APM chief McTaggart, seen as competitor, leaves NPR Board

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Jon McTaggartAmerican Public Media’s president, Jon McTaggart, won re-election to the NPR Board this summer but won’t be taking the seat after all.

McTaggart resigned from the board at NPR’s request after an outside legal analysis determined that his promotion to president of APM and Minnesota Public Radio presented a potential conflict of interest with his service on the NPR Board.

Since his first election to the board three years ago, McTaggart had been promoted from chief operating officer to chief exec of American Public Media Group, the parent company of APM/MPR. That put him uniquely and simultaneously on the boards of the two largest producers and distributors of public radio programming.

Marita Rivero, v.p. and g.m. of WGBH’s television and radio stations, will fill the NPR Board vacancy instead. Rivero also ran for re-election, and official vote counts put her next in line for the open seat, according to Dana Davis Rehm, NPR spokeswoman.

McTaggart’s resignation, announced in September, was all the less routine because the board reconsidered his eligibility after he had been nominated for re-election, and NPR asked him to resign after he had been re-elected in voting by authorized reps of NPR member stations.

“Jon McTaggart is one of the most ethical people I have met in this business, and there are so many examples of why Jon would not do anything to compromise his integrity, or that of MPR, APM and NPR,” board Chair Dave Edwards said. “But when he was elevated, it raised the discussion point.”

To resolve the question, NPR commissioned an analysis by antitrust lawyers with the firm of WilmerHale, according to Rehm.

“In these discussions, you have to weigh the competing loyalties to both boards to determine the scope and significance of potential conflict,” Rehm said. “This is a very complex area, and it made sense to get some outside views on it.” Many station managers serve simultaneously on their licensee boards and for NPR, but in this case it was a “question of degrees.” Meanwhile, board elections proceeded normally.

“We didn’t know what the outcome would be, but we knew it would take a long time,” Rehm said. “The board election process was already underway, and forcing a decision without having the information didn’t seem right.”

WilmerHale lawyers examined the potential for conflict under the Clayton Antitrust Act, according to Rehm. The federal law lays out conditions under which a director of a company is prohibited from serving as a director of another company in the same industry.

“NPR believes that APM competes with them, at least in some areas, so NPR asked me to resign my NPR Board seat due to legal considerations that prohibit anyone from serving on the boards of competing organizations,” McTaggart wrote in an email to the APM staff. “I am proud of my service on the NPR Board these past three years, and deeply grateful for the confidence of the Authorized Representatives who elected me to a second term earlier this summer. Minnesota Public Radio audiences highly value NPR programming, and I will continue to support efforts that build the long-term health and vitality of NPR.”

McTaggart is one of two NPR Board members to withdraw from service unexpectedly this year. Oregon Public Broadcasting President Steve Bass was nominated for re-election but resigned before the election, citing family and work commitments.

“My youngest is graduating from high school, and it was not a picnic being on that board for three years,” Bass told Current. “It was a tremendous amount of time and mind-space.”

“I still care very much about the organization and … hope to serve on the board again,” Bass said.

The board will fill Bass’s board seat at its Nov. 11-12 meeting, Rehm said.

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