Flap over Chip Rogers’ $150,000 salary at GPB

A longtime producer has resigned and at least some Georgia residents have begun to cancel their donations over former state Sen. Chip Rogers’ new $150,000-a-year job with Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The outrage followed a report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealing Rogers’ salary and that he started work Tuesday as an executive producer for a new community jobs program.

The title plants Rogers firmly in middle management, but his pay ranks him as the second-highest paid employee on the GPB staff — at a rate higher than even the annual pay of Gov. Nathan Deal.

Ashlie Wilson Pendley, who has worked for GPB since 1997, and is senior producer for GPB’s “Lawmakers” program, cited four rounds of layoffs, an increasing number of jobs being outsourced and five years of stagnant wages as laying a foundation for her decision.

In her resignation letter this week, which was obtained by liberal advocacy group Better Georgia and shared with the AJC, Pendley said it was “unconscionable to create a position and compensate any individual in this manner during these difficult times.”

“This was the wrong decision for GPB,” Pendley wrote. Her resignation is effective Jan. 31. “It has the appearance of the political manipulation of the public airwaves.”

GPB President Teya Ryan said in a recent interview with the AJC that she was not pressured politically to hire Rogers, who has seen a series of missteps that include failing to repay a bank loan and public disclosure of his work for a sports gambling network.

One of the state Legislature’s most visible Republican leaders, Rogers resigned in December to take what he called a “dream” job with GPB. He had first been elected to the Legislature in 2002.

GPB officials are sensitive to the accusation, however. When GPB member Sandy Wood recently cut off her regular $20 monthly donation because of Rogers’ hiring, she received a letter from GPB Vice President Yvette Cook that noted contributions such as Wood’s would not fund Rogers’ salary. (It instead is paid solely through state taxpayers’ money).

Cook went on to note that Rogers “may or may not be the best spokesperson” for the new programming effort he now leads, which involves promoting Georgia’s push for more jobs and economic development. “The audience ultimately decides who makes it and who doesn’t,” Cook wrote.

Rogers, a former television and radio reporter, will spearhead the new effort’s development and go on-air as a radio host. The program is expected to begin broadcasting in late spring on GPB’s 17-station radio network. The shows will also stream live on www.gpb.org.

Wood isn’t waiting. She said she switched her donation to WABE-FM (90.1), a public radio station in Atlanta that’s not affiliated with GPB.

A GPB spokeswoman said Wednesday that Rogers, now an employee, could not discuss personal matters. He told the AJC Friday that he appreciated the opportunity to help develop quality programming at GPB, which would be personally and professionally satisfying.

GPB Vice President Nancy Zintak said the institution is concerned members may be upset. While she could not say how many members canceled their donations because of it, she said GPB has received about 130 related calls or emails since Dec. 5, after the AJC broke news of Rogers’ decision to leave office. GPB has 45,000 members, people who make private donations to support it.

“If they are upset with how things all happened, it’s completely understandable,” Zintak said of those who complained. But, she said, GPB has “always been a very good steward, from the smallest personal donations to significant grants and state money. We’re going to soldier through this.”

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