With the exception of our beloved Fred, the name “Rogers” has always spelled Trouble, with a capital “T,” for Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB).
Back in the day, it was then-GPB Executive Director Werner Rogers and financial irregularities and outright theft by one of his senior managers. This time a guy named Chip Rogers is the center of the ethical storm that – unless heads roll soon – I believe will irrevocably damage Georgia Public Broadcasting.
And it is this disturbingly serious brouhaha at 260 14th Street has pulled me back into the fray after taking a blogging break for over a year.
Briefly, our Governor Nathan Deal (R) proposed a cushy job for disgraced House Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R), a crony, at Georgia Public Broadcasting, and GPB President Teya Ryan accepted his proposal. (The most thorough story on this is a piece by Dru Sefton in the industry newsletter Current.)
There was some outcry when the decision was announced, but it died down. Then Rogers’ salary information was uncovered by some industrious soul. Deal’s crony will be making $150,000 a year – making him the second highest paid GPB employee, second only to Ryan – for a job which has no description so far, just a nebulous “job creations” project for radio and the web. Published reports also put the start-up expenses of his endeavor to be around $300,000. And he’ll have a producer to help him out.
The fact that Rogers, whose primary broadcast experience appears to have been as a spokesperson for a sports gambling network – as revealed here by Atlanta Unfiltered – and that his salary is three times that of long-time, experienced GPB producers have put more than a few noses out of joint. One brave producer, multi-Emmy-winner Ashlie Wilson Pendley, stepped up and spoke out in a rousing and brilliant resignation letter.
There’s a petition from Better Georgia calling for Rogers’ head – which is a no-brainer since he can be fired, but the Governor can’t – but it doesn’t go far enough.
Teya Ryan’s head should be served to Georgia taxpayers and Georgia Public Broadcasting’s supporters as well.
Ryan has to go, for a number of reasons. In this case, she has absolutely violated her role as the steward of the public airwaves and absolutely violated the public’s trust. She has repeatedly said she wasn’t pressured, and that taking on Chip Rogers was her decision. As President of Georgia Public Broadcasting, Ryan could have – should have – put up a fight. But she didn’t.
Instead, it took a staff producer making under $55K to stand up and speak out.
Teya Ryan, the person who is charged with the responsibility of safe-guarding the integrity of the organization – and, as a comparison to Rogers and Pendley, is making over $208,000 a year – just stepped aside and let Rogers and the Governor stroll through the door, agendas in hand.
We can’t trust her to protect public broadcasting in Georgia. If this is her decision in this blatant case of cronyism and governmental interference, then we can only imagine what she might have done before – like suddenly and completely reversing a decision to cut a series covering the state legislature to a couple of nights a week – and might very likely do again.
Sure, Chip Rogers has to go, but Teya Ryan has to go, too. Anything less will continue the betrayal of the people’s trust, and GPB will be irreversibly crippled.
Over the years, Ryan has down-sized, laid off, fired, outsourced and reorganized staff…. all in the interest of operating a more efficient Georgia Public Broadcasting and making the organization a national leader. During her tenure, I believe PBS has accepted one GPB project for national broadcast: the Margaret Mitchell bio aired on American Masters. (GPBers, correct me here if I’m wrong, please.) American Masters is impressive, yes, but still a skimpy record based on GPB’s past national broadcast presence. Georgia Public Broadcasting’s radio news service has long been its shining jewel and an industry favorite, winning countless awards. Its stories have been picked up often by NPR for national broadcast. I guess the best we can say for Ryan’s efforts in radio is that she hasn’t run it into the ground.
As for cost-cutting, after looking at the salaries reported for FY2012, I’m having a reaaaally difficult time seeing how hiring contractors has worked out as a cost-saver… but more on that another time.
Here I feel I should add a note in the interest of full disclosure: I began my career at Georgia Public Television, as it was called then, back before there was a public radio entity, when it was based in a crappy building just off scenic – if you enjoy hookers and drug dealers – Stewart Avenue. I remember it when it was truly a lean, mean public broadcasting machine, with editing equipment held together with duct tape, paper clips and Aaron Allen’s prayers. I continued to work there when it moved to its shamefully extravagant digs on 14th Street. Altogether, I was with GPB for 23 years.
During that time, I saw it change from a dysfunctional, but somehow wonderful, public TV station to a dysfunctional, but ultimately flawed, tool of the state. Say what you will about Dr. Richard Ottinger, he was not a total political tool. That began with the appointment of his successor, the first real political appointment, when then Governor Zell Miller (D) named defeated State School Superintendent Werner Rogers (D) to the position of Executive Director. Following his departure, for the aforementioned financial irregularities, then-Governor Roy Barnes (D) appointed the State Auditor, Claude Vickers to head the then nine-station TV and 15-station radio networks. Vickers had seen New Yankee Workshop, but that was about it. After that came the reign of terror of Vickers’ second-in-command Jim Lyle, then Nancy Hall, and then – inexplicably to all observers who knew anything about broadcasting, much less public broadcasting – GPB’s miserly former CFO Bonnie Bean. Then came Ryan, appointed by then-Governor Sonny Perdue (R).
I vividly remember the words of Frank Bugg, deputy director under Ottinger and (Werner) Rogers, when we were talking about cultivating wealthy individuals to support us as major donors. He laughed mockingly and said that they didn’t matter. “You know who our major donors are, don’t you? The state legislature. That’s our biggest major donor, and don’t you ever forget it.” And that was the management’s mindset until the day I left, which – thank God – was before the board that required us to carry the Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon live on the statewide public television network. And for the most part, most of us were able to work around the mindset in our day-to-day activities. But our management’s attitude was always there.
But the Deal/Rogers/Ryan situation takes that attitude to an entirely different level; as Chip Rogers’ employment demonstrates, it is now in the stratosphere. And its arrogance is simply stunning. Without even the slightest subtlety or even gamesmanship, the Governor unloads a political handicap on a State agency, and the head of the State agency says “Sure!” As for Rogers himself, knowing his background, I’m certain it never occurred to him to decline the position – whatever it is. $150,000 is a sweet deal for someone whose previous job as a state senator paid a little over $17,000.
So this is what Georgia Public Broadcasting has become. As long as Ryan is at its helm, I can’t imagine that will change.