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Picking up the pieces

The clash between Southern Oregon University, the Oregon University System and Jefferson Public Radio has quieted down after public officials from local mayors to the governor called for a cooling-off period. Now it's time for both sides to go back to the negotiating table with less of an adversarial attitude and work out a solution.

Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler, his Ashland counterpart John Stromberg, State Rep. Peter Buckley, State Sen. Alan Bates and Gov. John Kitzhaber all deserve credit for stepping in. But they cannot dictate the terms of a settlement that will satisfy both sides, nor should they. That is the responsibility of the JPR Foundation board, SOU President Mary Cullinan and the office of the Chancellor of Higher Education.

The dispute began when the Chancellor's Office conducted an audit of JPR, its nonprofit foundation and various projects the foundation plans to pursue. Those include restoring the Holly Theatre in Medford as a performing arts center, relocating the radio stations' studios from the SOU campus to downtown Medford, and establishing a museum celebrating the history of radio in the West.

The audit questioned the relationship between the foundation and the radio stations; the role of Ron Kramer, who was executive director of both; the financial obligations of the projects; and the potential competition for fundraising dollars between JPR's foundation and the university's foundation.

Cullinan fired Kramer as director of the radio stations effective June 30. Kramer later announced he would step down as director of the foundation as well.

A settlement agreement produced during a mediation session last month would have separated the JPR Foundation from the radio operation and created a new nonprofit to handle both operations and fundraising. But some foundation board members were unwilling to sign it, citing threats of personal lawsuits against them by the university if they didn't do so. Those lawsuits are now off the table thanks to the governor's intervention.

Now the foundation board must return to the negotiating table without Kramer's guidance. That's not the end of the world, but it makes the board's task more daunting.

In a statement before the JPR Foundation board meeting June 22, SOU Chief of Staff Liz Shelby insisted SOU remains committed to "the continued success of the Cascade Theatre in Redding and the future success of the Holly Theatre in Medford," along with uninterrupted public radio service from JPR. That's encouraging, but the university's ham-handed approach to the whole situation has raised doubts about the sincerity of that statement.

SOU has now succeeded in removing Kramer entirely. The JPR Foundation board will have to carry on as best it can, freed at least from the threat of personal liability.

Kramer may have ruffled more than a few feathers during his tenure, but he deserves credit for his vision and leadership in expanding JPR into the largest geographic network of public radio stations in the country, and developing outside ventures that provide sources of revenue to keep the stations operating as government funding has shrunk. The Cascade Theatre and the Internet service provider Jeffnet are successful examples.

Now it's up to everyone else involved to make sure the radio stations and the ventures that support them continue to thrive.