Wednesday, January 23, 2013

GPB producer resigns, cites Chip Rogers' 'unconscionable' salary (Update)

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2013 at 10:56 AM

The uproar over Chip Rogers' first week at Georgia Public Broadcasting continues.

Staff producer Ashlie Wilson Pendley, a GPB employee for more than 15 years, has resigned in part due to Rogers' exorbitant salary. This follows a petition that was launched yesterday calling for the public radio network to fire the former state Senator, who is set to rake in $150,000 per year.

GPB tapped Rogers, who stepped down from his upper chamber position in December, for the executive producer position, which would allow him to "create programming that will aggregate job opportunities, job growth areas and career counseling." Critics, including Better Georgia, have likened the position to a "taxpayer-funded golden parachute."

A source who asked not to be identified forwarded Pendley's resignation letter to CL, which was originally sent to president and executive director Teya Ryan. You can read the full letter after the jump:

Dear Teya,

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

We've reached out to several people at GPB regarding the network's remarks, and we'll post an update once we hear back.

UPDATE, 12:23 p.m. A GPB spokeswoman confirms that Wilson Pendley has resigned. On the controversy surrounding the hiring of Rogers, she says:

"We are concerned when people are upset with us because we're public media and we're here for the public. We're trying very hard to communicate not only with our membership, but also our listeners and viewers. Our great programming will continue. [...]

Chip Rogers is going to come. He's got a broadcasting background. We're going to put a lot of meat on the bones with this show. We're going to have a robust website that's going to address Georgia and jobs. [...]

You may not like the way this whole thing happened, but the reality is it did. We're going to do an incredibly good job with it. We're working very hard to put together a show that's going to benefit and be good for Georgia."

She adds that Rogers' shows don't have a set start date, but to look for the radio show to most likely begin in late spring.

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