Gardella’s Exit From NHPR Follows Investigation Into Management Issues

Oct 1, 2018

Betsy Gardella

Betsy Gardella, who has led New Hampshire Public Radio since 2005 as President and CEO, says she will retire from the organization at the end of the year.

(Click here to listen to Todd Bookman talk about this story with All Things Considered host Peter Biello, including how NHPR set up an independent reporting team to cover it.)

The announcement comes after “serious management, human resources and communication issues” were identified by independent investigators brought in by the station’s Board of Trustees following complaints from employees. NHPR Board of Trustees Chair Marshall Rowe notified staff of that investigation in an email in late May.

The investigators found no evidence of illegal activities, financial mismanagement or sexual harassment by Gardella. Rowe declined to explain the specific concerns, and the Board declined to release a copy of the investigation.

Employees arriving to the station Monday morning found Gardella’s office cleaned out and dark. In her own email to NHPR staff on Monday, she addressed the investigation: “All organizations face challenges, and we’ve had ours as well, but I believe great progress was made over the past several months.”

Gardella did not respond to an interview request for this story.

“On behalf of my fellow board members, I’d like to thank Betsy for her years of dedication to NHPR, note the many accomplishments that NHPR has achieved under her leadership, and convey our very best wishes to Betsy and her husband as they embark on the next chapter in their lives,” said Rowe in an email to station employees on Monday.

In an interview, Rowe denied any link between the investigation, subsequent hiring of an outside consulting firm, and the timing of Gardella’s announcement.

“This was completely her decision. She’s been thinking about it for a number of months, and she concluded based on her personal situation that this was the right timing,” he said.

Her departure comes less than two weeks after NHPR celebrated the completion of a $5 million capital campaign, the second large-scale fundraising effort overseen during Gardella’s run at the station. Major donors were feted during a Sept. 20 event at LaBelle Winery, where the station’s leaders were praised by the Board for having the “courage” to embark on the effort.

Six days later, the 18-member NHPR Board of Trustees met off-site for a Board meeting, where they voted unanimously to accept the terms of Gardella’s retirement, according to Rowe. Gardella will work off-site through the end of the year, collecting her contracted salary of more than $244,000 until that point. Rowe said she will assist in the selection of a new CEO.

NHPR employs more than 60 people, including more than 25 staff who produce content for the airwaves, nhpr.org and podcasts. The station received national recognition during Gardella’s tenure, including the national Edward R. Murrow Award for overall excellence in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Despite its accolades, some departments within the station have struggled with perceived high rates of turnover, including in leadership positions. There were also allegations, according to interviews with employees, that Gardella failed to take adequate action after receiving a series of complaints aimed at certain high-ranking employees.

“I’m sure the Board would concur that turnover is higher than we wish it would be because we have great appreciation for the professionals at NHPR,” said Rowe. He added, “My understanding is the turnover at NHPR is not unique in the industry.”

He declined to discuss Gardella’s handling of complaints made against employees, citing confidentiality concerns.

After the initial findings by an outside investigator were delivered to the Board in a confidential report this spring, NHPR hired Melinda Gehris of Hess Gehris Solutions to serve as a consultant. According to the Board, Gehris’s contract is for $40,000.

“We made a decision to invest in outside consulting services to provide enhanced communication capabilities within the staff, to enhance productivity, and improve the work environment,” said Rowe.

In an email sent to station staff in late May--the same day Rowe informed employees of the investigation--Gardella said she was “personally committed to making NHPR a better place to work and am confident that we will emerge stronger from this process.”

Since her contract began, Gehris has met with a number of NHPR staff members about ways to improve communication within the station, according to employees interviewed for this story.

She has provided regular updates to the Board, and according to Rowe, Gehris attended last Wednesday’s Board meeting.

A day before that meeting, a former NHPR employee, Karlyn Borysenko, who was hired as a marketing director in 2014, released a scathing portrayal of the station in "Zen Your Work: Create Your Ideal Work Experience Through Mindful Self-Mastery." The self-help book refers to an unnamed public radio station as having a “toxic environment,” pointing blame at its leadership.

“I left every day feeling angry, frustrated, and unsupported because the narcissism of the person running the organization had trickled down over the course of years into her top staff members,” wrote Borysenko.

Rowe acknowledged he and other trustees are aware of the release of the book, but said he hadn’t read it.

Last year, Rowe defended Gardella’s performance and salary, telling the Union Leader that Gardella is “extremely talented and the state as a whole is extremely fortunate to have her as CEO.”

Before coming to NHPR in 2005, Gardella held leadership positions at WNYC and American Public Media in Minnesota. In 2009, she was elected to serve on the National Public Radio Board of Directors. One of her most visible contributions during her time in New Hampshire is the construction of a state-of-the-art broadcasting facility located at 2 Pillsbury Street in Concord, the result of a $6.5 million capital campaign completed in 2009. This summer, the station wrapped up a $5 million Innovation Campaign, which is funding initiatives including the environment podcast Outside/In, and the creation of more reporting bureaus throughout the state.  

Mark Kaplan, former CEO of Alpha Loft and a current NHPR Board member, will serve as interim Executive Director while a national search to find Gardella’s replacement is completed. Gardella will serve as “transition advisor” during the search, which could take six months or more.  

“As if often the case when things are meant to be, this has all fallen into place very quickly,” said Gardella in her email to staff.

NOTE: NHPR Managing Editor Cori Princell edited this story with help from John Dankosky of the New England News Collaborative. No other NHPR staff or leadership had oversight or reviewed the story before publication.