Vacations at the crux

John Colson

Sopris Sun Correspondent

Steve Skinner, the general manager at KDNK, Carbondale’s community access radio station, held onto his job this week despite an attempt to oust him over his refusal to sign a set of “directives” aimed at tightening oversight of his duties by the station’s board of directors.

The decision to keep Skinner on the job came after a tense three-hour special meeting on Dec. 1 at the station, during which at least three members of the board, President Mark McLain, Treasurer Susan Darrow and member Bob Schultz (who was not at the meeting but sent in a written statement of his feelings), indicated that Skinner’s 11-year reign over the station had run its course and should be ended.

Skinner, in his own defense, stated at one point, “I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t been accused of doing anything wrong.”

Skinner’s retention came in the wake of prolonged testimonials to the improvements he has made to the station’s finances and stature, along with accusations of poor job performance and high-handed refusals to do what the board wants him to do.

Several deejays and others connected to the station, who were present at the board meeting, argued that the fight over Skinner’s job boiled down to personality conflicts and veiled agendas on the part of Skinner’s critics at the station, including several board members.

But at least one long-time volunteer, deejay and former board member, a local businessman known as Monk, rejected the idea that Skinner was being unjustly targeted by a small group of critics pursuing some kind of what he termed a “vendetta.”

“A lot of what’s happening here is … there’s a lot of people that don’t believe Steve should be here (in the job as GM),” Monk told the board. “A lot of people don’t think Steve works often enough at the station.”

Monk noted that Skinner is paid $61,000 annually, and questioned whether Skinner puts in enough actual working time to deserve that salary.

Monk also cited accusations that Skinner has intimidated deejays and others into voting in favor of certain board candidates, has at times checked over ballots in board elections to determine who voted for whom, and has solicited his own picked candidates to run for the board as ways of bending the station’s operations to his way of thinking.

“I do hear a lot,” Monk told the board, though he added that hearsay, which is the basis for some of the accusations he mentioned, is not a proper foundation for firing someone.

At the heart of the board’s deliberations about Skinner’s continued employment, however, was one central issue, according to board member Susan Darrow.

“The crux of the matter was over Steve’s vacations … the amount of time he takes off,” Darrow declared, referring to charges from various people that Skinner often would be absent from the station and unavailable to assist deejays or other employees, and would take weeks off at a time without notice.

She said that two years ago the board asked Skinner to inform the board president when he would be taking time off, and Skinner signed an agreement to that effect and followed it once.

But, Darrow continued, Skinner last year did not inform the board in advance of his vacation, a lapse that came up during Skinner’s annual review.

“I was disappointed that Steve did not follow through on what he said he would do,” Darrow recalled, adding that the board subsequently ordered Skinner to follow the “directive” that he inform the board of his pending vacations, and that is the directive Skinner refused to sign.

“Punitive directives”

Skinner, admitting he refused to sign “what I considered to be punitive directives” aimed at removing him from his job, read from a written statement, “My goal is to have a healthy and productive relationship with the board” but not to go along with efforts he said contributed to an acrimonious and divisive atmosphere at the station.

He, along with his supporters and others at the meeting, pointed out that, during his tenure, the station has achieved financial stability, has increased its listenership, and is “thriving” when compared to earlier, more difficult times in the station’s history.

“Not everyone agrees with my management style or decisions that I make,” he said, “but I am confident they are the vocal minority.”

Even members of the board agreed with much of what Skinner said of his time on the job.

Board Secretary Keith Edquist, reading from a summary of Skinner’s most recent performance review, noted that the board was generally happy with what Skinner had accomplished.

But he also indicated that board members were concerned that Skinner deliberately refused to cooperate with the board’s decisions and directives.

Schultz’s written remarks on the subject, submitted because he was out of town and could not attend the meeting, flatly stated, “It is time for a change of management at KDNK” due largely to Skinner’s alleged lack of cooperation concerning board decisions.

Board member Jay Leavitt, reading from a prepared statement of his own, said, “It has become clear to me that the board has been remiss” in failing to tightly oversee Skinner’s job performance and vacation schedule.

But, he read, he felt that a change in management “is not required” as things stand now.

What is needed, he said, is “a higher-performing board and a more communicative Steve Skinner.”

Another board member, Diane Johnson, said she feels “like an outsider” as she has been on the board only for a few months, but credited Skinner with doing “a damned good job” as general manager.

Arguing that the board should not fire Skinner at this juncture, she advised that the board look more closely into the facts of the situation, discuss things with Skinner openly, and find a way through the complex mix of hearsay and personality conflicts to a final resolution of the matters at hand.

To Steve, whom she said she has always supported, she said simply, “Just let us know when you’re going on vacation.”

Board Vice President Stacy Stein agreed, saying, “I think the directives is something that can be worked out.”

Another board member, Brian Keleher, concluded, “I think if we let Steve go, or terminate him … I don’t think that’s beneficial to anybody. I think the station will be hurt, and I think the community will be hurt.”

No axe grinding

Lamenting the current state of affairs at the station, Board President Mark McLain said he had “no personal axe to grind against Steve.”

But, McLain continued, the board was elected to closely watch the operations of the station, including direct oversight of the GM’s job performance, a function that he said has been “absolutely impossible” to achieve and which he blamed on “a weak board, and resistance from Steve.”

Given those circumstances, he called the board “just a sham. We have no power” to force Skinner to follow the board’s directives and personnel decisions.

In light of all that, he said, “I don’t know how to be president of a board that can’t get that done.”

McLain is not running for reelection to the board in the upcoming station election.

Following more than two hours of comments from the various people at the meeting, the board went behind closed doors, with Skinner present, to continue to discuss Skinner’s fate.

After half an hour of secret deliberations, the board came to the decision to leave Skinner at his post and rewrite the directives in a form Skinner indicated would be acceptable to him.

Among the changes to the directives will be a requirement that Skinner let the board know in advance about any vacations he plans that will be longer than three days.

In addition, Skinner is to inform the board regarding who will be in charge of the station in his absence.

“I think it was a pretty productive session,” Edquist said of the closed-door deliberations. “I got the sense that nobody wants to bring this to a head and get rid of this guy (Skinner).”