JPR Foundation decides to mediate with SOU over leadership issue

The Jefferson Public Radio Foundation voted Thursday night to enter into mediation with Southern Oregon University over whether Ron Kramer should remain executive director of both the foundation and JPR and what the future connection should be between the two organizations.

Steve Nelson, foundation board president, said the board held a two-hour executive session discussion following a presentation by SOU President Mary Cullinan.

Cullinan suggested the mediation before issuing a strongly worded warning that the university would take immediate legal action if the board passed some of its resolutions.

"I believe that, if you pass these resolutions and SOU is required to take protective legal action, this situation will quickly move past the point where we can reach an amiable, amicable resolution," Cullinan said.

Nelson, Kramer and SOU spokesman Jim Beaver on Friday declined to release to the Mail Tribune the meeting agenda packet which outlined the resolutions in question.

Nelson said the foundation board agreed to table its resolutions and engage in mediation in hopes that it and JPR will remain under the same leadership.

"We took them all off the table, pending the results of mediation," Nelson said. "We felt it was only fair."

Cullinan suggested the parties bring in "a professional, third-party mediator to help SOU and JPRF resolve the issues that remain" between them and said the discussions could include Kramer.

"As a gesture of good faith, and in the interest of coming to a successful resolution, Ron could participate fully and completely in the mediation process," she said.

Nelson said Kramer, along with the foundation's development director, Paul Westhelle, will represent the foundation in the negotiations as they have the best understanding of the matters at hand.

"We have been in too long of a relationship to have it fractured for lack of information," Nelson said.

The two sides hope to resolve issues raised in a recent audit before a contract between SOU and JPR comes up for renewal again in June.

The Oregon University System audit questioned whether it was appropriate for Kramer to lead both JPR and its fundraising arm, citing a potential conflict of interest. It also deemed the financial risk to SOU as "high" should the issues not be resolved.

The audit concluded the foundation's debt radio was twice as high as recommended, and said the foundation's need for $7 million in cash to fund the Holly Theatre restoration in Medford and move JPR's studios to Medford could put a strain on SOU's fundraising efforts for its own projects.

Kramer and Nelson, a retail financial adviser, stated their commitment to continuing the Medford projects, and dismissed the audit's findings with regard to the financial risks.

The audit's formula focuses on debt and doesn't recognize the projects' income potential, Nelson said.

Kramer has said being executive director of the foundation is part of his job description and that separating the two positions would increase costs and could threaten the assets of the foundation. Kramer's current salary is $94,728, about $12,500 of which comes from the foundation, according to the foundation's tax filings.

Beaver said neither SOU nor the audit place blame on Kramer for directing both organizations. But the audit says there is a conflict of interest that needs to be remedied, he said.

Nelson has been the foundation president since its inception. He praised Kramer's leadership and his knowledge. Nelson said the board did not vote on whether to retain Kramer in the position of executive director Thursday night.

Nelson stressed the need for a fundraising organization to support and protect the JPR operation.

"The foundation and radio are tied together," Nelson said. "We are not sure there is a full appreciation of what would happen if the radio and the foundation are separated."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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