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More fallout from the scandal at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. NPR's David Folkenflik reports that recent audits of the CPB suggest that it may have tried to get around the law in paying two past CEOs.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:
By law the executives of CPB are not supposed to be paid more than US Cabinet secretaries, these days about $180,000. But back in 2000, CPB board members liked CEO Robert Coonrod so much they figured out a way to get him more money. New CPB spokesman Michael Levy explained why.
Mr. MICHAEL LEVY (Spokesperson, Corporation for Public Broadcasting): The board was seeking to retain the expertise of a valuable, experienced employee.
FOLKENFLIK: The CPB is a private, not-for-profit company set up in 1967. CPB relies exclusively on federal dollars to subsidize PBS and NPR member stations and provide seed money for some of their programs. Coonrod told NPR he had been ready to move on when his first CEO contract expired in 2000. So he was offered what's called deferred compensation above his $174,000 annual salary to stick around.
Mr. ROBERT COONROD (Former CEO, Corporation for Public Broadcasting): As far as everybody knew then and I think everybody knows now, it's entirely appropriate to provide deferred compensation. There's nothing inappropriate about that.
FOLKENFLIK: But new financial rules put that arrangement off-balance, so in 2002, CPB agreed to sign Coonrod to a four-year consulting contract worth more than $450,000 that kicked in after he retired two years later. Coonrod said he still provides important work to CPB.
Mr. COONROD: I think I more than fulfill the requirements of the consulting agreement.
FOLKENFLIK: Coonrod said there was no effort to conceal the deal, but there's no hint of it on the corporation's publicly available tax documents. In July 2004, Coonrod was succeeded by his protege Kathleen Cox, but CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson wanted to replace her with Patricia Harrison, a State Department official and former co-chairwoman for the Republican National Committee. That switch helped prompt an inspector general's investigation into complaints of illegal partisan politics. Cox was ousted three months before the end of her one-year contract. Although her annual salary is listed a bit above $170,000, Cox was promised $614,000 in salary, benefits and unused leave time, though the full amount hasn't been paid. Inspector General Kenneth Konz said the package was structured to avoid outside scrutiny.
Kenneth Tomlinson was forced out after the board reviewed Konz's report. Tomlinson and former CPB board chairman Frank Cruz did not return calls seeking comment, nor did current chairwoman Cheryl Halpern. Over the summer Halpern had requested an audit from PricewaterhouseCooper that revealed the scope of the compensation given to Coonrod. Chellie Pingree is the CEO at the liberal watchdog group Common Cause. She says the CPB often appears to be operating without accountability.
Ms. CHELLIE PINGREE (CEO, Common Cause): It seems like every time you peel back another layer here, you find potential inappropriate compensation, questionable decisions, lack of oversight. It's almost as if each day brings another story that we didn't want to hear about what was going on.
FOLKENFLIK: Pingree said the payments to both Robert Coonrod and Kathleen Cox raised big questions.
Ms. PINGREE: Was the law followed in the Coonrod case in terms of was he being paid more than was allowable under the law? When you look at Kathleen Cox, was she paid an excessive amount of money to hasten her departure or keep her quiet during the departure?
FOLKENFLIK: Cox's lawyer, Debra Katz, says Cox is legally entitled to the full $614,000. CPB spokesman Michael Levy declined comment on Cox, saying it is a confidential personnel matter. But Levy said the agreement with Coonrod passed muster with accounting and legal advisers. The PricewaterhouseCooper audit has not yet been released, as the CPB asked for some of its findings to be revised. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.
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