KPCC-FM Staff Criticize the Handling of Accounting Error : Radio: Layoffs and program cuts make employees bear the brunt of the $100,000 loss, they say.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the wake of layoffs and program cuts at KPCC-FM (89.3) stemming from a $100,000 "accounting error," employees at the public-radio station are upset about bearing the brunt of the financial crisis and have accused management of glossing over its responsibility to the public.

About 10 station employees--some of them on-air personalities such as Ian Whitcomb and Zoe Walrond--have had their hours reduced, and three others were laid off (but are continuing to work as volunteers).

"I'm actually fuming with anger over this," said an employee who requested anonymity. "It seems that the innocents who are providing the programs are getting punished for something done by bureaucrats."

Several station insiders said they feel Pasadena City College, to which the station is licensed, has not sufficiently investigated who is responsible for the error.

"We feel that the college is sweeping this under the rug," said a KPCC volunteer who also requested anonymity. "We have no sense that there is any kind of disciplinary action pending for the people who have responsibility for the accounting. I think it's unfair to ask the listeners and the staff to account for management's mistake."

Pasadena City College President Jack Scott and KPCC General Manager Rod Foster said they did not know how the bookkeeping error occurred and refused to say whose responsibility it was and whether any disciplinary action was taken, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters.

In a telephone interview, Scott initially told The Times that he was unaware of the error and denied that any staff members had been laid off, then clarified that no full-time staff had been cut. (The station has only five full-time positions, all management.) He disputed the suggestion from some KPCC staffers that no investigation had been conducted.

"Any time there's a mistake at the college we look into it," Scott said. "We did look into it and found they did not have as good an internal accounting as they should have. We took steps to correct it. We simply said to them, 'You pay that back.' "

Foster maintained that the accounting mistake was being blown out of proportion. He said an equally significant cause of KPCC's belt-tightening was a drop in contributions.

"You're focusing too much on the accounting error as the source of our financial problems," Foster said. "It's not extraordinary at all to have some stuff just not get counted on the expenditure side, especially on informal books. The long and the short of it is, yes, there was an error and it did affect our budget, but also our fund-raising was down. We also had a lot of expenditures as a result of moving to our new building."

He said that the station operates by borrowing from the college against projected income and then, after fund-raising efforts, pays the college back.

"It's impossible to account for exactly what happened," said Foster, who explained that the budget covered 5 spreadsheet pages and more than 300 line items. "Not every transaction got tracked in the informal books. Some paperwork probably got lost in the move."

But station insiders are upset that no one seems to be accountable for the mistake and question how the public will respond during the next fund-raising drive in November.

"I can't believe they would go to the listeners and say, 'Gee, we lost money. Now we want you to give us some more,' " one of the employees said. "You're either dealing with listener money or some kind of public money: That's all we have. And you have responsibility in either case to keep track of it. Let's face it, anybody who lost track of that kind of money in a private business would be on the street yesterday."

Station officials have said that their decision to cut back personnel, though regrettable, was preferable to cutting out popular and expensive signature National Public Radio programs such as "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition."

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