Southern Oregon University has allowed the interim executive director of Jefferson Public Radio to assume the same dual leadership roles that resulted in the termination of Ron Kramer on July 1.
Paul Westhelle is interim executive director of both JPR and its fundraising foundation, duties cited as a possible conflict of interest in an audit by the Oregon University System Chancellor's Office.
Westhelle said someone needed to take over the day-to-day work of the foundation, which has been remodeling the Holly Theatre in downtown Medford.
He said he will be interim executive director of JPR for a year and agreed to be executive director for the JPR Foundation as well for 90 days, even though he expressed reservations about assuming the dual roles.
"It has an inherent conflict in it," he said.
The JPR Foundation board asked SOU officials to approve Westhelle as its executive director after Kramer retired from the foundation on July 1. Kramer said he didn't want to risk legal liability while negotiations continued between the foundation and the university.
JPR and SOU have been locked in a dispute over control of leadership and assets of JPR's public radio station network.
Attorneys for SOU, acting with the support of the Chancellor's Office, threatened personal lawsuits against each member of the JPR Foundation.
Gov. John Kitzhaber intervened in the dispute, along with state Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, and Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland. They pushed for both sides to return to mediation, which will be undertaken by Susan Hammer, a Portland mediator. SOU withdrew the threats of lawsuit against board members but not Kramer.
SOU spokesman Jim Beaver said the JPR Foundation approached the university with the idea of Westhelle stepping in on a temporary basis.
Beaver said the university thought it had an agreement in which Kramer would continue to be the foundation's executive director after he stepped down from JPR.
"We thought we had things worked out," Beaver said.
Because of the difficulty in filling the position quickly, the university decided to allow Westhelle to run both operations.
Foundation board president Steve Nelson said bookkeeping and accounting work have been difficult to keep track of without an executive director.
"It's just a nightmare," he said.
Nelson said he is not sure whether Westhelle needs to be formally approved by the foundation board.
The board never hired Kramer as its executive director, he said. SOU appointed Kramer to that role as part of his contract with JPR, Nelson said.
While the dispute over assets continues, the JPR Foundation received some good news Monday.
A $50,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts would be used for Jefferson Square, which would convert the dilapidated Medford Grocery Warehouse on 10th Street into new headquarters for JPR.
In a prepared statement, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, said, "I look forward to seeing this project — and downtown Medford — flourish."
Nelson said the $50,000 grant would be used to help in the design of the warehouse building, though progress on both the Jefferson Square and Holly projects has ground to a halt because of the dispute.
Nelson said he hopes that one of the outcomes of the mediation sessions is a severing of the relationship JPR has with SOU.
He said it's difficult to run a small organization that would have separate executive directors and separate support staff.
Nelson said it has always made sense for the executive director of the JPR radio stations to also provide leadership for the foundation.
"It just shows that it is the most efficient thing to do," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.