A major donor to Toronto’s JAZZ.FM91 sent a pair of explosive letters to the embattled radio station over the past week, charging that it failed to safeguard its employees’ welfare and to fulfill its legal obligations to keep members of the not-for-profit apprised of its activities, and calling for a wholesale dissolution of the board.
Marie Slaight accused the board in a letter sent on Aug. 17 of mishandling allegations made in March by a group of 13 current and former employees relating to the alleged conduct of the station’s former CEO and president, Ross Porter.
Ms. Slaight is a writer, producer, and philanthropist whose donation to the station last year resulted in its broadcast studio being named in honour of her father, the broadcasting legend Allan Slaight.
Story continues below advertisement
The group of employees had sent a letter to the board in March alleging “ongoing workplace harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, and general mismanagement of the station” by Mr. Porter. After a third-party workplace investigation, Mr. Porter stepped down from his position in May and was given the title of president emeritus. He continues to host a Saturday morning radio show for the station, which he records at a studio in his home northwest of Toronto. In a statement to The Globe and Mail at the time, he denied that the changes were prompted by the investigation.
In her Aug. 17 letter, Ms. Slaight wrote that the station’s response to the upheaval has created a “crisis” that includes a “serious reduction in donations and advertising revenue as well as the lack of on-air programmers and experienced staff as a result of the mass firings and violations that have occurred.”
Two weeks after Mr. Porter stepped down, the station laid off seven staff, including four on-air hosts, among them Jaymz Bee, a 16-year veteran who was a well-liked mainstay of the charity’s fundraising efforts, the new morning host Mark Wigmore, and the weekend hosts Walter Venafro and David Basskin.
In a statement to The Globe at the time, the interim president, Charles Cutts, blamed the vexing media landscape for the layoffs. He also suggested to supporters in a letter that the cost of the investigation had left the station scrambling to make its budget. That outraged donors, who told The Globe they would never have contributed to a fundraising drive, which had just wrapped up, if the station had disclosed its plans to cut staff.
The president of Toronto audio-visual store Bay Bloor Radio later told The Globe that he was suspending advertising on the station because of his discomfort with what he had heard.
In her letter of Aug. 17, Ms. Slaight wrote that “there was no transparency, as mandated by a charity’s code of accountability,” regarding the station’s response to the workplace investigation into Mr. Porter’s behaviour. She called for the full workplace investigation report to be made public.
She added that the firing of employees, including some who had complained about Mr. Porter’s alleged behaviour, “seems a deliberate attempt to both punish those who spoke out and to confuse the issues regarding the allegations against Porter. Firing workers because they have acted in compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act is in violation of [the Act].”
Story continues below advertisement
On Thursday evening, David McGown, who assumed the position of chair of the board in June, disputed Ms. Slaight’s allegation. “The reduction in staff is absolutely a function of management of the station trying to deal with bringing into a more sustainable balance the expenses of the station and our ability to raise funds. There was quite frankly no tie between who may have signed the letter and the employment decisions that management made subsequently.”
He added that the board would not be releasing the report, because of pledges of confidentiality made to the complainants and others who had participated in the investigation.
In her Aug. 17 letter, Ms. Slaight also charged that the station had consistently rebuffed requests from members such as herself to provide “full disclosure of corporate records, copies of the By-Laws and minutes to meetings.” On Monday, after the station sent an e-mail to members informing them that its annual general meeting would take place Aug. 31, she blasted the board with another letter noting that scheduling the meeting on the Friday prior to the Labour Day weekend “is clearly a tactic to thwart the attendance of eligible voting members and influence the outcome of the Board’s agenda.”
She also pledged that members would be putting up an independent slate of directors for the board “including a nomination for myself and others who have extensive human resource, financial, legal, community outreach and broadcasting experience.”
Five of the 10 seats on the board will be open to nominations at the annual general meeting. The board has already put forth nominations for all five positions, including three directors coming to the end of their three-year terms who will be running again. Two other seats are open because of resignations.