By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
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By RFT Staff
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By Allison Babka
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At that point, Hilliker says, he and Wooldridge excused themselves from the studio to let Whitfield and Hacker hash things out. Hilliker says he heard a loud thump from out in the hall and upon re-entering the studio found Whitfield, who suffers from a rare neurological disorder akin to multiple sclerosis that sometimes causes him to lose his balance, lying on the floor.
"Bev was still going about her business, getting CDs to run the show," Hilliker recounts. "She didn't even care that he was laying down on the floor. I don't think she did nothin' to make him fall down, but it seemed kind of cold for her to allow him to just lay there."
Upon receiving word of his 30-day suspension, Whitfield, with Putnam's cooperation, filed a grievance (which he later withdrew) alleging that Hacker had failed to follow Double Helix personnel protocol, which states that people believed to have been under the influence of controlled substances while on the air are entitled to a written warning before suspension or dismissal.
Hacker, meanwhile, cites Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules that consider inebriation while on air to be grounds for immediate dismissal. When in doubt, Hacker maintains, the FCC rules trump Double Helix's policies.
Whitfield insists he wasn't drunk on the air on the night in question. He also believes the incident was a convenient smokescreen for a more substantive rift that began on August 18 when Whitfield, then a member of the board's personnel committee, e-mailed a request to Hacker seeking a comprehensive list of personnel data for all current paid radio staff. Included among the data sought were each employee's qualifications, performance reviews, education, prior employment history and rate of salary.
"I'm thinking, 'Okay, I'm on the board, we're privy to this sort of thing," says Whitfield, citing pages fourteen and fifteen of Double Helix's personnel manual: "An employee's permission shall be obtained in writing before releasing information from personnel files to anyone other than the employee's supervisor, the Station Manager, or representatives from the Board of Directors, including the Personnel Committee of the Board of Directors."
Hacker declined to release the records on the advice of the corporation's attorney, citing confidentiality issues. The executive director further stated that if the board wanted such information, it would have to seek it in the form of a written request that outlined its reasons for wanting to review the data and that formally designated a representative or representatives to do so on behalf of the committee or the board.
This sent Putnam, who interprets the personnel manual's use of "representatives" to mean any individual board member, off a cliff. His gripes were laid bare before the corporation's associate members at the October 26 powwow.
"I believe that radio and television each need their own manager," said Putnam, in reference to two key vacancies under Hacker, the filling of which would serve to dilute the executive director's concentration of power. "I also believe that all jobs filled, be they part-time, full-time, temporary, subcontracted, etc., should be open to people..... Currently, as a board, we have no idea of the qualifications of at least three full-time employees, the selection process that put them in those positions or their salaries. How can we, as a board, protect the rights of our Double Helix employees or shareholders if we have no right to review salaries, qualifications, etc., to make sure they are administered fairly?
"After much perusing of the corporate documents," Putnam went on, reading from a prepared text in front of a group of two dozen that had crowded into the station's back room, "I can find nowhere that states that the board has to vote to request any information from the managers. I believe doing so would be in flagrant violation of the bylaws, which give full power to the board to control and manage property, business and affairs of the corporation. Nowhere in the corporate documents is it stated that a majority of the board is required for any board member to view or access corporate documents. I believe this would weaken the board's power to oversee the business of the corporation."
Putnam then turned his attention to the Whitfield imbroglio.
"Also, I believe the personnel manual should cover volunteer staff as well as paid staff, and any grievance procedure that is in place for paid employees should be the same for volunteers," he said. "The truth of the matter is that the fear and paranoia that exists among volunteers and programmers would be greatly reduced if all had basic rights to a disciplinary procedure and a grievance procedure. The Lee Whitfield incident would never have happened."
Counters Hacker: "Lee Whitfield filed a grievance per the manual and then rescinded it, and Bob took part in the procedures. So it would seem that both Lee and Bob are quite well aware that the personnel policy grievance guidelines apply to volunteers."
After two hours of contentious debate, it was decided that the personnel committee would revise the personnel manual for review and approval by the full board at its January meeting. But what appears on its surface to be a reasonable resolution has done little to thaw the relationship between Hacker and Putnam.