WAIF Meeting Was Ugly

A lawsuit will likely follow this year’s turbulent annual membership meeting for WAIF-FM (88.3) community radio station. The session was marked by a near-fistfight in the parking lot and at least one person kicked out amid allegations of mismanagement and cronyism against the board of trustees.

As a dues-paying member of the station, I attended the meeting Sunday at the former Swifton Commons shopping center in Bond Hill. The raucous session included several moments that bordered on the absurd.

Although the meeting was slated to start at 4 p.m., with registration beginning at 3 p.m., the unusually large turnout — estimates pegged attendance at more than 200 people — caused a glitch in the schedule. The business portion didn’t start until about 4:35 p.m., while registration was still underway.

The meeting began with Donald Shabazz, a minister and disbarred attorney who chairs the board, talking at length about what he considered WAIF’s accomplishments in the past year, including paying off the station’s mortgage. His remarks were followed by a lengthy report from Howard Riley, WAIF’s station manager and security chief.

Candidates seeking election to the board were told that no campaigning would be allowed at the meeting, but Riley ended his remarks by telling the crowd, “I applaud your vote.” At one point earlier in his remarks, Riley referred to the crowd as his “congregation,” and it was obvious a certain segment came to the meeting directly from his church, still wearing their Sunday finest.

The large turnout was due, in part, to people upset that the board has expelled several members in recent months. The expulsions occurred to members who disagreed with the board’s management style, including how station finances were handled and whether WAIF has complied with FCC regulations. When some people in the crowd interrupted Shabazz and Riley to make various motions and ask questions, the pair repeatedly told them that they would be addressed in the portion of the meeting set aside to discuss “new business.”

But after Shabazz took a nearly 50-minute break so people could eat a buffet dinner and listen to smooth Jazz, time had run out for using the rented conference room. As a result, WAIF’s membership never voted on proposed new bylaws that would give the board more power, and the portions of the meeting designated for new business never occurred.

Moreover, the results of voting to elect five members to the 11-person board of trustees hadn’t yet been tallied.

Some members accused the board of using delaying tactics. They questioned why people didn’t get their food at the beginning of the meeting so the board could conduct business as people ate.

While the votes were counted, members were told to wait in the parking lot. For more than an hour, people waited as dusk fell and the counting continued. Once tallied, the votes had to be recounted because of a tie between two candidates. When the second count was completed, the tie still remained.

The top vote-getter was Riley. He was followed, in order, by Vinay Satyal and Shabazz, all incumbents who were re-elected. In fourth place was Cynthia Dye Wimmers, a non-incumbent who was kicked out of the meeting earlier by Shabazz for allegedly being disruptive. Tied for fifth place were incumbent Victoria Straughn and challenger Vince Morton. As the evening ended, it was unclear how the tie would be broken.

Wimmers, who has been at the station for 20 years and hosts the Kindred Sanction show, said her ouster from the meeting was unnecessary. As she addressed the board from the audience, Shabazz told her to speak louder. When she did, she was told she was disruptive and Shabazz had her escorted out of the building by four off-duty Cincinnati Police officers who were providing security. She eventually was allowed to return.

“All I was trying to do was ask if people could give a one- or two-minute speech because Howard was campaigning from the podium,” Wimmers said. “We’ve always done that before. There weren’t that many people running for office.”

When people who were waiting on the recount were told to leave Jordan Crossing by a female member, tempers flared and a fight almost broke out.

Meanwhile a group of expelled members, led by writer Joe Wessels, weren’t allowed into the meeting. Although WAIF’s bylaws clearly state that anyone expelled has the right to appeal the ruling “at the next meeting of the membership,” Shabazz disagreed. He said an appeals committee would be formed later to hear their complaints.

“(WAIF) sent me a membership card, the newsletter and a reminder card (in the mail),” Wessels said. “The bylaws state I have a right to be there for an appeal.”

Wessels has consulted with an attorney, who is preparing a lawsuit that will be filed within the next six weeks, he said.

The bylaws apparently were violated again when the board failed to mail a newsletter to the membership on a monthly basis. Other than a September issue advising people about the meeting, an issue hasn’t been sent in months.

“Is $800 worth it every month to get the WAIF alert out, or should $800 be spent to do something around the station?” Riley asked the crowd.

Critics, however, questioned Riley’s estimate. Further, they said current by-laws should have been mailed along with the proposed changes so members could compare and make an informed decision.

