As most Georgians celebrated the Fourth of July by running in the Peachtree Road Race, consuming pounds of barbecue, or simply avoiding the rain, former state Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, unveiled his new radio show, "Georgia Works."
Each week for 30 minutes, Rogers' program will cover the state's economic development, employment trends, and even offer resume tips. During last Thursday's debut, Rogers featured three one-on-one interviews with authors about hiring practices, college debt, and personal brands.
"In this day and age, a job, much less a long-lasting career, is difficult to find," Rogers, over a sample of John Mayer's "Why Georgia," said in the intro. "The question is: Are you taking the right steps to get there?"
Rogers also introduced a recurring segment, "Georgia Made Product," that highlights one local business every week. And yes, he even threw in a handful of "Chip's Tips," encouraging job seekers to "dress to impress" and bring "updated résumés" to an upcoming job fair.
The show itself was a polished and slightly tacky affair, but it was certainly tolerable. But that wasn't the issue. The problem? It took Rogers nearly six months to create his first show. And it's costing taxpayers $150,000.
Rogers has called the position a "dream come true in many respects." And who can blame him? He's making more money than either Gov. Nathan Deal or Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. And he didn't even have to apply for the gig!
But it's ironic that the cushy position focused on job growth and employment practices was obtained, as many Democratic and Republican politicos have noted, through cronyism. Yes, the executive director gig was basically created for him in a way that critics have likened to a "taxpayer-funded golden parachute" that conveniently appeared out of thin air.
Rogers resigned from the Gold Dome last December despite being re-elected just one month earlier. His decision ended a political career marked by far-right legislation and, more recently, ties to Agenda 21 — a supposed United Nations plot touted by conspiracy theorists.
It's widely believed that the governor strongly nudged GPB to create the initiative so that Rogers would leave office. Deal's staff declined to comment since he didn't directly hire Rogers, but state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, unintentionally revealed those motives last spring when the Democratic Party of Georgia shared a secretly recorded conversation of the lawmaker talking about his former beleaguered colleague.
"As bad as it was and the way it happened, it does smack of cronyism and it wasn't a smart move on his part," Gooch said in the recording.
No one, not even GPB apparently, knew at first what "Georgia Works" would become. A GPB spokeswoman thought Rogers' initiative might turn into the "WebMD for Georgia jobs." More recently, the former state Senator said his broadcast would support "the idea that the American dream is alive and well in Georgia."
Rogers wasn't kindly welcomed to the gig when he started work back in January. Left-leaning political advocacy group Better Georgia launched a petition on his first day calling for GPB to fire him. Two days later, 15-year veteran producer Ashlie Wilson Pendley announced her resignation in protest — mostly because of Rogers' special hiring and "unconscionable" salary at a time when budget cuts plagued the station.
She had a valid point, particularly as someone who earned a little more than one-third of the salary that Rogers received. The station could've hired three or four other journalists in his place. Tensions boiled among disgruntled rank-and-file GPB employees to the point where hostile anonymous emails started circulating at the station.
But then the jobs initiative started creating additional jobs — or at least one for starters. GPB hired another producer to do much of the heavy lifting for "Georgia Works." A GPB spokeswoman says the producer edits, books guests, screens calls, and updates the show's blog, which consists mostly of updates about economic development programs and job growth in Georgia.
So what will Rogers do on a daily basis? It doesn't seem like there's much left beyond hosting the weekly 30-minute segment. For what it's worth, he certainly played the part well during the show's debut with his radio-made voice. Was he $150,000 good? Probably not. Hell, the radio show didn't even warrant its own announcement, as it was tucked away into a press release with the title "GPB Radio Launches Two New Shows."
All this comes, as several current and former GPB employees have told CL, during a multi-year period marked by layoffs and a gradual shift toward replacing staffers with contract employees. It's one thing to shift hiring strategies when tough financial decisions are warranted. It's different to bring in an overpaid exec at the cost of taxpayers while others have seen their jobs axed, benefits cut, and hours slashed.
But those impacted employees shouldn't worry. Maybe some of Chip's Tips will help them land on their feet in no time. Meanwhile, Rogers will continue to enlighten us about companies across the state. Isn't it exciting how Georgia works?