Former State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers
ATLANTA -- A veteran employee of Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta has quit in protest over the hiring of former State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers at GPB, at double and triple the salary of others in similar positions there. A GPB executive praised Rogers and said he will do a great job for GPB.
The employee who quit, Ashlie Wilson Pendley, is calling Rogers' hiring "cronyism" at the expense of taxpayers -- and at the expense of long-time employees of Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Employees have been furloughed and laid off, as many of their jobs are being out-sourced and eliminated.
And yet Rogers began work this week at GPB headquarters, on 14th Street NW, as an executive producer, for $150,000 a year.
Rogers himself has credited Governor Nathan Deal for helping him get the job, created just for him either just prior to, or just after, the November 6th elections when Rogers was re-elected to his Senate seat. He resigned his seat soon after the election, announcing he would be going to work for GPB, calling it his "dream job."
On Tuesday, Rogers' first day of work, Pendley, who is an executive producer at GPB, and who has been at GPB for 15 years, wrote a stinging letter of resignation to GPB President and CEO Teya Ryan, and someone leaked the letter that night to the advocacy group BetterGeorgia.com.
In the letter as provided to 11Alive News from Better Georgia (see entire letter, below), Pendley writes, in part, "In a time when budget cuts are deep and the rank and file have been told there is no money.... I think it is unconscionable to create a position and compensate any individual in this manner.... It has the appearance of the political manipulation of the public airwaves. This stinks of cronyism...."
Bryan Long of BetterGeorgia.com agrees.
"Because it's about taxpayer dollars, and it's about cronyism, and tax dollars matter right now, especially in this tough economy. The governor hasn't fully funded education.... and now suddenly he finds the money, taxpayer money, to pay for his political buddy, Chip Rogers."
Governor Deal's office said Wednesday that the governor had nothing to do with Rogers getting the job, except to encourage Rogers to talk with GPB about it.
Pendley did not return messages asking for comment. She said in her resignation letter that she was willing to work at GPB until January 31 to help GPB transition her duties to others.
GPB Vice President Nancy Zintak would not comment on Pendley's letter of resignation, calling it "a personnel issue" that she could not discuss publicly.
Zintak praised Pendley, saying she will be missed, and said Rogers is going to do a great job for GPB.
"Ashlie started as an intern" in 1997, Zintak said in a phone interview with 11Alive's Jon Shirek. "She's been a fabulous contributor over the years. She will be missed."
As for Rogers, Zintak said he was not commenting, but said that while people "may not like the way it all came together for him to come to GPB, he's here and he's going to do a great job for us. He's already putting together a great initiative [for upcoming TV and radio programs] to match people with jobs, and to have Georgia youth become more job-ready."
Zintak spoke of concerns she's heard from GPB's donors about Rogers, emphasizing that Rogers' salary will be paid out of taxpayer funds, not out of private donations.
"If you look at GPB, we are amazing stewards of the public and private moneys given to us to shepherd. We have sparkling audits every year."
Governor Deal's spokesman called BetterGeorgia.com a left-wing organization that blames the governor for everything.
Bryan Long insisted that Deal spear-headed Rogers' move from the legislature to GPB.
"I'm sure the governor wants nothing to do with this, I'm sure he's running from it as fast as he can. But the truth is, on October 26th the governor called the President of GPB into his office, and they met with Chip Rogers. That's a matter of public record. The announcement of this new position followed shortly after that. If that meeting wasn't to create this job for Chip Rogers, Governor Deal owes us an explanation of what he was talking about with GPB on that day.... Governor Deal created this job specifically for Chip Rogers. It was not advertised. He's unqualified for this job, and he's being paid twice what any other executive producer at GPB earns in this job, in a similar job. That's a misuse of taxpayer money, it's $150,000 per year. Governor Deal has cut the GPB budget by 14 percent since he took office, and now, suddenly, he finds the money, taxpayer money, to pay for his political buddy, Chip Rogers."
Long questioned specifically why the job was not advertised.