“If you haven’t looked them over, trust me, you can vote for them,” Riley said. “They’re good bylaws.”

Until confronted by some members, during a report about the station’s finances, Shabazz didn’t mention a $12,000 back tax bill owed to Hamilton County. The city of Cincinnati also is suing WAIF, seeking the return of a $2,464 grant for not abiding by the terms of its contract. When questioned about the lawsuit, Shabazz dismissed the action, adding it was caused by a misunderstanding. City officials say the lawsuit remains active.

Shabazz might have broken station rules against not publicly criticizing members when he called Wessels “Joe Weasel” and called station critics — including CityBeat — “white, right-wing racists” on the program Shabazz hosts, The Final Call Radio Show. Because WAIF is non-profit, Shabazz also may have violated FCC rules by allowing a commercial on his show for the tax business he owns, instead of merely underwriting the program.

Describing the meeting later, political activist and WAIF member Brian Garry said, “It was very ugly and horrible. It was the worst meeting I’ve been to in my life.”

Despite not getting a chance to speak at the meeting, a group of members — many of whom have been with WAIF for a decade or more — say they will continue pressing for an independent audit of the station’s finances.

— Kevin Osborne

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6 Comments on “WAIF Meeting Was Ugly”

  1. I have a long history as both listener as well as content-provider for WAIF. Both roles have been minor, so forgive yourself for not knowing. I went to an annual membership meeting years ago.
    As a peaceful anarchist, I have no hopes nor apirations for any organization whatsoever, but WAIF comes about as close to one I could tolerate as any could.
    I just hope that most folks’ fixation with the idea that pre-planned, irrational structure must come first will not be the death of WAIF. But, hey, if WAIF croaks as an organization, there will still be an outlet somewhere for this great energy. Don’ wurry. Be hoppy.
    (I still have WAIF on the speed-dial of an old telephone of mine. Mostly I called in to Taylor Farley’s wife, The Moose. That couple needed all the help they could get…. kidding.)

  2. Lee Elliott Says:

    Every thing posted so far is the truth, and it gets a lot worse.

  3. Venomous Says:

    I was escorted out by the cops right behind Cynthia b/c i was trying to stand up to shabazz telling him it was illegal to bat down the motion made by a member to keep Cynthia in the meeting, as i was trying to second it. That’s when he motioned the cops to remove me as well. I’ve been a WAIF volunteer and programmer for 8 years, till now. I want to thank Citybeat for having the balls to run these stories.


  4. Catherine Says:

    The WAIF Meeting was a sad afternoon in WAIF’s history. I think we all learned the danger in becoming complacent in a non profit group. Those of us who have hung back and not pressed for answers , not gotten involved , nor stayed in touch with the BOT…have paid the price. We WAIFERS are governed by a BOT that has it’s own vision and way of doing things. BUT, if others are willing to volunteer, they will be the ones making decisions. Those who are willing to put in extra time will make the station what it will become.
    I ask myself every time I look over these blogs; “Am I willing to put some time into the station? ” I was able to in the past, but I am not sure I have the heart to do so again.
    If you attended the Sept. 17 meeting ….do you also feel so deflated?

  5. Lee Elliott Says:

    11 Board of Trustees members are responsible for all aspects of the radio station and the corp. (the real stepchild radio of cincinnati, inc) an Ohio 501c Corp. Virtually, none of them know a damn thing about FCC rules or the Broadcasting Business.
    Is WAIF 88.3fm on shakey ground?? You bet your sweet ass they are!!
    If the so called waif Volunteers & Programmers who love WAIF don’t go to the annual meeting & vote they SHOULD lose the station & their shows. I went and almost got a
    beating. There are over 1,000 paid members, where the hell were they?? Oh, thats right, they were watching the Bengals.

  6. Imagine Says:

    I was not even allowed to enter the meeting because I had paid my annual dues online.( An option that has been in place for over 2 years) I just wanted to thank the board for the lovely certificate of volunteering, I wasn’t allowed to receive. While I have been a volunteer for only 5 years, I have tried to step up and at every turn been shot down. No Catherine, it doesn’t matter if you WANT or have the “heart” to volunteer, you will not be allowed to do so because you are not with the “in crowd”. The current BOT is allowing the station to go to hell in a hand basket, I just hope there is an intervention before it implodes. The BOT is so worried that they will lose something if they delegate that it doesn’t happen any more. The saying that absolute power absolutely corrupts couldn’t be more true here sadly.

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