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  • SOU takes charge of radio stations

    University, Jefferson Public Radio Foundation reach deal on assets and direction
  • Southern Oregon University and the Jefferson Public Radio Foundation have hammered out a deal that gives SOU sole control over 22 radio stations and creates a separate fundraising arm for projects such as the Holly Theatre restoration.
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  • Southern Oregon University and the Jefferson Public Radio Foundation have hammered out a deal that gives SOU sole control over 22 radio stations and creates a separate fundraising arm for projects such as the Holly Theatre restoration.
    The agreement, reached during recent mediation sessions and announced Monday, also provides a framework for selling off radio station licenses in the future.
    Proceeds from any license sales must be used to support JPR, which broadcasts from Mendocino County in Northern California to Eugene.
    Under the agreement, a separate fundraising arm called Jefferson Live! LLC eventually could take over ownership of the Holly Theatre in Medford, the Cascade Theatre in Redding, Calif., and other Medford properties off 10th Street known as Jefferson Square.
    Sen. Alan Bates, a Medford Democrat, and Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat, said the agreement would foster a strong radio station and continue with the effort to remodel the Holly.
    "Our role in this is more about getting something back on track that was dangerously off track," Bates said.
    The agreement spells out an arrangement in which SOU exercises more oversight over JPR and its foundation.
    The JPR Foundation and SOU had been at odds over control of leadership and assets of JPR's public radio station network, leading to the termination of Executive Director Ron Kramer in June.
    Attorneys for SOU, acting with the support of the Oregon University System Chancellor's Office, threatened personal lawsuits against each member of the JPR Foundation board.
    Gov. John Kitzhaber intervened, appointing Portland mediator Susan Hammer to help resolve the differences.
    An audit by OUS last winter criticized the fundraising activities for the Holly Theatre and Jefferson Square because they could conflict with fundraising by SOU.
    SOU President Mary Cullinan said she didn't seen any potential conflict in the fundraising activities of Jefferson Live! and those of the university.
    "I'm absolutely not worried," she said.
    Cullinan said she thinks people will be smart enough to figure out the difference between the fundraising activities of Jefferson Live! and the JPR Foundation. Jefferson Live! will be a subsidiary organization of the JPR Foundation, potentially sharing the same board members.
    The JPR Foundation will raise money solely for the radio station operations.
    She said Jefferson Live! offers a clear distinction between fundraising for the Holly and fundraising for the radio stations.
    "I'm delighted by the transparency of this organization," Cullinan said.
    Paul Westhelle, executive director of JPR and interim executive director of the JPR Foundation, said no fundraising for special projects such as the Holly could be conducted on-air for the foundation or Jefferson Live!.
    However, the radio station could air fundraising announcements for Jefferson Square because the station might build its new headquarters there. The radio station is currently housed in a cramped basement at SOU.
    Westhelle is planning to remain as executive director of the JPR Foundation only until a replacement can be found.
    As part of the agreement, Kramer would be able to serve only as a volunteer consultant or independent contractor to Jefferson Live! or the JPR Foundation.
    The agreement proposes that the university and JPR Foundation would drop any potential legal action against Kramer if he would agree to drop legal claims as well.
    The JPR Foundation would have to prepare business plans that would be submitted to SOU for any significant activities, such as selling off assets, borrowing money or purchasing property.
    SOU currently owns the Cascade Theatre, but would sell it to the JPR Foundation for the remaining debt plus costs to transfer the property.
    Steve Nelson, president of the JPR Foundation board, said there will be no further discussion about separating the radio stations from SOU now that the agreement has been reached.
    SOU and JPR will continue to provide staff to support the foundation, but no SOU or JPR employee will perform executive or management roles in the foundation or its subsidiary.
    Nelson said radio station licenses would be sold only if it was determined that they didn't adequately serve the overall needs of the radio station. He said no particular license has been identified that could be sold yet.
    Nelson said the foundation's priority will be setting up Jefferson Live! and continuing efforts to restore the Holly. Jefferson Square would be of secondary importance, he said.
    Although much of the agreement looks similar to an earlier version that prompted public outcry and the governor's intervention, Nelson said there are differences.
    The foundation will no longer be made up of seven directors appointed by SOU, six from community colleges and four from the current foundation. Instead the foundation board will continue to remain autonomous, Nelson said.
    Another new feature is a mechanism for the foundation to purchase the Cascade Theatre, he said.
    Also, Nelson said selling off radio station licenses will be part of a negotiated process.
    Nelson said a timeline hasn't been developed to move forward with the new organization and to get the fundraising activities back on track.
    He said his main goal is to see the Holly completed, then he will step down from the foundation.
    "The agreement allows us to move forward with the Holly Theatre in a transparent manner," he said.
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.
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