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The tumultuous and contentious internal politics that help define WDNA-FM have moved from the radio station's warehouse headquarters to the Dade Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court system. On August 19, two groups battling for control of the Bascomb Memorial Foundation, the nonprofit corporation that oversees WDNA, took their arguments before Judge Amy Steel Donner in the case of Kathy Bledsoe et al. v. Maggie Pelleya et al.
WDNA is a community-access station, open, according to its charter and bylaws, to anyone who wants to participate. Personality clashes and power struggles are inevitable. And WDNA has always had plenty of both. But until now the turmoil hadn't resulted in a judge being called into the fray. "The only reason it went to court," says station veteran Kathy Bledsoe, "is that we tried going through the bylaws, petitions, meetings. We told the board they couldn't [legally] do this or that, and they kept doing it. Their response was, `Fuck you, we do whatever the fuck we want to do.' There was no arena for discussion."
Bledsoe and others accuse defendant Maggie Pelleya and her board of trustees of mounting a campaign to turn WDNA into a purely Latin radio station. A Jewish volunteer was slurred and threatened, other non-Latin programming has been canceled, at one point a gun was drawn by a Latin board member who allegedly threatened former station manager Steve Alvin. Pelleya, her husband Wifredo Fernandez, along with another married couple that sits on the board, Mike and Susy Serra, acquired the nickname "The Gang of Four." Both Pelleya and her attorney refuse to comment.
By February 25 of this year, 37 people had had enough of the bullying dictatorship they felt Pelleya had fostered during her reign. They held a special meeting and voted the board out of office, installing nine of their number as the new board. But Pelleya's board declared the vote null. Bledsoe and her supporters hired lawyer Seth Finkel and filed a motion for a temporary injunction, asking the court to force Pelleya from power. Pelleya's team enlisted attorney Luis Cruz and argued that all the claims of corruption and mismanagement were invalid, untrue, or irrelevant. Technically, the Pelleya group came out the victors of the August 19 hearing because their motion was granted - with amendment. But Bledsoe considers the amendment - the appointment of an overseer with court authority to clean things up at WDNA - a huge win for her side.
"That's where the judge has been so helpful in getting to the bottom of this," Bledsoe says. "She will appoint a special master. Part of the master's mission is to investigate and determine a real membership list." (Only members of WDNA, a status reached by volunteering time there, can vote; Pelleya argued that not all the 37 present for the special meeting of February 25 were legitimate members, and therefore the ouster wasn't legal.)
The master, whom the judge plans to appoint in a few weeks, will also "reinstate programmers wrongfully tossed off the air, and conduct real elections," Bledsoe adds. "For all those people who said the situation at WDNA was so sucky, well, if they liked the station before [Pelleya's board was elected], now is the time to get back in."
The case is scheduled to resume this week, when Donner returns from a week's vacation. "Anything can happen," Bledsoe says. "I feel like this was a very favorable ruling. It's offering us a platform and an arena to heal some of our problems. It's most encouraging.