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The Voice of the Black Community

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In defense of Gloria Pace King
 
Published Wednesday, January 28, 2009
by Gerald O. Johnson and Ellison Clary, For The Charl

A serious health threat from breast cancer is why Gloria Pace King has been largely silent since her ouster as chief executive of the United Way of Central Carolinas on Oct. 1.


ďItís been a very difficult time for me,Ē King said in an interview with The Post. ďAt the same time I was notified I should resign or give up my position, I was told there was a possibility I had breast cancer. That turned out to be a reality.


ďOn the same day, two critical parts of my life Ė my health and my professional career Ė were jeopardized,Ē she said.


King decided to deal with her health first, and took cancer treatments during the last quarter of 2008.


ďIt suddenly occurred to me that there wasnít a 100 percent chance I was going to survive,Ē King said. ďThe one thing you do know about this disease is that itís forever. You have it, you worry about it, for the rest of your life.Ē


During the treatment, she added, it was daunting to hear that she was regularly in the news.


Controversy arose last summer related to Kingís pay and benefits Ė it was reported that United Way paid her $1.2 million in 2007. The United Way board asked King to resign on Aug. 26. She didnít, and the board fired her Oct. 1.


Former Wachovia executive Mac Everett has run the United Way since then, with guidance from board chair Carlos Evans, an executive with Wells Fargo, which bought Wachovia, where he was employed.


Meanwhile, the Sink Committee, an independent group formed to review United Way practices, has issued a report criticizing some aspects of how the agency was run and recommending tightened oversight for it.


ďThis is not how I want to be remembered,Ē King said. ďSo when at least Iíve put some of the treatment behind me, I feel itís time to try to rectify what has happened,Ē King said in explaining why she made herself available for questions related to her tenure at United Way of Central Carolinas, which serves all or parts of five counties, including Mecklenburg.


Asked her current state of health, she said: ďI would say good. I feel good.Ē


The following is the interview, edited for length and clarity.


Q: Do you feel you got a fair deal from the United Way leadership?


A: No, I do not feel I got a fair deal from some of the volunteers at United Way. I feel like there was a group of individuals - a subcommittee, if you will - that took it upon themselves to decide how I should be treated. They did that without the sanctioning or approval of the Executive Committee, and certainly not the sanctioning or approval of the entire United Way board. A small group of people made a decision. They executed that decision and I think the rest is history.


My position has been distorted. There have been a lot of half-truths in the situation. I donít like the expression of being ďthrown under the bus,Ē but I certainly do feel I was thrown under the bus.


Q: Can you explain your compensation package, both salary and retirement, and why it was justified?


A: I think itís important for the public to understand I have never, ever asked for a specific amount of money, either in compensation, or in bonus, or in pension. For the last 14 years, whatever I was given, I accepted. When people said to me, ďYouíve done a good job, weíre going to give you X percentage or X amount of dollars,Ē I said, ďthank you very much.Ē The perks I received were perks that people thought I should have.


I did ask for some attention to the pension plan because I found out that IRS laws had changed and, given my age, retirementís not that far away.
My predecessor, Don Sanders, made $120,000 when he left in 1994. When I arrived in 1994, I was paid $120,000. Don had two failed campaigns at $18 million. His pension was a lump sum of $1.2 million. If you look at a lump sum payment 14 years ago, and Don was 57, why would it be so unusual for me, who worked 14 years at one of the greatest United Ways in the country, with records that will stand the test of time, to not be treated fairly in a pension?


I would say the size of the pension was justified for the length of time I was here, for my age, and for my performance.


Q: Do you think the general public understands your compensation package?


A: I donít think the general public understands compensation. Iíve always been one who felt that when you cross over into six figures, people no longer understood it. There are people who have no concept of how complex a not-for-profit is. And United Way is one of the most frenetic not-for-profits on the planet.


Q: Is it true that you were among the most highly compensated United Way executives in the country?


A: Yes, that is true. Because my performance is among the highest of United Way executives in the country.


Q: Should the United Way release details of your expense account? Will these details show you incurred more expenses than your peers at other large United Ways?


