Torres Departure to Reshape Kaitz — Again


The Walter Kaitz Foundation began yet another restructuring effort last week after Art Torres, president of the minority advocacy organization, resigned.

California Cable and Telecommunications Association president and Kaitz founding director Spencer Kaitz will take over as president in an "unpaid" role, reflecting the organization's desire to cut nearly 70 percent of its approximately $1 million annual operating budget.

The foundation's San Francisco office will close at the end of the month.

The Kaitz organization will also cut three of its five employees — including Torres — and will instead rely on industry "volunteers," much like other trade groups, Kaitz said.

The foundation will continue to run its annual, multimillion-dollar fundraising dinner as well as distribute financial grants to industry organizations that promote diversity.

"Given the continued consolidation in the cable industry, Art believed that we should reduce the overhead costs of the foundation, so that more dollars could flow to our diversity organizations, which champion the very work [Kaitz] seeks to promote," foundation chairman Glenn Britt, who is also Time Warner Cable's chairman, said in a statement.

Torres, who could not be reached for comment, said in a statement that "difficult economic demands demand difficult decisions," adding that the Kaitz's non-dinner programs "do not require a full-time CEO."

Commited enough?

The charismatic Torres joined the foundation two years ago, amid criticism from industry observers that Kaitz was not doing enough to place qualified minorities in upper-management cable positions.

Under Torres, Kaitz spearheaded the industry's Diversity Supplier Program, which helped recruit minority vendors into the industry.

Torres was also responsible for the foundation's controversial switch from minority job-placement efforts to providing close to $700,000 in financial grants to industry organizations like NAMIC, the Emma L. Bowen Foundation and the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, to further support their respective diversity efforts.

"By refocusing The Walter Kaitz Foundation as an institution whose primary mission is to support the work of other cable industry diversity organizations, Art has accomplished a lot in a relatively short period of time," NCTA president Robert Sachs said in a statement. "The direction he has set for the Kaitz foundation will serve industry diversity efforts well."

But some were critical of Kaitz's handling of the grants. In particular, observers were judgmental of the selection process, with a "moving target" of requirements, deadlines and expectations.

Torres and Kaitz also came under fire for providing grants to cable industry outsiders such as New California Media, the Southern California Indian Center and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, all of which have received grants of $25,000 or more for various diversity-related projects.

Torres himself came under heavy scrutiny from industry leaders for splitting his time between running the organization and maintaining a leadership role within the California Democratic Party.

But Kaitz said those questions didn't play a role in Torres's departure. "In my discussions with [Britt] about the future of the organization, those issues were never raised," Kaitz said. "The concern was more about efficiency, duplication and cost-effectiveness."

Volunteers needed

Given its limited staff, Kaitz said the organization will rely heavily on industry volunteers and similarly aimed groups. "We will look to the industry organizations to get real results and to do it effectively," Kaitz said.

NAMIC president Jenny Alonzo said, "We look forward to working with Spencer in helping all of us obtain the goal of bringing about more diversity within the industry."

Kaitz also said the NCTA might help facilitate some foundation functions: the NCTA already works with Kaitz in running the Diversity Supplier Program.

"I'm not looking to have it [as] part of the NCTA," NCTA president Robert Sachs said. But he supports efforts to cut the foundation's overhead.