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Fund drive bolsters WMNF-FM, but frustration over rescinded layoffs linger

The past few days have brought some good news to community radio station WMNF-FM (88.5), which has seen its devoted listenership respond strongly during a summertime fund drive aimed at raising $116,000 by this afternoon.

The fundraising effort had collected $82,000 in pledges by Thursday afternoon, a strong step toward closing a budget deficit that nearly forced the first layoffs in the station's history.

But behind the scenes, some of the Tampa station's administration, staff, board and volunteers still are struggling to understand a crisis that saw the layoffs declared and rescinded last month, threatening to shred the organization's legendary communal methods.

The surprise announcement of job cuts unearthed simmering resentments against station manager Jim Bennett, who some critics blamed for moving too quickly and employing a corporate management style that limited outside input. Others faulted the station's board for not being more open about the process and asking tougher questions. And despite a station meeting July 6 aimed at talking through some of the unrest, some longtime volunteers and staffers remain troubled.

"I'd say there's more frustration with the board for not stepping up to own a decision that was badly timed and badly mismanaged, to say the least," said WMNF program director Randy Wynne, a 25-year veteran. He gave Bennett credit for admitting problems with communication and moving too quickly, while questioning why three high-profile staffers were chosen for layoff weeks before an important fundraising drive.

The station's finance committee recommended quick job cuts when WMNF's last on-air pledge drive fell $70,000 short and live events such as Tropical Heatwave brought in half the revenue of past years, Bennett said.

The layoffs, which included 31-year veteran Linda Reisinger, 10-year music director Lee "DJ Flee" Courtney and receptionist Julie Scheid, were canceled about a week after they were announced when the station received an unexpected bequest from the 401(k) of a longtime WMNF fan who died in December. Ultimately, the station expects between $70,000 to $100,000 from the bequest, depending on taxes, Bennett said.

WMNF is developing a policy for implementing layoffs that would include feedback from its personnel committee, as well as considering a different health care plan and across-the-board salary cuts to save money, he said.

Wynne sympathized a bit with Bennett, who joined WMNF in January 2009. "We don't have a lot of success stories of managers coming from outside," he said. "WMNF is normally very slow about change, we have meeting and meetings, consensus and argument. … But I saw these (quicker) changes weren't really thought out."

The timing of the bequest was dramatically close; Wynne called it a "Hollywood" moment that came as resistance to the layoffs "was going to break the station right open." WMNF officials said the money given by former Honeywell engineer Rob Meyer, killed in a Dec. 12 motorcycle crash at age 59, came unexpectedly after the station already had received about $15,000 from his estate.

Bennett expects more feedback in August, when the board collects reviews of his performance while considering renewal of his contract. "I don't feel my job is on the line," he said. "The board did indicate they backed me in this tough decision. But if I feel I'm in a position where I can't fix the problems at WMNF, I wouldn't stick around."

Fund drive bolsters WMNF-FM, but frustration over rescinded layoffs linger 07/15/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 15, 2010 10:52pm]
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