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MailTribune.com
  • Kitzhaber steps in to calm JPR storm

    Governor joins legislators Bates, Buckley in call for a cease-fire in SOU-JPR Foundation dispute
  • Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber on Thursday stepped squarely into the middle of the ongoing dispute between Southern Oregon University and the Jefferson Public Radio Foundation, calling for a two-month cooling-off period and asking the parties to return to mediation.
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    • JPR Foundation meeting
      When: 3:30 p.m. today
      Where: Medford's University Club, 218 W. Sixth St., adjacent to the Holly Theatre
      Why: To discuss SOU-JPR Foundation dispute. A portion of that meeting will be open for ...
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      JPR Foundation meeting
      When: 3:30 p.m. today

      Where: Medford's University Club, 218 W. Sixth St., adjacent to the Holly Theatre

      Why: To discuss SOU-JPR Foundation dispute. A portion of that meeting will be open for public comments
  • Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber on Thursday stepped squarely into the middle of the ongoing dispute between Southern Oregon University and the Jefferson Public Radio Foundation, calling for a two-month cooling-off period and asking the parties to return to mediation.
    The university and the public radio stations' fundraising foundation have been at odds for months, following the release of a state audit that said the JPR Foundation may have taken on too much financial liability with several projects unrelated to the public radio stations. Those projects included restoration of the Holly Theatre and construction of a new JPR headquarters, both in downtown Medford.
    Ben Cannon, education policy adviser for Kitzhaber, said by phone Thursday evening that the governor agrees with calls to tone down the debate. He said the governor took some of his cues from statements made by two Southern Oregon legislators Thursday.
    "We believe there is a path toward a settlement that everyone can live with," Cannon said.
    Cannon said Kitzhaber, who has discussed the situation with George Pernsteiner, the state chancellor of higher education, will appoint "a neutral mediator" to handle any future sessions. The existing contract between SOU and the JPR Foundation will stay intact during the new negotiations, Cannon said.
    He also said the threat of lawsuits against individual foundation board members will be dropped.
    "We realize that's a real cause for alarm for some or maybe all of the board members," Cannon said. "We are prepared not to go that route."
    Foundation board members were preparing for a meeting today in which they would consider a proposed settlement that sources told the Mail Tribune would replace the existing foundation with a new organization. Sources said some members of the board were prepared to resign rather than sign the agreement under threat of personal lawsuits.
    Steve Nelson, chairman of the JPR Foundation, said Thursday evening that while there were still questions about the details, he was happy to hear of the governor's offer and would urge board members to go along with the recommendation.
    "I would work very hard," Nelson said, "to get members of our board of directors to agree to the terms set forth by the governor, simply because their personal liability has been extinguished."
    The governor's action followed on the heels of a Thursday press conference by state Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, and Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, in which they called for the cooling-off period and said SOU's lawyers should drop the threatened lawsuits.
    "It does not need to be a process that divides," Buckley said at the news conference held in front of the Holly Theatre.
    The two legislators said they would also like to see a confidentiality clause lifted from the proposed agreement between the university and JPR. Cannon said Kitzhaber agreed with the legislators both on the cooling-off period and that the agreement should be made public.
    Buckley urged both parties to be flexible in moving forward.
    "No lines in the sand ...," Buckley said. "That's what we're asking."
    "What we need now is a time to step back," Bates said, "and let cooler heads prevail."
    Prior to the governor's announcement, Di Saunders, OUS director of communications, said the lawyers' letter sent to foundation members was not intended as a threat. Rather, she said, it was a notification that they did not have legal authority to make changes in their bylaws and articles of incorporation or to transfer state assets to new entities.
    "Much of that was very concerning to JPR (and) SOU," Saunders said. "We're not aggressively trying to put forward lawsuits and put JPR at risk."
    Bates also said Thursday that "the wrong people" have been making decisions in the dispute and that the resolution should come from local groups who could get together in a non-confrontational manner.
    "No lawyers," Bates added.
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