Two-Way: NHPR President Plans to Retire Amid Management Review

Oct 1, 2018

Betsy Gardella, NHPR president and CEO.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

  Earlier today, NHPR announced the retirement of Betsy Gardella, the station's president and CEO, effective at the end of this year. Gardella has led the station for 13 years and in a statement the board of trustees praised her for her contributions. NHPR's Todd Bookman is reporting on this as part of an independent reporting team at NHPR. And he joined All Things Considered host Peter Biello to discuss the news.

 

So this announcement caught a lot of people, both within the station and in our listening community, off guard. What have you learned about Gardella's retirement.

Well, Gardella announced her retirement to staff in an email earlier today. And some people were certainly caught off guard. But it is worth noting she did empty her office over the weekend, which certainly raised red flags for some employees arriving into the station today. In her e-mail she said that the time was right for this, that she had a significant birthday coming up, and also was married last year to a man who lives and works in Massachusetts. The station also just successfully ended a $5 million capital campaign. So from that perspective the timing is right. But there is also the issue of this investigation that was carried out earlier this year. 

Yeah this was something station employees were made aware of in May but this wasn't reported publicly.

Correct. The chair of the Board of Trustees notified staff that an outside investigation had been carried out and that the investigation confirmed "serious management human resources and communication issues" within NHPR. And at that time an outside consultant was brought in to help the station and its leadership work through some of these issues. And Gardella notified staff at that time that she was committed to making NHPR a better place to work.

Now do we know what those serious management issues are that the investigators found?

There were no allegations or findings of any financial mismanagement and illegal activities or any sexual harassment by Gardella. But the Board of Trustees has declined to release the investigator's report. Based on interviews with staff, I've learned that some of them relayed concerns to the board about Gardella's handling of certain employees, employees who were the subject of complaints from other employees. There was a frustration that either no action or slow action was taken by Gardella to address these situations. There were also concerns that this was contributing to high turnover within the organization.

But the board is denying any link between Gardella retirement and the internal turmoil during the past few months?

Correct. The chair of the Board of Trustees, Marshall Rowe, in an interview earlier today, said the decision to retire was completely Gardella's and that the board unanimously signed off on the timing of the announcement.

Okay. And we should acknowledge here that you're an NHPR employee, a member of our newsroom. You get some of these e-mails ... well you get all of them really.

Correct. But back in May when the staff - all staff was notified of the investigation, including myself, a decision was made to basically isolate myself and my editor from this story. That is, I stopped attending staff meetings where this topic was discussed. I didn't attend any of the trainings related to the investigation. I attempted to avoid all watercooler conversation of the topic. We wanted to treat this story the same way we would report on any other major institution in the state. And that meant disclosing to employees my role in the situation. But we thought it was important to be transparent to our listeners. This is an important story that we wanted to bring to our audience.

So what is next for NHPR?

Well, Gardella will stay on the payroll until December 31. She's tasked with helping the transition, though she will do that work remotely. You know, Gardella's backers would say these are pretty big shoes to fill. She led two successful large scale capital campaigns during her 13-year run here, and that included a $5 million capital campaign that ended last month. The station has won the national Edward R. Murrow award for overall excellence twice in the last three years. Gardella served on the NPR board for a period. She's a big name in the relatively small world of public radio. The station did announce today an interim executive director, that's Mark Kaplan. He's the former CEO of Alpha Loft and a current NHPR board member, and he will stay on until a search for a new executive director is complete.