GA Gov. Makes Late-Term Appointments to GPB Board as Close Race for His Successor Nears

Gov. Nathan Deal, whose direct interference in Georgia Public Broadcasting undermined its independence and journalistic integrity, has continued to exert control over the network by making seven late-term appointments to its nine member board.

This comes as a close election for his successor nears.

A Gubernatorial debate will be held on GPB Tuesday night and streamed on Facebook and other media outlets.

Last Wednesday, GPB’s oversight body, the Georgia Public Telecommunications Commission, held its final quarterly board meeting of the Deal era.

While the public release of its 2018 state audit is expected soon, the meeting saw no discussion of its findings but was taken up with the introduction and orientation of Deal’s new appointees.

Longtime Commission member and current chair Jan Paul presided over her last meeting but will be moving to an emeritus status, CEO Teya Ryan told the board.

Asked later by email about the new board members and if they were just there until the next Gov., GPB’s VP for Human Resources and open records contact replied,

“All board members are appointed [to] 4 year terms. In transition years, the new Governor generally honors previous appointments until their terms have been completed.”

That isn’t quite true. After a period of financial losses at GPB in the 90s, Gov. Roy Barnes, the last Democrat to hold the office and then still early in his administration, demanded the resignations of GPB’s top official and entire Commission.

As to whether any formal resignation or appointment letters related to Deal’s recent Commission changes were available, GPB told me succinctly, “No.”

I did find a press release on the Office of Governor’s website dated Sept. 21 and titled “Deal Appoints 25 to Boards.” It includes the outgoing Gov.’s seven GPB appointments.

Asked who the new Commission chair will be, GPB stated “As is stipulated in the bylaws for the Commission, the new board chair will be elected by the board.”

And whether GPB CEO Teya Ryan plans to continue under the next Gov.? “Yes. CEO-President Ryan serves at the pleasure of the Governor and the board.”

Interestingly, as of this writing, GPB’s own website still lists its previous Commission members.

After hiring the state’s Senate Majority Leader for a $150,000 job causing one veteran producer to resign in protest, GPB then angered much of the Atlanta public with a secret back room deal that gave it daytime control of Georgia State University’s iconic radio station WRAS.

Students who fund the station were never consulted and were informed of the deal during finals week.

Under student control, WRAS had gained national acclaim as one of the best and most influential college radio stations in the country. It helped shape the Indie rock genre and gave crucial early airplay to Atlanta artists OutKast and Janelle Monáe.

GPB’s daytime takeover of WRAS also put it in direct competition with Atlanta’s longtime NPR affiliate WABE, which receives no state funding. GPB’s 2017 state audit showed a financial loss and included a warning letter about internal controls.

The close race between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams also features Libertarian candidate Ted Metz who will appear in the debate.

None of the candidates have commented on GPB’s scandals or announced plans for the agency. That may be a reflection of it hosting the debate and being an important state media outlet shaping the campaign discourse.

But perhaps unsurprisingly, the Abrams campaign has actively gone beyond Georgia’s legacy media outlets to gain extensive national coverage. She’s made appearances on The Daily Show and MSNBC.

For his part, Kemp has made several national appearances on Fox News and Fox Business Channel.

Conveniently, Fox News’ Atlanta bureau is located in GPB’s headquarters.

In one statement to the Commission at its meeting last week, GPB’s VP for Finance Elizabeth Laprade stated “We’re 1.4 under.” I took this to mean million.

In its email GPB clarified: “This represents Quarter 1 FY2019 current year revenue expenditures versus revenue. GPB’s accounting practices are to encumber annual expenditures/contracts at the beginning of the fiscal year. We expect revenue to offset this deficit as it is earned over the 12 month course of the fiscal year.”

A non-profit’s fiscal year may well be volatile, so the benchmark I’ve been tracking is the Net Position stated on its annual state audits. The last three showed declines.

Atlanta writer and comedian. Occasional citizen journalist. Diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 40. No relation to Steve.

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