Kemp Appoints ̶B̶e̶t̶h̶ ̶M̶e̶r̶k̶l̶e̶s̶o̶n̶
Cecil Staton to GPB Board

Screenshot of Gov. Brian Kemp press release announcing appointments to the Georgia Public Telecommunications Commission

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced over five dozen appointments to various state boards and commissions on Friday including six to the nine-person Georgia Public Telecommunications Commission, the board that runs Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Four are re-appointments but a new commissioner, Cecil Staton, is a former Republican member of the state senate who served with Majority Leader Chip Rogers.

As part of a leadership dispute in 2011, Staton was accused of sending emails critical of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and others under the name of Beth Merkleson.

Rogers resigned his senate seat in 2012 to take a controversial job with GPB while also working for the Asian American Hotel Owners Association. Staton succeeded Rogers as CEO of the AAHOA in 2019.

Lawmaker and USG Figure

Staton was first elected to the state senate in 2004, served until 2014, and was then appointed to a Vice Chancellor position within the University System of Georgia by Chancellor, and former lawmaker, Hank Huckaby. Staton was appointed interim president of Valdosta State University a year later.

While in the Senate, Staton served in Republican leadership positions including as caucus vice-chair and minority whip.

He also served as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee which sets funding for GPB.

In the 2021 session of the legislature a cut to GPB’s funding was inserted as a partisan “swipe” against its radio content according to emails from GPB CEO Teya Ryan obtained through an Open Records Request.

The funds were quickly restored in conference committee but indicate a possible reason for Staton’s appointment to the board.

However, the episode again showed how vulnerable GPB is to the whims and grievances of state lawmakers.

That was most famously highlighted when Rogers resigned his senate seat in 2012, soon after reelection, to take the job at Georgia Public Broadcasting for a six-figure salary. The job was offered after the urging of then Gov. Nathan Deal.

One GPB producer resigned in protest.

Controversy followed Rogers’s tenure at GPB, and he was ousted in April of 2014 in part for holding a second job as lobbyist for the AAHOA.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Rogers served as Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Relations from 2009 and throughout his time at GPB.

He became President and CEO of AAHOA in Nov. of 2014, after his time at the public broadcaster had ended, and served until 2019 when he was succeeded by Staton.

Rogers is now President and CEO of the D.C.-based American Hotel and Lodging Association.

His profile does not list his time at Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Staton resigned from the AAHOA in June of 2021.

The Beth Merkleson emails attacking Cagle became fodder for political journalists and bloggers and caused Staton to temporarily suspend his leadership position within the Republican caucus.

Cagle ran for governor in 2018 but lost the Republican nomination to Brian Kemp in a primary runoff.

Conservative Publisher and Media Owner

Staton was Founding President of Smyth and Helwys, a private Macon publishing house named for early Baptist church figures, while simultaneously serving as Associate Provost and Publisher at Mercer University Press in the 1990s and early 2000s.

In 2004 he started Stroud and Hall, a boutique house publishing right-leaning books including several by Georgia politicians such as Zell Miller, Herman Cain, and Bob Barr.

In the 2000s he also started Georgia Eagle Media which owned broadcast stations in Central Georgia and the Warner Robbins Patriot.

Chancellor

In 2016 Staton was named Chancellor of East Carolina University serving three tumultuous years.

In March of 2021 the North Carolina digital magazine The Assembly published a long-form profile of Rogers’s tenure at East Carolina titled “The Ill-Fated Chancellor.”

Like the Merkleson episode, much of the drama involved Republican infighting.

The magazine described Staton’s departure in March of 2019 as resigning “under pressure” but that he left with a $589,700 settlement.

Continued Emphasis on Sports

The other new GPB commissioner is Turner Sports executive Chris Brown suggesting continued emphasis on high school football as part of the state network’s programming.

At its last commission meeting GPB CEO Teya Ryan mentioned football as getting underwriting if not necessarily membership contributions but that it’s just “what we do.”

President and Chief Revenue Officer Bert Wesley Huffman added that football is important in maintaining support from the legislature.

Confirmation

All new commission appointments are subject to confirmation in the state senate, Staton’s old body. Barring any special session, the senate won’t meet again until Jan. after the gubernatorial election.

If Abrams wins, she could seek to replace Kemp appointments with her own, something that did occur in 2003 after the senate let many of Roy Barnes’ late-term appointments go unconfirmed. This allowed Sonny Perdue to then name his own.

However, that took place with a newly Republican governor and state senate.

If Abrams wins, the state senate is still expected to remain in Republican control.

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Brian Bannon

Brian Bannon

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