorial page editor. And that meant bumping Jim Kiser, whose background is in business publications and who was to be transferred to Jorden Spitz's old job as business editor. But Kiser wouldn't play this game and negotiated a different deal: After taking a summer break, he'll return in the fall as an editorial-page columnist.

Although the editorial page editor is usually a top contender for the head-honcho position when it becomes available, the Star often uses its editorial page department as a holding tank for employees who need to be neutralized but are too senior to be dumped onto the copy desk.

So this looks like a demotion for Joyce and an effort to clear the way for Buel to become publisher when Amari retires in five to eight years, or gets called away to Pulitzer HQ. But by the time that happens, Joyce may well have repositioned himself to contend with Buel for succession to Amari's throne.

Unless this is some bizarre, unlikely scheme to eliminate men from positions of newsroom authority.


Democracy Now!

Last week, community radio station KXCI's board of directors agreed to hold a bylaw referendum in which station members (basically, individual financial donors) may decide that the board should be dominated by democratically elected members rather than appointees.

This follows a year and a half of acrimony, legal maneuvering and strident rhetoric on both sides of the issues. The dissident group, called the Democracy Initiative, has at last gotten the board to put its demands up for a vote. But even that development arrived amid controversy.

Here's some background.

In the fall of 2002, then-general manager Tony Ford instituted unpopular new policies regarding volunteers--the people who keep the station on the air--and abruptly yanked some long-running programs off the schedule. The board supported Ford, and a group of members began demanding board reform--of the 20 people then sitting on the board, only six were elected by KXCI members. The rest were appointees of the board itself. (The current balance is six elected, seven appointed.)

Although it's common for a nonprofit board to recruit and elect its own members, KXCI dissidents maintain that because the station was organized as a grassroots community project, and is largely but not entirely staffed and funded by individual volunteers, the station should be governed by a more democratically elected entity.

Ultimately, the Democracy Initiative circulated a petition among KXCI members demanding that its reforms be incorporated into amended bylaws and put up for a member vote.

Meanwhile, the board's bylaws committee is crafting its own proposals, which will be presented at the June 17 board meeting. The station's current general manager, Larry Bruce, points out that of the Democracy Initiative's three major proposals, the board has already passed the one on the volunteer grievance procedure, and it has agreed to but is rewriting the one regarding volunteer representation on the board. The crucial third point, providing for a majority of elected rather than appointed members on the board, is the main issue to resolve in the election.

But even the announcement of the board's intention to hold an election has kicked up the usual amount of dust.

In a letter sent last week to KXCI members, Bruce stated that the election would be scheduled even though the Democracy Initiative's petitions had failed to meet the verification standards of the board's chosen third-party market research firm, FMR Associates. Of the names on the petition, 332 were determined to be current KXCI members; 226 had phone numbers listed in the KXCI database, and of those, FMR managed to contact 96, asking if the person actually signed the petition, had read the language of the proposed bylaws amendment and supported the special election.

FMR's results: 80 percent of the interviewees agreed that they had signed the petition; only 44 percent said they supported the special election. Extrapolating from that sample, FMR and the board concluded that the petition fell seven signatures short of the 273 needed to trigger an election. Bruce announced that the board would nevertheless go ahead with the election within 60 days "in a good faith effort to address (petitioners') concerns."

Scott Egan, one of the Democracy Initiative's leaders, disputes some of the math in the results, and objects to adding board proposals to the ballot.

"We got out and got the signatures; we did the mailings; we paid for things out of our pockets, so the election should be our ballot, a ballot of the Democracy Initiative," Egan says. "The only reason they're putting on alternative bylaw changes is to confuse the voters. It's another attempt by them to undermine what we're doing."

Ballots will probably be mailed to members in early July, but details of the balloting and verification process are likely to be contentious. Stay tuned.

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