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United Way Fires King, but She Gets to Keep Salary

http://66.225.205.104/JR20080826c.mp3

The volunteer board of the United Way of Central Carolinas fired its CEO Gloria Pace King today in an attempt to salvage the nonprofit's image and fundraising efforts in Charlotte. A little more than half of the United Way's 63-member board gathered behind closed doors for a little more than two hours at the agency's headquarters Uptown. They voted unanimously to demand CEO Gloria Pace King's resignation. If she doesn't resign, the board intends to terminate her employment effective September 30th. After the vote, members of the board left swiftly and somberly, without saying a word. Board Chair Graham Denton spoke at a news conference a few hours later. "The ongoing controversy has impaired the ability of current leadership to perform effectively. As a result, the United Way of Central Carolinas has decided to end Ms. King's employment and begin with new leadership," Denton says. The controversy dates back to June when tax filings revealed an $822,000 contribution to King's retirement account, making her total compensation for 2007 $1.2 million. The documents also show King would receive more than $1 million in her retirement account over the next three years - in addition to her base salary of $290,000. Denton defended the retirement benefit at the time, noting King's success at the organization. Today he says the board sees things differently: "It has become increasingly clear that the retirement package exceeded what our community expects for a leader of a nonprofit, no matter how successful the organization," he says. Denton says he and other members of the board now believe they made a "serious mistake." "We owe the community a sincere apology. Executive committee members who approved the retirement plan offer a simple statement to United Way agencies, volunteers, donors, staff, other board members and the public. And that statement is "We are sorry." Despite that admission, Denton says no members of the United Way board are being asked to step down. However, Denton says the board is creating a task force that may recommend changes to the board's makeup. For now, only King will lose her job. Reporters repeatedly asked Denton if King had done anything to deserve the firing. His only response was: "We concluded that we really needed a fresh start. And that part of that fresh start is a different leadership." King's attorney, Bill Diehl, believes his client is being unfairly punished by the board. "She didn't create this problem. She's worked there for fourteen years and she did a wonderful job. And everyone seems to agree with that. Nobody's saying she did a bad job now," Diehl says. All is not entirely lost for King. She gets to keep the contributions already made to her retirement account and will be paid her full $290,000 salary for a little over two more years to fulfill her existing contract with the United Way. Retired Wachovia executive and former United Way Board Chair Mac Everett will serve as the nonprofit's interim CEO. As for who is responsible for proposing King's large retirement benefit in the first place - Denton says that remains unclear. United Way Attorney Russ Sizemore says the task force will look into it. "At this point, we're convinced there was a breakdown at a number of different levels and our focus is really on accepting responsibility as the board and accepting as a corrective function so we get back to doing what we do best," Sizemore says. What United Way does best, according to Sizemore, is raise money for social services in the community - and that's tied closely to the timing of today's decision. Next week marks the start of the United Way's annual fundraising campaign. A recent survey showed the controversy over King's compensation could put a serious damper on donations. The United Way Board is hoping that King's firing - and its own public apology - will to keep the campaign on track.