A: There are two expense issues. One is the $35,000 that shows on income statements annually. It appears some people think I get a lump sum check for $35,000 to go out and spend how I see fit. In fact, that $35,000 is made up primarily of benefits that are within my employment contract. Such as: a leased car, the maintenance and payments on a leased car; insurance and financial planning services; my membership at The Point (on Lake Norman), the City Club; those kind of things that were done for primarily business purposes, and which showed up on my W-2. So those expenses in the $35,000 show up as taxable income.


The separate issue is the American Express corporate card. I never had more than $5,000 signing privileges at that United Way, by my own desire.
Do I think my expenses are going to be bigger than another United Way? I have no idea. All I can account for is what I felt it took to do my job in a high-performing organization that outperformed any other organization.


Then I had an American Express corporate card. No limit on that. Over the years, I didnít open those bills. Those bills were opened by staff that worked in my office; they perused all those expenses.


No bill at United Way can be approved for payment that isnít signed by either the board chair, the vice chair, the treasurer. You canít get anything through that system. I set it up that way, so that if there is a question, you had enough people that are looking at those expenses. Those records were looked at by auditors every year. I have been told by auditors that we ran one of the best not-for-profits in the community.


I did everything I could to ensure transparency.


Q: How were the clubs that you belonged to set up?


A: The City Club was something the United Way has always had. The Piedmont Club was the old Tower Club. When the Tower Club closed, the closest Piedmont Club was in Winston-Salem. If you kept the membership, you could use the clubs all over the country. We would do that, particularly at meetings and gatherings outside the city.


The Point was given to me as a benefit, probably six or seven years ago. I did not ask for it. It was a wonderful surprise. It was a way for me to be able to take people out there for business purposes. If I took them for business purposes, it would be reimbursed. If I went out there personally, I paid for it.


Q: Why were clubs so important?


A: I tried to use as many resources as I could to develop and maintain relationships that would benefit this organization. This was another entrťe to forge different and better relationships.


Q: How much did the memberships help in terms of the amount of money you raised?


A: I canít take any one benefit and say, because I had this, I raised this much money. But I did have the second largest Alexis de Tocqueville Society in this country with over 800 people giving $10,000 each. And I had the fourth highest per capita giving in the country. For a city of our size, that was truly magnificent.


Q: Did you try to keep your compensation and retirement details a secret from the United Way board?


A: No. Compensation was the most important job of the Executive Committee. The bylaws do not say that that compensation then had to be reported to the entire board. Historically, for 14 years, it was done in the Executive Committee, it was voted on in the Executive Committee and thatís where it stayed. It was never reported to the full board.


It wasnít a matter of hiding compensation. Iím the compensation queen in Charlotte. My compensation was in the paper, or has been in the paper, probably more than a combination of people over those 14 years. Nothing I could have done to try to hide it would have worked.


I feel like I am the not-for-profit person who has been written about in the newspaper more than anyone else. I have yet to see an article on compensation of my peers, meaning the Arts and Science Council, the Chamber, Foundation For The Carolinas, etc. Iíll bet you thereís not a year that goes by that I am not targeted by some newspaper, some radio program. I think itís because I am a woman and because I am black. I feel like there are people who feel like I should not be compensated as I have been compensated and people have made an issue of it, consistently for 14 years.


Q: Were the details of your proposed retirement account changed two days before they were presented to the Executive Committee, as the Sink Report says? If so, why?


A: In those conversations, I had a hands-off approach to the pension. First, Iím not a finance person. Second, I didnít understand the intricacies of how all that worked. I, just like any other CEO, for profit, not-for-profit, relied a lot on my peers to talk about what should I do, whatís acceptable, whatís the industry standard? The Sink Report says that I moved the percentage (of final compensation for retirement income) from 50 percent to 68 percent. Very honestly, I donít know where the 68 percent number came from. Would I say I didnít say it? No, I would not say that. I would say, if I said it, it probably came from conversations with members in my peer group of other United Ways that said you might want to ask for 68 percent. And in the Sink Report, it talks about e-mails, that I asked the consultant about that. I didnít say to the consultant, ďI want 68 percent.Ē I asked a question. Why is that any different than any other corporate or not-for-profit CEO that would raise that question? When I raise that question, it makes it look like I was trying to do something dishonest, dishonorable or clandestine. I could not have told you what the amounts of money were.


