Don't stop now

The release of an Oregon University System audit critical of Jefferson Public Radio and its nonprofit foundation, followed closely by the dismissal of longtime JPR Executive Director Ron Kramer, have dropped a bomb in the midst of Kramer's plans to renovate an historic theater and create new studios in downtown Medford.

Regardless of the audit's conclusions — its recommendations are at least in part justified — what appears to be a dispute between Southern Oregon University and Kramer should not be allowed to torpedo projects that have barely begun but hold great promise for Medford and the region as a whole.

Kramer has been executive director of JPR since 1974 and of the JPR Foundation since it was created in 1997. In that 38 years, Southern Oregon's public radio presence has grown to cover a 60,000-square-mile listening area, broadcasting news, music and other programming over the largest network of translators in public radio, reaching listeners from Mendocino, Calif., to Eugene and Lakeview to the Oregon Coast.

The JPR Foundation, operating as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, launched Jeffnet, an Internet service provider, and restored and reopened the Cascade Theatre in Redding, Calif., as a performing arts center. Last year, the foundation acquired the historic Holly Theatre building in Medford and has begun restoration. The plan is to turn it, too, into a performing arts theater.

Meanwhile, the foundation has accepted the donation of a warehouse building it plans to remodel as the new JPR studios and a museum showcasing the history of radio in the West.

An audit of JPR and the JPR Foundation, conducted by the Oregon University System Chancellor's Office, raised questions about the lack of separation between the two entities, and specifically about Kramer's positions as head of both organizations. The audit also expressed concern about the financial obligations of the foundation and whether those expose SOU to unreasonable liability, and suggested that the foundation's fundraising efforts could compete with SOU's own.

SOU President Mary Cullinan abruptly solved the problem of Kramer's dual role by dismissing him as JPR director. That leaves the auditor's recommendation that the finances of the radio station and the foundation be clearly separated.

If that needs to happen to make SOU and Oregon University System administrators more comfortable, so be it. But that process should not be allowed to jeopardize the Holly restoration or the studio relocation.

It is far from clear that either project threatens SOU's fundraising efforts. Kramer has said a sizable amount of grant funding to restore historic theaters is available from sources outside the area — money SOU would not be eligible for.

Despite concerns voiced in the audit over debts incurred by the foundation, the only debt listed is $340,000 to purchase a building on Front Street that will be part of the studio complex. The $7 million needed for both projects will be raised, not borrowed, and the Holly project will generate revenue as well.

SOU and the university system would do well to remember the support Medford and its officials showed for the new Higher Education Center. Pulling the plug on the Medford projects would be a poor way to repay that support.

The Holly and JPR studio projects, combined with The Commons, the private restoration of the Sparta Building and the potential completion of the long-delayed Evergreen complex, offer tremendous potential for downtown Medford. It would be a shame to see two key elements of a resurgent downtown fall victim to a power struggle.

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