A dissident group of member-donors of JAZZ.FM91 triumphed in a tight proxy battle Friday afternoon – capping months of turmoil that began with allegations of workplace misconduct – by tossing out the board of directors of the not-for-profit Toronto radio station and replacing it with their own slate.
In a four-hour meeting of member-donors, a group known as Save JAZZ.FM91 defeated the former board by a vote of 449-440, which included the casting of about 800 proxies. A follow-up motion confirmed the group’s slate of 11 directors by a vote of 446-435.
The meeting followed a short, nasty campaign between the two sides that included an 11th-hour retraction from the board, under threat of libel action, over e-mails sent out by the station to its members that questioned the motives of the dissident group.
Save JAZZ.FM91 was founded by industrial-relations professional Brian Hemming last July, shortly after allegations of workplace misconduct spilled into public view, and the station let go a number of popular on-air hosts.
Chief executive Ross Porter stepped down following an investigation into those allegations, saying he was doing so to spend more time with his ailing wife and son.
But Mr. Porter’s continued presence – he hosts a show on Saturday mornings, and was granted the title of president emeritus when he left – troubled many donors, who noisily criticized the board at the station’s annual general meeting last August.
And a number of employees continued to say the station’s workplace culture was toxic, aided by a board that had adopted what former on-air host Ralph Benmergui called “a siege posture.”
During the meeting on Friday, held at the Toronto Reference Library, the former on-air hosts Walter Venafro, Heather Bambrick and Dani Elwell stood at the microphone together and accused the chair of the board, David McGown, of a lack of transparency, noting that the results of the workplace investigation were not shared with those who had made the complaints.
Other donor-members criticized the board for not being forthcoming with information, such as the financial state of the community station.
After the vote, Mr. Hemming said he was looking forward to repairing the ill will that had erupted over the past year. “I feel excited about the possibilities. I feel grateful for all the people who got behind us. It’s time to get back to the real business of making the station successful, and I think we’re a good team to do that.”
He added that he hoped to be able to provide more information about the workplace investigation to those who made complaints. “If it’s possible to give them more answers, I think they have a right to see those,” he said. "To the extent that people whose lives were disrupted deserve answers, we’d like to find a way to give some closure.”
Mr. McGown struck a magnanimous tone. “I certainly wish Mr. Hemming and his new board all possible success. JAZZ.FM is an extraordinary cultural icon and I wish him every good luck.”
In a brief phone call following the meeting, Mr. Porter told The Globe and Mail: “They threw the baby out with the bathwater.”