Chip Rogers, GPB part ways

Former state Sen. Chip Rogers has been let go from Georgia Public Broadcasting, where he had held a high-paying taxpayer-funded job after resigning his public office, according to three people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The former Senate majority leader was given a job with a $150,000 salary as an executive producer on a new economic development program shortly after he stepped down from office in 2012. His hiring and six-figure pay infuriated some GPB donors and led a longtime producer to resign in protest.

Rogers didn’t return multiple calls seeking comment Friday. Several GPB executives also didn’t answer repeated calls and emails throughout the day. The three people who confirmed the decision were not authorized to speak because it was a personnel matter.

Rogers was first elected to the Legislature in 2002 and rose to be one of the Senate's most visible GOP leaders, championing an immigration crackdown and other high-profile measures. Yet the end of his tenure was muddled by missteps, including a failed bank loan and public disclosure of Rogers' work for a sports gambling network.

He resigned in December 2012 to take what he called a "dream" job with GPB that built on his background as a former television and radio reporter. GPB President Teya Ryan said at the time that it was a trial run, but it drew considerable fire from critics who said it smacked of cronyism.

Rogers’ position, like others at GPB, was paid solely through state taxpayers’ money. He was paid more than several higher-ranking executives, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed among the station’s rank and file.

Ashlie Wilson Pendley, who had worked for the station for about 15 years, said in her January 2013 resignation letter that it was "unconscionable" to create a high-paying new position for a former politician while others were being laid off or denied pay increases.

Rogers, for his part, soon settled into the role as the director of the station’s Georgia Works initiative. He was to spearhead a program about jobs that was to begin broadcasting last year on GPB’s radio network.

He did, however, make frequent blog posts about economic development programs. He also held down a side job as a lobbyist for the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, which prompted criticism when word of that role resurfaced Friday.

Better Georgia, a progressive group that criticized the Rogers hire, said it was shocked that the former state senator had a lobbying job during his tenure. It said he was “unqualified and overpaid” for the GPB job.

An ominous sign for Rogers came in March when state lawmakers added language in the budget that seemed aimed at his job. The move redirected funds dedicated to GPB’s economic development television division to ventures that promote a “wide variety” of projects.

Still, one person with direct knowledge of the situation said Rogers was “blindsided” by the news when he was told Friday.

Democrats, who blasted Rogers’ hiring last year, see politics at play. State Sen. Vincent Fort, who served with Rogers in the Senate, said he suspected Gov. Nathan Deal influenced the decision over fears it could become an election issue. Deal’s office declined to comment, saying it’s not a governor’s office matter.

“It smacked of good ol’ boy backroom deals from the beginning,” said Fort, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat. “He worried Chip Rogers was going to be an issue. It makes you wish every year is an election year when it comes to Nathan Deal. He was just trying to cover his back.”