'Save WRAS' supporters question GPB's board cancellation

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Nearly a year after Georgia Public Broadcasting announced the takeover of daytime hours of 88.5/WRAS-FM, the relationship between the WRAS students and alum and GPB has been icy at best.

The latest imbroglio: the Album 88 Alumni group called foul after GPB cancelled its quarterly April 15 board meeting last week the day before it was scheduled to happen.

In a press release, the group said GPB did this to avoid facing them and blamed GPB boss Teya Ryan. At least three WRAS supporters had signed up to speak at the meeting.

Reid Laurens, a spokesman for the alumni group, acknowledged that he had no direct knowledge that Ryan had anything to do with the cancellation.

Zach Lancaster, president of the group, said he has seen Ryan in previous meetings "has been abusive and dismissive of the GSU students and community members" who requested changes in the agreement to give students more active participation in programming WRAS. He had spoken to board members after previous board meetings and planned to do so again.

Mandy Wilson, spokeswoman for GPB, said there is no conspiracy, that Ryan was not responsible for the meeting not happening. There are currently eight board members with one vacancy. The board needs five attendees to make quorum and because of a couple of last-second cancellations including the death in the family of one board member, they didn't have enough members to hold a meeting. So they had to cancel.

Wilson also said Ryan, from her perspective, was not "dismissive" or "abusive" in any way during the meetings.

She didn't say which board members couldn't attend besides Mary Ellen Imlay, whose husband died three weeks earlier.

Board members are appointed by the governor for four-year terms, according to GPB's bylaws filed to the FCC. The bylaws do not state how often the board is supposed to meet or whether a cancelled meeting even needs to be made up.

Wilson said the board is not planning to make up this meeting. They will merely return to meet July 15, meaning the board will not meet for six months.

Lancaster said that since GPB is a public organization, funded by tax dollars, "we expect at least a quorum of GPB’s directors to be present for board meetings and not to let the public down."

Mike McDougald, the chairman of the board since 2010 and a Georgia Radio Hall of Fame recipient, said he was at a National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas last week and accidentally scheduled his flight that morning back to Atlanta the same day as the meeting. He said he had called Ryan and said he was willing to listen in on the meeting from Vegas to make quorum but never heard back.

He said he had no idea if the meeting had been nixed until I called him Wednesday.

McDougald, who is based in Rome, said meetings in the past have been cancelled due to lack of quorum.

"If they feel the need to have a meeting, we will have the meeting, I guarantee that," he said. "If not, we won't."

He said he wasn't sure if there was anything "earth shattering' on the agenda anyway that required immediate attention.

UPDATE on April 23, 2015: Three people who requested a rescheduling of the cancelled meeting  received an emailed letter dated today from Senior Assistant Attorney General Mary Jo Volkers noting that the terminology in the board rules state, "The commission shall hold regular meetings bimonthly or necessary as determined by the chairperson." This, Volkers noted, made it clear it wasn't necessary for GPB's board to reschedule the April 15 meeting because the chairperson can determine whether meetings should be held - or not. 

The letter said McDougald "determined that the April meeting is not necessary given the fact that a quorum could not be present." He told me by phone Wednesday he was actually open to a rescheduling if "they" determined it was necessary, which I presume meant management at GPB.  He basically is ceding that determination to them. He also indicated there wasn't any major items to address so a meeting wasn't crucial for the time being.

The board for Public Broadcasting Atlanta - which operates PBA/30 on TV and WABE-FM on radio - has quarterly meetings as well, but a far bigger board: 33 members. PBA's board has never missed quorum and been forced to cancel a meeting, according to a PBA spokeswoman.

Last month, WRAS students filed an appeal to the Board of Regents saying that student fees were spent upgrading the signal with full prior knowledge that GPB would be taking over. They are hoping the Board of Regents will force Georgia State University to reconsider the agreement it has with GPB concerning WRAS.

The other six members of the GPB board are not mentioned above are:

Vice chair Janice "Jan" Paul, co-founder and Executive Vice President of iSquared Communications and has previously worked with Lanier Worldwide and Compugraphic, Inc.

Craig Lesser, the former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development and now a managing partner of the consulting company Pendleton Group

Donna Hyland, CEO of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

Paul Garcia, Chairman of Global Payments Inc., one of the world’s leading electronic transaction processing companies

Don Doran, principal of the Drew Charter School

W. Jordan Gillis, a retired Army major who earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart serving in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 who is now a management consultant

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.