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Anger at United Way persists

Doug Pond of Statesville feels anger.

Betsy McGuirt of Monroe: powerlessness.

Cheryl Kane of Charlotte: disrespect.

Lynda Hayes of Pineville: betrayal.

Four reactions, all blamed on the United Way.

It's been two months since news broke that the United Way board gave former CEO Gloria Pace King $1.2 million in salary and benefits last year.

But public ire has grown rather than died down, fed by everything from the board's handling of the controversy to the feeling of being pressured at work to donate by some of the same executives who signed off on King's pay.

None of which is good, six days from a campaign that will supply desperately needed money to 91 charities trapped in a struggling economy.

“There is a perception of pomposity on the part of the United Way board,” says Cheryl Kane, 50, a longtime United Way supporter. She spent Friday crafting a 400-word letter to the board on why her donations this year will bypass the agency.

“They are being arrogant and callous toward their donors, and the quotes being attributed to them in the media only make it worse.”

Doug Pond, 50, took aim at the board's hiring of an interim director at $20,000 a month. “These guys don't have a clue what it's like to worry about having enough money for gas to get the kids to school,” he said. “A lot of people are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and those are the ones donating to this operation.”

He said he's worried the fallout will impact the United Way in Iredell County, where he chairs a community-investment panel.

It could, says Lauren Batten, president of Vandever Batten, a Charlotte philanthropy consulting firm.

“This episode makes it harder for all Charlotte's nonprofits to do good because of the skepticism it creates among donors,” she said.

The furor is further changing United Way leadership. Observer Publisher Ann Caulkins resigned from the board Thursday, saying she could not effectively serve because of the controversy.

County Manager Harry Jones, a board member for seven years, said Friday that Caulkins might not be the last.

“I do know there are some people who are struggling with whether they should stay,” he said. Asked if he's considering leaving, he replied: “I'm not at a point to say yet.”

This week, United Way of Central Carolinas' interim CEO, Mac Everett, acknowledged the anger and said it will take time to rebuild trust.

“Look, what's done is done,” he said, “and we've got people to take care of in this community.”

Answers to the public's questions about what went wrong at United Way won't be available until a review panel finishes its investigation, he said. That may not happen before the campaign ends.

Lynda Hayes, 67, says debating the answers – or lack of them – has become the talk of the town.

“Whenever two people come together, this thing comes up,” says Hayes. “We're wondering what we're not being told. … I get the impression they want this swept under the rug until the campaign is over. That's not going to happen. It shouldn't take this long to get our questions answered.”

Betsy McGuirt, 58, just wants someone to take responsibility.

“Nobody is accountable any more for anything, and it just makes you feel helpless,” she says. “Enough is enough. The executives of an organization like this should be working for the people.”

Tim Griffin of Charlotte has made up his mind about the upcoming campaign: Not another dime.

“We are made to feel guilty (at work) if we don't give ‘our fair share.' We feel like the $25 we give each week is going to help the needy.”

Now, he says, “I feel deceived.”

Staff Writers Eric Frazier and Michael Gordon contributed.
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