A Superior Court of Ontario judge chastised JAZZ.FM91 on Friday morning, saying the not-for-profit Toronto radio station had been “playing games” to prevent a dissident shareholder group from lobbying members for changes in the organization’s board of directors.
Justice Sean Dunphy directed the station to provide the e-mail addresses of its approximately 2,200 member-donors to Brian Hemming, a Toronto-investment relations consultant and founder of Save Jazz FM. The group was founded in the summer after an eruption of discontent among supporters.
The station had provided Mr. Hemming with names and addresses of members, but refused to include e-mail addresses or phone numbers, citing privacy concerns. Mr. Hemming argued that the move disadvantaged his group in its dispute, noting the station’s board frequently lobbies its members through e-mails.
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Justice Dunphy said the station’s defiant stand “was clearly adopted to frustrate the applicants and not – as suggested – out of concern to maintain privacy.” Still, he denied Mr. Hemming’s request for phone numbers, characterizing that method of contact as intrusive.
“This has degenerated into an acrimonious fight,” he wrote in his decision. “It needn’t be so adversarial.”
A statement e-mailed to The Globe by Reagan Ruslim, who joined the board last month, said “JAZZ.FM91 will respect the order of the Court.” When asked for comment about the judge’s criticisms, he replied the station would “have a further statement next week. Stay tuned!”
During an interview outside the small courtroom, which had been packed with supporters, Mr. Hemming said he and his group were “very pleased with the decision. This really just levels the playing field and gives us an opportunity to talk to members about what our proposals are – and that’s all we ever wanted.”
In a statement issued later, Mr. Hemming said his group intended to use the e-mail addresses to press for a special meeting of members. “The purpose of the meeting would be to vote out the incumbent board and then vote in a new board of directors proposed by Save JAZZ.FM91.”
JAZZ.FM91 has been in turmoil since the spring, when its president and CEO, Ross Porter, departed in the wake of an investigation into allegations of workplace bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment. (In a statement to the Globe at the time, Mr. Porter denied his departure was connected to the investigation. When he stepped down, he was given the title of president emeritus and he retained his position as host of his own Saturday morning radio program.)
As news of the allegations began to surface, members complained about what they said was a lack of transparency. Their discontent escalated after the station laid off a number of popular on-air personalities in June, leaving many time slots without a host. At the annual general meeting in late August, dozens of members turned out to voice anger and disappointment with the station’s board and management.
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The disarray appears to be affecting the station’s financial picture: The most recent fundraising drive, held last month, raised only $186,000 of its $350,000 goal.
The fight over e-mail addresses will cost the station approximately $50,000, after the judge ordered it to pay $20,000 of Mr. Hemming’s estimated $50,000 costs in addition to its own $30,000 of incurred costs. Though Justice Dunphy said he was loath to penalize a not-for-profit, he believed the station had acted improperly by “tossing roadblocks in the way of democracy,” and “it would be sending the wrong message” to not charge it some share of Mr. Hemming’s costs.
One former director indicated on Friday that he would be pleased to return as part of a proposed overhaul. Joseph Manzoli told the Globe he left the board last winter, after serving three years, “because of the lack of good governance and transparency. I’m coming back because change is in sight, and if I can assist in bringing that positive change, I’m in with both feet.”