A judge had some harsh words last week regarding St. Olaf College’s embattled sale of its radio station, WCAL (now 89.3 the Current), to Minnesota Public Radio in 2004.
St. Olaf needed a court’s approval for the sale, which it didn’t get. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office was statutorily obligated to step in after donors objected, which it didn’t.
Both actions (or maybe more accurately, the lack thereof) were illegal, said Rice County District Court Judge Gerald Wolf in a Tuesday ruling (PDF).
Further, he ruled, the station was a charitable trust, and St. Olaf needs to ensure that all donations made to it are used for station activities. He came down hardest not on St. Olaf, but on the attorney general’s office:
“Deplorably, when St. Olaf made the decision to sell WCAL, no one from the Attorney General’s Office intervened to safeguard the trust. … The undersigned is absolutely mystified as to why the State Attorney General did not become involved in a sale of trust assets valued at $12 million when it is its statutory obligation to do so.”
A quick aside: If you’re looking for some quick background on this case (and there are plenty of complicated nuances), read my post from March and check out City Pages’ writer Jonathan Kaminsky’s feature published last summer.
Whether the ruling (which offered opinions but no binding orders) leads to any real change, though, remains to be seen — it’s likely just the first shot fired in a long legal battle that may or may not involve SaveWCAL, the attorney general’s office, the school, former donors to the station, or any combination of the above.
In a letter sent Friday, SaveWCAL again called on the attorney general’s office to get involved. There’s no response yet from the office.
Getting the station back is still a long shot. Courts may not take up the issue, opting instead to only address the fate of the donations made to the former station. And if they do, there’s always the possibility that St. Olaf agrees it erred, rescinds the sale, and then resells the station to MPR after jumping through the necessary hoops.
In any case, the ruling is definitely back-patting material for SaveWCAL, the organization fighting to restore the former classical music station, or, at the very least, ensure that donations once earmarked for it are used correctly or returned rather than funneled toward another purpose.
It’s the first definitive piece of evidence that the group — which hasn’t always been taken seriously, as many startup watchdog groups initially aren’t — claims are very real and deserve investigation, if not legal action.