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MPR executive assigned to supervise Live from Here

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Chris Thile
Live From Here host Chris Thile
Ann Heisenfelt | AP file

Minnesota Public Radio is sending one of its senior leaders to oversee the day-to-day operations of the staff that produces the show Live from Here with Chris Thile.

Tim Roesler, senior vice president of business development, will transition from MPR's downtown headquarters to the outpost on Frontenac Place that has long served as the production home for Live from Here and its predecessor, A Prairie Home Companion.

The move comes more than two months after MPR parted ways with its most celebrated voice over the years, Prairie Home's founding host, Garrison Keillor, over allegations of sexually inappropriate incidents with a female subordinate. 

As part of the changes announced Tuesday, employees who worked for longtime managing director Kate Gustafson Sanderson will now report to Roesler. Dave Kansas, MPR's chief operating officer, alerted senior leaders of the developments Tuesday afternoon in an email obtained by MPR News.

Gustafson Sanderson, who is employed by Keillor's company Prairie Grand LLC, will continue to "play a vital, leading role" in driving the success of Live from Here, Kansas said in the note. 

He added that the company and Keillor are still working on the transition of their business relationship. Both parties had spent several weeks in mediation.

"Since we are uncertain when we will reach resolution on the Prairie Grand-MPR discussions, we want to avoid confusion and clarify roles by having a senior MPR leader oversee the day-to-day operations at Frontenac at least until those talks are completed," Kansas wrote.

Keillor has not been an employee of MPR since 2002, when he broke off to form his independent companies. At that time, MPR entered into a contract with Prairie Grand to produce his shows. 

The staff for Prairie Home Companion, and now Live from Here, have worked away from MPR headquarters for years. The squat commercial building on Frontenac Place is nestled in a residential neighborhood near the Mississippi River. Workers frequently called it "The Fort."

Because of that physical and institutional distance, people who worked for Keillor over the years told MPR News they weren't sure where to report workplace concerns about Keillor's behavior — which included mistreatment of staff and romantic relationships with female subordinates — or how seriously those concerns would be taken. 

Gustafson Sanderson has long been a close associate of Keillor, and has served as managing director of his Prairie Home Productions since 2002. According to her LinkedIn profile, she started at MPR as a business manager in 1986.

MPR News has reported that in 2009, Gustafson Sanderson signed a check and a handwritten note sent to a woman who worked for Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion. The note explained that the woman would receive $16,000 if she were to sign a confidentiality agreement prohibiting her from divulging personal details about Keillor or other information. The woman never cashed the check or signed the agreement.

That woman was not the individual who reported allegations that led to MPR's split with Keillor. MPR president and CEO Jon McTaggart said the decision to sever ties came after a female subordinate on Prairie Home reported "dozens" of sexually inappropriate incidents, including requests for sexual contact and descriptions of unwanted sexual touching. Keillor, for his part, has said the flirtation was mutual.