Betsy Gardella, who led New Hampshire Public Radio for more than a dozen years before a sudden retirement in 2018, was paid $374,784 in the year following her departure, according to recently released tax forms.
The payouts were made in 2019. Gardella is classified as a consultant on the tax forms, performing an average of two hours of work per week.
NHPR’s Board of Trustees is defending Gardella’s payout. In an email to station staff sent Friday afternoon, Board Chair Susan Zankel said the compensation reflected Gardella’s “documented strong executive performance during her tenure.”
Zankel said the compensation was negotiated with Gardella, and reflects “13-years of supplemental retirement deferred compensation, as well as 10-months of base pay and employer contributions toward health insurance.”
In her email, Zankel did not describe the payments as compensation for consulting work, as it was labeled on the tax documents.
The Board had not previously disclosed the payouts.
Between 2018-2019—according to the two most recent years of publicly available reports which detail the salaries of the non-profit’s highest compensated employees—Gardella received more than $670,000, including her base pay, consulting work and other reportable income. During that period, she was a full-time employee for one year, retiring on December 31, 2018.
Some station employees interviewed for this story were frustrated by the Board’s decision, and, to some degree, left scratching their heads by the payments, saying they were unaware of any work performed on NHPR’s behalf by Gardella in the recent fiscal period that could be described as consulting.
The new tax documents reveal how much the public broadcaster spent on executive compensation during its leadership transition in 2019, following Gardella’s retirement. Along with the $381,970 in total reportable compensation paid to Gardella, interim CEO Mark Kaplan received $170,120 in total compensation, while Jim Schachter, who took over as executive director in October 2019, received $57,653.
In total, the station spent nearly $610,000 during a twelve month period on executive pay.
In the year preceding Gardella’s departure, she was paid a base salary of $267,233, according to tax returns.
“The NHPR Board of Trustees takes setting of executive compensation seriously, as it does its oversight of budgeting and general fiscal management,” said Zankel in her email. “NHPR, like all organizations, exists in a marketplace that plays a big part in determining how its executives are compensated.”
Gardella’s departure came following an outside investigation that identified serious management, human resources and communications issues within the station. The Board of Trustees maintained that her retirement was not linked to the findings of the investigation. It declined to release the full report.
In October 2018, employees of the station returned to work after a weekend to find Gardella’s office cleared out and dark. “All organizations face challenges, and we’ve had ours as well, but I believe great progress was made over the past several months,” wrote Gardella in a station-wide email to employees that same day.
During Gardella’s tenure as CEO, she successfully oversaw the completion of two major capital campaigns, the expansion of the station’s newsroom, and nationwide recognition: NHPR was awarded the national Edward R. Murrow Award for overall excellence in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
NHPR has more than 60 employees, and an annual revenue stream of nearly $8 million. Along with grants and corporate underwriting, the station relies on contributions from its audience to balance its budget. Board trustees had previously defended Gardella’s salary, saying it was in line with other executives of similarly sized stations and that her performance over the years warranted the compensation.
Non-profit executives who ran larger institutions in New Hampshire have received similar payouts following their exits, including the former head of Keene State College, who received $327,225 in severance, and more recently the former president of UNH who received a $425,000 annual salary for a year following his departure.
CORRECTION: The Board of Trustees says that while the tax documents cover Fiscal Year 2020, the salary disclosures represent payments made during calendar year 2019. This post has been updated.
NOTE: NHPR Managing Editor Cori Princell edited this story with help from John Dankosky of the Connecticut Mirror. No other NHPR staff or leadership had oversight or reviewed the story before publication.