One of the worst parts of my job is locking the gate at night.
When I am the last to leave my work at a homeless assistance center, I clear the property and head home in my car. The people we serve head to the streets. I never want to become comfortable with this fact. The sad reality is that I make a living because there are poor people.
In the ongoing controversy surrounding the United Way of the Central Carolinas and its former CEO, Gloria Pace King, this reality seems all but lost on the leadership involved.
The agency's board of directors asked King to resign. Board members said a new CEO is needed to regain donors' trust after public outcry about her pay. A retired Wachovia executive will serve as interim director, at a sum of $20,000 a month for his service.
Here is the truth: Each of the board members is responsible for what Gloria Pace King earned. She took the fall for a decision that ultimately they approved.
Here is also the truth: Gloria Pace King provided a tremendously valuable service to the community. Fundraising increased significantly under her leadership.
If King worked at Bank of America or Wachovia, likely no one would question her salary.
But she wasn't at the bank – she was at an agency created to help those in need. Fair or not, the public expects more from our non-profit leaders.
Because, in the end, King is not working for the United Way board. She and the board members are working for the people who come through the doors of the agencies the United Way funds. The loss of trust in the United Way will cause them to suffer most.
There is plenty of room to question why some people earn minimal pay for valuable work, while people in less vital jobs bring in tremendous sums. But if we were to make pay more equitable, we should not start with non-profit executives. We should begin with people who work in daycares, schools and factories and struggle to afford basics like housing, healthcare and dependable transportation.
These are the people the United Way often serves through its agencies. The public expects the leaders who are advocating for them to make a financial sacrifice. Social workers, teachers and other public servants make those sacrifices all the time.
If for only one week, I wish for all 60 members of the United Way board the experience of locking the gate at my job – to come face to face and feel the deep inequity in this city. Then they might understand better what they need to do to earn the public's trust.