United Way of Central Carolinas talks about transparency and disclosure. Yet it has pulled the curtain tight and refused the public meaningful details that would explain the extravagant expense account of a former director it fired.
Organization officials say they want to regain public trust. Well, this is a crucial test. United Way is flunking.
The board of directors dug the agency a hole this year. It fired Gloria Pace King, the agency's CEO, after public outcry over a closed-door decision to pay her some $1.2 million in compensation, including a one-time contribution to her retirement fund.
An external report about what went wrong shows a power- and money-hungry CEO and a complicit executive committee that failed to do its job.
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Now, responding to questions about King's expense account, United Way officials released information showing the agency spent nearly $74,000 on her work-related travel, perks and fringe benefits during the last budget year. That's a significant increase from the 2007 budget, when the agency spent $56,000. Travel doubled.
The question is why – and whether, in light of what has happened, the executive board provided sufficient oversight of the director's spending.
The only way to answer that question is by examining the details of her expenses, and United Way officials won't release them. They do not want to divulge, for example, itemized details such as hotels King stayed in and what food she ate to amass a $2,800 meal bill during four trips.
Board chair Carlos Evans said the agency worries such disclosure would infringe on the privacy of those with whom King might have been networking. He also cited the threat of litigation from King.
That's insulting to the public, which is being asked to support United Way with donations despite the record of secrecy and lack of oversight by the executive committee that led to a huge mistake. Board members have chosen the convenience of a few individuals over openness.
Have board members forgotten who the victims are? The most recent United Way campaign has come up $15 million short. That will be felt the most by this community's most vulnerable citizens.
The key to turning around that doubt is disclosure and accountability. Time after time, Evans has pledged that. He has sounded sincere. The agency has moved closer to reorganizing itself in a way that is more transparent.
But this isn't walking the walk.
United Way has a problem. It has lost public confidence and must clean up its act to regain it.
The board should give the public the details. That's the only way anyone can know whether what was spent was reasonable or ridiculous – and whether a valuable community organization is in fact changing poor habits.