Community radio station KHSU and Humboldt State University are at odds after the sudden firing of program and operations director Katie Whiteside on May 15.
In spite of push back from volunteers, staff and listeners and a vote of no confidence from KHSU’s Community Advisory Board (CAB), general manager of KHSU radio station, Peter Fretwell, remains in his position after suddenly firing Whiteside.
Due to the personal nature of the issue, Fretwell and HSU administration said they could not reveal reasons for termination.
Concerned patrons wrote to the advisory board in “unprecedented levels” expressing their concern. In response the CAB took a vote of no confidence against Fretwell after their June 27 public meeting, but with no results.
According to the Mad River Union, this meeting presented complaints of a hostile work environment due to Fretwell’s behavior.
“The members of the KHSU community who have voiced their opinion, through the conduit of the KHSU CAB, formally submits their vote of no confidence in Peter Fretwell as General Manager of KHSU, and respectfully requests his termination,” the letter said.
HSU President Lisa Rossbacher responded to the advisory board’s letter and offered no action or solution. Rossbacher said in the letter that “we must ensure that all personnel matters, including those affecting both staff and leadership, are handled with respect and confidentiality.”
According to Mad River Union and a letter sent to HSU President Rossbacher, soona fter Whiteside’s firing, KHSU office manager Lorna Bryant alleged abusive and traumatizing behavior from University Advancement Vice President Craig Wruck, Fretwell’s supervisor.
In an email to HSU President Lisa Rossbacher, that Bryant also sent to the Mad River Union, Bryant said she finally felt comfortable addressing the situation a week later after processing the situation.
“On July 11, 2018 during a weekly KHSU staff meeting, I was subjected to abusive behavior from Craig Wruck, HSU University Advancement vice president…” she said in the email. “I was yelled at; I felt disrespected; and there were consistent attempts to keep me from speaking.”
Bryant also said the majority of the staff was present and no one stepped in on her behalf, including Fretwell.
The KHSU advisory board met July 25 with both Wruck and Bryant in attendance. The meeting focused on a number of issues including a draft of suggested changes to KHSU’s mission statement and values from Wruck, the altercation between Wruck and Bryant and Fretwell’s position.
Following Whiteside’s firing, at least one sponsor made a choice to pull their funding until Fretwell was removed. Others, such as Wildberries Marketplace owner Phil Ricord, said at the July meeting that he would not pull his funding of the station but urged the university to find a middle ground.
Fretwell was absent from the meeting per Wruck’s request. Community in attendance rose concerns with the draft, Fretwell and Whiteside at great lengths, causing the meeting to be extended an extra hour.
“The problem that I see…is that the person that leads (KHSU) isn’t being effective or successful,” Ricord said to Wruck at the July meeting. “And I think that you and the university has a responsibility to address that.”
Ricord said he met with Rossbacher per his request and after asking her “tough questions” that he believes both she and the university are aware of “what they’ve gotten themselves into.”
Volunteers, staff and listeners in attendance also expressed disagreement with the introduction of a draft to change the mission statement and values without first consulting the community.
Wruck continuously assured the draft was just an attempt to get ideas going and not an attempt to undermine the community.
Finally, after over two hours of questioning from the majority of the audience on several issues, Wruck confirmed Fretwell was not being asked to step down.
“At this point Peter is meeting my expectations and his job is not in jeopardy,” Wruck said.
The KHSU advisory board will meet again on Aug. 29.