Atlanta’s Public Radio Intrigue Continues

The former head of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s oversight body is now serving on rival WABE’s board.

Craig Lesser, an influential lobbyist and consultant with close ties to the state’s business and political elite, served as a member and then chair of the Georgia Public Telecommunications Commission as late as 2016.

He has been serving on Public Broadcasting Atlanta’s board since Jan. of 2017, according to meeting minutes obtained from PBA.

A press release from last July announcing board appointments to PBA makes no mention of Mr. Lesser’s time at GPB.

When asked via e-mail about a conflict of interest, PBA spokesperson Hilary Silverboard stated “There was no conflict of interest with Mr. Lesser serving on the PBA board. Mr. Lesser was no longer on the GPB board when he joined the PBA board.”

Mr. Lesser is the Managing Partner of Pendleton Consulting Group which boasts on its website of its ability to trade on political connections:

“We’ve amassed more than a century of contacts and experience to connect businesses and governments with the most influential people in the state. With the right connections, decisions get made faster, your company is more profitable and your influence grows.”

A long time GPB Commission member, Mr. Lesser was re-appointed in August of 2012 and named its Chair in 2015 by Gov. Nathan Deal.

This period saw numerous scandals at the network. In the fall of 2012, GPB agreed to hire Georgia’s Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers for a $150,000 salary on the urging of Gov. Deal. One veteran producer resigned in protest.

Coinciding with the Rogers hiring, secret negotiations between GPB and Georgia State University began that would eventually give the network daytime control of GSU’s student-funded radio station WRAS in direct competition with WABE.

Public calls for an investigation into the back room deal and for the Commission to fire GPB’s CEO Teya Ryan went unheeded.

GPB receives nearly half its funding from state appropriations and has never acted as a watchdog on public corruption.

After three straight years of financial losses in the 90s, Gov. Roy Barnes, then in his first year and the last Democrat to hold the office, demanded the resignation of GPB’s top executive and entire governing Commission.

This past fiscal year marked another three-year period of losses.

For its part, Public Broadcasting Atlanta receives no state funding but does accept underwriting from corporate and institutional interests such as University degree programs.

A bio for PBA’s CEO Wonya Lucas lists membership in Leadership Atlanta, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and the Atlanta Business League.

Last Nov. Ms. Lucas was named to NPR’s board of directors and lead the special committee on sexual harassment and workplace culture that received an outside investigation into the national network’s handling of allegations against news executive Michael Oreskes.

NPR’s own coverage of the report headlined the “high level of distrust” of management.

In addition to charges of cronyism and outside political interference at GPB there have been allegations of a toxic work environment.

Asked about the seemingly lax oversight of GPB’s board, PBA’s spokesperson replied:

“PBA has no knowledge of Mr. Lesser’s thoughts and actions during his tenure at GPB, therefore PBA has no comment.”

I hope to post more this weekend.

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