A former top leader with Channel 18/ValleyPBS is urging community action to save the troubled Fresno-based public television station.
In a commentary published Wednesday in the Visalia Times Delta, longtime station executive Phyllis Brotherton expressed her “grave concern” over turmoil within the nonprofit that runs the station.
“I have observed from afar the dizzying exit of talented and experienced staff, including the CEO and CFO, fundraisers, producers, cameramen, engineers, marketers, education and children’s services providers, and other support staff, out the door, either fired or left of their own volition, because ‘they just couldn’t take it anymore,’ ” Brotherton wrote.
Brotherton served ValleyPBS as its chief financial officer/vice president and interim CEO for 19 years before retiring in early 2019.
Rios is Latest CEO to Depart
The latest upheaval at the station came last week when CEO Lorenzo Rios abruptly left the top position after 16 months.
Rios, then vice chair of the station’s board member, replaced former Fresno TV personality Jenny Toste following her termination in June 2019 after seven months in the position. She in turn had replaced Phil Meyer, who abruptly resigned in November 2017.
During Rios’ tenure, he ordered the firing of several staffers at the station, attributing the cuts to revenue losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The station has weathered many storms over many years, over four and a half decades actually, and made it through, not only surviving but thriving,” wrote Brotherton. “However, one now must ask, how many storms can a nonprofit organization weather, before it just can’t manage to rise again?”
Community Must ‘Ask the Hard Questions’
She said the community must hold the station’s current leaders accountable to “ensure the future of this local treasure.” Brotherton urged business leaders, donors, nonprofit colleagues and others to attend meetings of the station’s board of director and “ask the hard questions.”
“Insist upon rigorous due diligence and transparency in the search and recruitment process for the next station CEO,” she wrote.
ValleyPBS, with headquarters in downtown Fresno, serves a large swath of the San Joaquin Valley stretching from Merced to Bakersfield.
Tax filing over a three-year period show that the station posted an operations loss of nearly $400,000 in 2014, a loss of more than $230,000 in 2015, and a loss of about $200,000 in 2016.
In 2017, the station reported that revenue exceeded expenses by more than $1 million, but by the following year the station again reported a loss of more than $400,000.