"If they're so sure that Chip Rogers would do a bang-up job, why didn't they advertise the position? And why didn't he compete with other executive producers to prove that he's the best person for this job?"
Why does Long care about one state senator quitting to take a mid-level-executive position in state government, since Long's organization focuses on the larger issues of additional funding for education, for transportation and for health care for the poor?
"Because it's about taxpayer dollars, and it's about cronyism" Long said, "and tax dollars matter right now, especially in this tight economy. The governor hasn't fully funded education, there's been billions of dollars in austerity cuts, there's 600,000 Georgians without access to health care.... But instead he's spending his time creating these sweetheart deals, this $150,000 per year job for his political friend. And that's why we care."
Here is Ashlie Wilson Pendley's resignation letter, as supplied to 11Alive News from BetterGeorgia.com. Bryan Long of BetterGeorgia.com said two anonymous sources from GPB emailed him the letter independently of each other.
President & CEO
Georgia Public Broadcasting
260 14th Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
It is with a grave heart but a clear mind that I respectfully tender my resignation from Georgia Public Broadcasting, effective January 31. I have served GPB since 1997, first as a contractor and then as a staff producer. I have served under a total of 6 Executive Directors, including you, so I know that recent events are not the first time nor I am sure will it be the last time that GPB has faced political pressures.
I know that you have faced a variety of challenges and difficult decisions in the last four years since you assumed leadership of GPB. I've witnessed four rounds of layoffs. I've watched the outsourcing of the sales staff, the IT helpdesk and most recently, Master Control operations. I have loyally accepted stagnant wages for the last five years, even while the cost of my benefits has increased- even in the times when furloughed- because I believed GPB was an organization that was worth the sacrifice and the hard work.
In December, it became public that GPB was hiring former Senator Chip Rogers to spearhead a new job growth and community development effort. I was shocked and curious about the sudden decision. Having been involved with coverage of 15 legislative sessions with the Lawmakers program, I followed the situation with interest. But interest turned to disgust this weekend after the AJC published Senator Rogers' salary of $150,000. More than any other Executive Producer, more than many of the Vice Presidents- and all in a time when budget cuts are deep and the rank and file have been told there is no money.
I think it is unconscionable to create a position and compensate any individual in this manner during these difficult times. I am quite certain that considerable political pressure was brought to bear to make this a reality. I am disappointed that you felt this was GPB's best course of action. While I might understand it to some extent, I cannot condone it and I cannot continue to stand idly by.
For all of those who cannot, I resign in protest. For all those who disapprove but must stand mute for fear of losing their jobs, I take this opportunity to speak up and speak out. This was the wrong decision for GPB. It has the appearance of the political manipulation of the public airwaves. This stinks of cronyism. I believe that this decision was in fact made at the highest political levels and forced upon this organization.
In the interest of my own personal integrity, I find I must leave. I would like to stay to make the transition as easy as possible on the Lawmakers team and therefore plan to work out my notice until January 31.
In many ways, I have not been truly happy in my work of late. First, I watched as well paid contractors replaced staff that had been laid off. As the co-creator of the Georgia Traveler series in 2005, it saddens me to see how the only remaining original host and the most talented member of that show's staff has been treated. David Zelski is an amazing young man who can write, produce, shoot and edit. He could be running the entire production if he had the proper support.
Then this year, there were all the delays in confirming that we would indeed cover the legislature in 2013. I'm sure you recall all of those "desperate emails" prior to +October 12, when you told me that Lawmakers would indeed return, but with fairly extensive changes. I learned of the new editorial management later. Because of my loyalty to the organization, I accepted the new role of coordinating producer in the greatest sense of teamwork. So much planning and hard work in such a short time took place. Most of which seems to have essentially been abandoned at the slightest hint of political displeasure within the legislature.
These recent events have caused a great deal of introspection and examination of the type of work I would like to do. I feel newly inspired to seek a new career in a new field. I do not know what the future holds, but I approach it with optimism and a newfound conviction that I am making the best decision for myself.
I very truly hope for the continued success for GPB. I have many friends among my colleagues here and I wish them all the best.
Ashlie Wilson Pendley