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Furor over United Way is the sound of silence

Dannye Romine Powell
Dannye Romine Powell writes on life in Charlotte and the Carolinas for the Local section of The Charlotte Observer.

Silence is a thief.

Silence has robbed United Way of public trust.

Silence has run off with Gloria Pace King's outstanding reputation.

Silence has ripped the integrity right off the back of the word “nonprofit.”

If United Way is paying King a $1.2million compensation package, it will need to pay a public relations guru twice that to straighten out this fiasco.

The question here is not whether King deserves to be perhaps the highest paid United Way executive in the country.

Nor is the question whether King should've declined what the United Way board offered.

The question is why no one will explain what the heck is going on.

In 2007, the board of directors increased King's benefit contributions more than sevenfold to $822,000. The board's explanation was that the money would bring King's retirement where it needed to be – to more than $200,000 a year for life.

OK. So why did it need to play catch-up?

Nobody will say.

The board won't talk. Neither will the board's attorney. Neither will King.

Nothing spawns suspicion like silence.

I could certainly imagine a board member going public with a statement like this:

“Look, King does an outstanding job. Our agency is second among the number of donors giving at least $10,000.

“She's loyal. She's energetic. Nationally, she's a superstar. We decided to pay her what top nonprofit executives get.

“It's a lot of money for a nonprofit. But we think she deserves it.”

Sure, people would grouse. Donations would likely fall off.

The night crew would be working overtime to scrub up the mess from the fallout.

But silence in the face of fair questions?

No mop is mighty enough.

So far, King's lawyer, Bill Diehl, seems to be the only one talking.

He says what any lawyer would say about his client. King has done nothing wrong. King has come to him, he says, because “there's been a big splash in the newspaper.”

Between the lines, I read this: The board wanted to pay King handsomely, but they didn't want the public to know how handsomely.

I believe the board wanted to do right by King. But by not speaking out, the board has failed to do right by the public.

The result: Gloria Pace King has been hung out to dry.

It was the board's responsibility to pay King what it thought she deserved and to inform and educate the public about its reasons.

It is not King's job to refuse the benefits. Nor to defend herself for accepting them.

Now, instead of pouring her energies into raising money, she is negotiating with her board through a high-powered lawyer who has not made his reputation brokering peace talks.

Who knows how this will end. Public faith in United Way wanes. Donations decline.

The board is – or should be – red-faced. And, once again, silence slinks off into the sunset.

Dannye: 704-358-5230; dpowell@charlotteobserver.com

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