The Jefferson Public Radio Foundation and Southern Oregon University took a step back from the abyss Friday, agreeing to return to mediation to resolve their differences during a 60-day "cooling off" period.
The JPR Foundation passed resolutions Friday evening to return to mediation with SOU, put together a mediation team that would accept offers and make counteroffers, and maintain its current contract for exchange of services with the university for 60 days, said foundation Chairman Steve Nelson.
The foundation met for several hours at the University Club next to the Holly Theatre. The foundation originally convened to decide whether it would sign an agreement reached earlier this month between SOU and the JPR Foundation's executive committee.
The details of the agreement were made public for the first time Friday, but parts of it could change after a second round of mediation, said Di Saunders, the communications director for the Oregon University System.
"I think there's optimism that we can come to an agreement and that it won't take the full 60 days," Saunders said.
One development that seemed to put the JPR Foundation more at ease was a document releasing its board members from personal liability should any lawsuits arise from the disagreement.
The document, which was signed by SOU President Mary Cullinan, was presented to the foundation during Friday's meeting.
Nelson said the release form was welcomed by the foundation members.
"I would say that the board was relieved," Nelson said.
The drama sparked after an audit sought by the Oregon University System suggested that the foundation's non-radio projects, including restoration of the Holly Theatre and construction of new headquarters in Medford, could overextend JPR financially.
The audit led to a mediation session earlier this month and a proposed settlement agreement.
But members of the foundation were unhappy with the agreement and at least some considered resigning rather than sign the document under threat of personal lawsuits from the university.
The tensions subsided Thursday when Gov. John Kitzhaber stepped in and said the university system should reopen mediation talks with the foundation board. His education policy adviser, Ben Cannon, also said the governor had instructed the Chancellor's Office to drop the threat of lawsuits.
The OUS audit called for greater separation between JPR's fundraising foundation and its radio operations and said the role of Ron Kramer, who serves as executive director of both JPR and its foundation, was a potential conflict of interest.
The mediated agreement would have separated the current JPR Foundation from Jefferson Public Radio and created a new nonprofit to carry on the work of JPR's 22 radio stations, 14 of which are owned by SOU and eight of which are owned by the foundation.
The settlement addressed the issues raised by the audit by consolidating the radio operations and fundraising for the stations into one nonprofit that would have been called the Jefferson Public Radio Foundation.
The current JPR Foundation and SOU would have then transferred their radio stations and Federal Communications Commission licenses (subject to FCC approval) to the new nonprofit by June 30, 2013. The transfer would have included trademarks, cash and investments held for the benefit of JPR, all contracts and agreements and all property, plant and equipment related to JPR operations.
The current JPR Foundation would have retained and controlled the Cascade Theatre in Redding, Calif., the Holly Theatre, the radio station properties on Front Street in Medford and its Internet service provider.
A letter from Kramer to a JPR lawyer, obtained by the Mail Tribune, suggested that course of action could put at risk the FCC licenses for the eight radio stations held by the current foundation.
The newly formed nonprofit would have been governed by a board of directors, to include seven appointed by SOU, six from community colleges from around the region and four from the current JPR Foundation.
Again, these details could change after the next round of mediation.
The board convened after a lively public meeting under the Holly Theatre's marquee.
Several of those in attendance feared this long-festering disagreement between the JPR Foundation and SOU could wreck public radio in Southern Oregon and put the brakes to the Holly Theatre project, which remains under renovation.
Jeff Darling, the general manager at the Cascade Theatre, hopes for an agreement soon that would benefit both sides.
"I have payroll to worry about and acts booked," he said.
Kramer addressed the crowd, saying that SOU slanders him by saying that it is a conflict of interest that he serves as the executive director of both JPR and its foundation. His role in the two positions was written into his contract, which was signed by SOU.
Following release of the audit, Cullinan terminated Kramer from his position directing the radio stations as of June 30. The governor's office said Kramer was free to continue working as executive director of the foundation, although Kramer said his position with the foundation was linked to the JPR job and therefore would also end June 30.
Saunders on Friday said there is no change in Kramer's status despite the calls for new mediation.
"There is no change there," she said. "June 30 is the final day of his contract."
Attempts to reach Kramer after the meeting were not successful by press time.
In a statement by Cullinan read by her chief of staff, Liz Shelby, during the public meeting, Cullinan said, "The bottom line is that SOU is fully committed to the success of Jefferson Public Radio and its mission as a vital resource for its listeners and supporters. SOU is also committed to continue working toward an amicable resolution that preserves and protects all of the important interests involved."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.