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Pacifica Radio in turmoil as ousted executive stages sit-in

By Laila Kearney

BERKELEY, California (Reuters) - The fired executive director of the Pacifica Radio network says she is not leaving the left-leaning organization's California headquarters, and equipped with an inflatable air mattress at her office, she is settling in for a fight.

Summer Reese, 40, was fired by the non-profit foundation's board in an 11-7 vote on March 13 and locked out of the headquarters in Berkeley, California, both sides said.

After cutting the padlock to get into the building, Reese has hunkered down for nine days with a team of supporters in the headquarters of Pacifica Foundation Radio, which oversees a five-station radio network serving New York, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Houston and Washington, D.C.

At least on a day-to-day level, Reese still claims to be running the network.

"This has shaken everybody up," Reese said, from behind her desk. "I'm being asked to follow the illegal actions of a rogue board."

She and her team have equipped themselves for their working sit-in, which Reese said involves around-the-clock shifts, with an inflatable air mattress leaning against a cubical wall and takeout food boxes plopped around the offices.

Reese argued she was not given a reason for being fired and that the move violated her contract, which required her to be terminated for cause.

After chairing the Pacifica national board for two years and working as both the chair and interim executive director for a year, Reese signed a contract in January to permanently take on the organization's top role. The agreement guaranteed her $315,000 over three years, according to a copy of the contract.

She said the board likely ousted her because she was demanding greater financial accountability.

Board Chair Margy Wilkinson agreed the organization has struggled financially but denied Reese's allegations. Wilkinson said she was prohibited from providing further details about Reese's dismissal, citing employee privacy rules.

"I think her response since she has been terminated totally validates the decision to terminate her," she said. "I think the board took an action that was appropriate and necessary."

The board is looking at legal options, Wilkinson added.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lisa Shumaker)

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