It was a contentious meeting, a confrontation between WHYY news chief Chris Satullo and several of the station's senior executives.

Chief financial officer A. William Dana showed Satullo a document outlining a $90,000 news-budget shortfall. Satullo, after figuring some numbers, responded that the actual deficit was less than $20,000 and soon would be covered with new grant money, according to people familiar with what transpired.

Dana was upset about something else, too - that Satullo and PlanPhilly managing editor Matt Golas, also present, were moving to hire a firm called P'unk Avenue to quickly create a website for a Pittsburgh version of the WHYY land-use reporting project. P'unk Avenue had earlier redesigned the PlanPhilly site.

Such a move requires a waiver from bidding procedures, and Dana wanted an explanation.

He demanded of the two newsmen: "Do you have relatives at P'unk Avenue?"

Satullo and Golas - never accused of ethical lapses in long careers - answered no, of course not. The South Philadelphia Web designer had talent, worked fast, and knew the territory. They agreed that if a subsequent grant came through for PlanBurgh, they would seek bids.

The Aug. 26 meeting ended that afternoon. The acrimony did not.

The following Tuesday, Satullo, vice president of news and civic engagement, was summoned to see station president and CEO William Marrazzo. Satullo left the meeting without a job. Golas resigned soon afterward.

At WHYY, the dominant public-broadcasting TV and radio station in Philadelphia, Satullo's departure has unsettled the news operation, clouded the future of major initiatives, and led some to wonder about the future of public news in the region.

A station that has battled for impact and identity both regionally and nationally must now pause and reset. It said goodbye to an executive who, despite tight financial times, managed to nearly triple the newsroom staff from 21 to 59 in the last six years.

An ongoing effort to take WHYY's medical-and-science program, The Pulse, into national syndication had counted on Satullo's making a pitch this month to potential partner stations at a big radio conference.

The PlanBurgh project, which could deliver $1.5 million in foundation funding to WHYY, has stalled as potential grantors digest the sudden absence of the initiative's two chief proponents.

People in and around WHYY credit Satullo with building the news operation almost from scratch, adding websites and programs including NewsWorks and Keystone Crossroads. And they say that in moving fast, he occasionally blew past procedures honored by his supervisors.

"He did so much, and had so many balls in the air, that occasionally one would slip," a WHYY coworker said.

Satullo's unexpected end came after months of friction between him and his bosses, according to people familiar with the circumstances.

Satullo felt the managers were slow to act, stuck in a public-radio bureaucracy layered with committees and rules. They felt Satullo had little regard for them or for the governing processes.

Satullo, 61, declined comment.

In a June interview on a different topic, he described his efforts to evolve modern news-sharing in a way that now seems prescient.

"I'm not part of the church of public radio," he said then, "so sometimes I was violating the sacred rules and didn't even know it."

WHYY board chairman L. Frederick Sutherland said he could not discuss internal matters, including Satullo's relationship with his superiors.

"Chris was a valuable contributor. He accomplished a lot during the time he was at WHYY," Sutherland said. "We're sorry to see him leave."

The station seeks his replacement and is "confident we'll get someone who is very talented and will lead the newsroom in the same direction," he said.

Marrazzo would not comment.

Such exits are common in corporate America, where financial pressures or differing managerial styles lead CEOs to change team members. It happens in large news organizations, particularly when headstrong managers collide, but less frequently in the quieter world of public radio.

People in the Philadelphia region feel ownership of WHYY - and support it with their dollars. In 2014, more than 101,000 WHYY members and donors contributed $15.4 million, half the station's total revenue of $31.2 million.

Satullo envisioned the future WHYY as a hub of collaboration, a place where talented journalists and specialists could join to create something wonderful - almost like a movie-production studio that brings in actors, writers, and cameramen.

"It works for Hollywood," he said in that June interview with The Pub. "I don't know why it couldn't work for journalism."

Satullo was editorial page editor of The Inquirer before moving to WHYY in 2008. He earned $165,495 as a vice president, and was known for attracting money and partners for innovative news projects and for seeking ways to share news across emerging Internet platforms.

News of his departure became public Sept. 3. That afternoon, Satullo met with stunned newsroom staffers outside the station at Franklin Square Park, where he gave an emotional goodbye speech.

"Chris Satullo is irreplaceable at WHYY," tweeted veteran broadcast journalist Sophie Reid, who has reported for WHYY.

Friends describe Satullo as determined, capable, and deep-thinking, expert at making presentations that win money from donors. They also say he can be certain that his way is the best way, and at times short on tact.

Satullo is a native of Cleveland who transferred a baseball allegiance to the Phillies, insisting that, no matter the travails of the home team, he would never boo.

The Williams College graduate was a reporter then editor at the Easton Express before joining The Inquirer as a swing editor in suburban Neighbors sections. Then-editorial-page editor Jane Eisner chose Satullo as her deputy and pushed for him to get the top job when she left.

"He had this combination of a fierce intellect, somebody who can dissect arguments, but at the same time can write about deep, conflicting emotions," said Eisner, now top editor of the Forward in New York. "He certainly could have an edge to him. A lot of confident, brilliant people do."

At The Inquirer and at WHYY, Satullo sought ways to extract meaningful, common-ground information from community forums held across the state and then use those findings to help journalists focus on people's main concerns, said Harris Sokoloff, director of the University of Pennsylvania Project for Civic Engagement.

"Chris was always demanding, always high expectations, always incredibly supportive to get there," said Sokoloff, who has worked in partnerships with Satullo since 1995.

Yes, he said, "there were times I thought Chris was maybe more direct than I would have liked. . . . When Chris would speak directly, it was, 'How do we make the work better?' "

People connected to WHYY who discussed Satullo's and Golas' departures declined to be identified, saying that doing so could endanger their jobs or harm their relationship with the station. Golas is a former Inquirer metro editor, in that role responsible for all regional news coverage. He would not comment for this article.

Satullo was instrumental in bringing PlanPhilly to WHYY in February, after the project left the University of Pennsylvania.

PlanPhilly also became a point of contention at the Aug. 26 meeting.

The top managers were concerned about how the changed employment status of PlanPhilly reporters could cost more money.

When PlanPhilly came to WHYY, most of its staff was considered independent contractors. But changes in federal rules meant they must become employees, with added benefits.

Satullo and Golas would need to find new money to cover those costs.

Satullo was leading the effort to have The Pulse broadcast by additional stations. Several had signed on, and six more were interested. Later this month he and Pulse staffers were to meet potential partners at the Public Radio Program Directors Association conference in Pittsburgh. Now that initiative needs a leader.

"To have Chris fall through a trap door," one WHYY colleague said, "was enormously disappointing and damaging."

215-854-4906@JeffGammage