Take a step back

What started as a dispute over the relationship between the Jefferson Public Radio Foundation and the Oregon University System appears to have escalated into a full-blown power struggle that could threaten the future of public radio from Mendocino to Eugene. Both sides in this confrontation should step back from the brink, take deep breaths and figure out a way to avoid destroying what has been built over the past 40 years.

An audit of the JPR Foundation by the office of the Chancellor of Higher Education raised questions about the financial details of the foundation's plans to renovate the Holly Theatre and move its studios to Medford. The audit also questioned the role of Ron Kramer, who was serving as executive director of the independent, nonprofit foundation and of Jefferson Public Radio, a department of Southern Oregon University, suggesting the dual roles were a conflict of interest. And the document raised concerns that the foundation's fundraising efforts could compete with those of the SOU Foundation.

Mediation sessions this month yielded an agreement that apparently calls for the JPR Foundation to relinquish all broadcast licenses, equipment and other assets to a new nonprofit entity. The foundation board is scheduled to vote on the agreement in a meeting Friday, but sources say the board members may resign en masse because they were threatened with personal lawsuits if they did not agree to the terms set out by the Oregon University System.

Meanwhile, an attorney consulted by the foundation has warned that the Federal Communications Commission could revoke the broadcast licenses if the foundation relinquishes them without a formal FCC approval process.

Hanging in the balance are plans to restore Medford's historic Holly Theatre — work that already has begun — and relocate the radio stations' studios to Medford. The JPR Foundation has a track record of successfully restoring and operating the Cascade Theatre in Redding, providing a revenue stream that makes JPR less dependent on government funding for its operating expenses.

Precise details of the tentative settlement agreement are unknown because neither side will discuss them. But if there is any possibility that the deal could threaten the future of public radio in Southern Oregon and Northern California, both sides need to stand down.

There is no reason why a final decision must be reached this week or this month, for that matter.

Foundation board members should agree to keep serving, and the Oregon University System should remove any threat of personal lawsuits against them. Then the two sides should return to mediation — without lawyers — and work toward a solution that protects the interests of SOU, JPR and, most important of all, public radio listeners from Mendocino to Eugene.

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