The naming of a new executive director for the new Jefferson Live! entity that will take over the Holly Theatre restoration project is good news. But a lawsuit filed by ousted Jefferson Public Radio head Ron Kramer seeking more than $1.3 million in damages from Southern Oregon University is not cause for celebration.
Randy Bobst-McKay, who led the fundraising campaign to restore a 1911 theater building in Vallejo, Calif., seems an ideal fit to take over the Holly effort. He will have his work cut out for him after last year's dispute between SOU and the JPR Foundation stopped the Holly project in its tracks before it had a chance to really get under way.
Bobst-McKay's hiring was announced only two days after Kramer filed his lawsuit, alleging SOU and the Oregon University System blacklisted him and violated his civil rights when they terminated his employment contract and prevented him from staying on as director of the JPR Foundation.
The issue arose when George Pernsteiner, then chancellor of higher education, questioned whether the theater project fit with the public radio stations' mission. His office ultimately decided it was a conflict of interest for Kramer to lead both the stations and the fundraising foundation. It also said fundraising efforts for the theater and other projects would compete directly with SOU's own fundraising efforts.
SOU and OUS officials handled the situation badly from the beginning, firing Kramer, forcing him to resign as foundation director and threatening foundation board members with personal lawsuits if they didn't sign an agreement they could not accept. Gov. John Kitzhaber's office stepped in and called for a cooling-off period and a new round of negotiations.
Those talks resulted in a new agreement that created Jefferson Live! to handle the Holly project and operate the Cascade Theater in Redding, Calif., and gave sole control over 22 radio station licenses to SOU while protecting JPR's interest in them. The conflict appeared, however, to derail plans to relocate JPR's offices to a downtown Medford location, a prospect that had been heartily endorsed by community leaders.
We're glad to see Jefferson Live! resuming the Holly project with new, permanent leadership, and we hope the restoration can still be accomplished. If that gains traction, perhaps the office relocation will as well.
The big loser in all of this was Kramer, who was left without a job and removed from the radio stations and entertainment venue he nurtured over 37 years into a network covering much of Southern Oregon and Northern California.
Kramer undoubtedly shares some of the responsibility for the way things transpired last year. He's a strong-willed individual who chose to challenge the university and the state system head-on. A little more diplomacy and a little less anger — justified or not — might have led to a more amicable outcome.
Kramer's lawsuit shows he's still not prepared to back down, and he certainly has every right to seek redress if he believes he was treated unfairly. But it would be unfortunate if his legal action winds up hurting the chances of his own vision for the Holly Theatre coming to fruition.