Q: Do you feel your board failed you in its handling of your compensation package? If so, why?


A: I donít think my board failed me. I think six people failed me. Five members of the executive committee and one person I have no idea why theyíre involved. I donít indict the whole board for that.


Q: Do you think the United Way board is too large? Why or why not?


A: I have always been a person who does not respond to numbers. It is not about numbers. It is about functionality. It is about reach. Itís about effectiveness. Itís about how much territory are we trying to cover and what do we need to get it done? What I fail to see written is that this is a five-county organization. So in addition to board members from Charlotte, you have probably eight to 10 of those board members from other counties.


I felt the board was effective. Stories that the board was dysfunctional are an insult to those people who spent their time and talent, to now be called dysfunctional because a few people are dysfunctional.


Q: Did you delay filing of IRS Form 990 for the 2006-07 fiscal year, which sets out the details of your Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan (SERP), your retirement package of $2.1 million? If so, why?


A: I will reiterate I am not a finance person. Shelly White, who worked for me for eight years, a very bright woman, sheís the chief financial officer, sheís still there. Shelly oversaw that process. Shelly oversaw the creation of the 990, how it was put together, what numbers were there. If you locked me in this room with a 990, I couldnít do it. I canít tell you when itís due. I had a chief financial officer who would say, ďGloria, the 990 is due X. Weíre going to file it.Ē OK. ďGloria, weíre going to extend the 990 by six months, because we can.Ē OK. I never purposely delayed a 990. Somebody said this is what weíre going to do, I said OK.


What I did do was delay the 990 on the website. The 990 was filed May 15, 2008, and we usually dropped it into the website right away. I realized the total board had not been briefed on the SERP. So I delayed it. What I was trying to do was just get time, to work with the volunteers and make sure they knew when this hit the website. But putting a 990 out there, effective May 15, anybody could have picked it up.


Q: In hindsight, do you agree with UW Chairman Carlos Evansí assessment that your compensation and retirement package grew too large for area citizens to be comfortable with?


A: No, I do not agree with it. Carlos Evans has been on that board for the better part of 14 years. He has run the Mecklenburg campaign. He has chaired Community Building, which has all the programs in place. He has chaired Strategic Planning. And he has been an integral part of how that organization worked. For Carlos to say, at this point, being involved for so many years with this organization, that now what they paid me was more than the community was willing to accept, I think itís absurd. I donít think my salary is so out of whack with what others in the community, particularly the not-for-profit arena, are making. The difference is, Iím the only woman. Iím the only black person. Iím always the target.


Q: How did the percentage of overhead for the United Way under your leadership compare with United Ways in other large cities?


A: I would say that we fared favorably. When I came to this United Way in 1994, there was an edict that the United Way would operate at no more than 10 percent. I can remember saying in the interview process, Ďif you want the United Way to operate at 10 percent, regardless of what is going on in the community or the environment or the economy, Iím not the person you need to hire. You cannot run an organization the likes of which I want, or feel the community needs, if I have a set percent.í


Now let me give you an example. When I came in 1994, there was not a single personal computer in the building. There was a LAN system for e-mail. There was no technology. I immediately looked at that. How do you spend $300,000 or $400,000 for technology if you have a 10 percent cap on what you can spend?


I have never run over budget. Our overhead, if you look at the percentage of what Iíve raised, the overhead tracks with what we have done. Thereís actually a sheet of paper. We track every year. It shows performance versus overhead, versus the number of people, versus the number of agencies. In the last few years, we have worked diligently to keep that overhead under 15 percent.


Q: Do you think too much of the money raised by United Way went to internal programs?


A: Those internal programs were accounted for according to the national model. Could some of those programs been more effective? Yes. But when you start questioning 2-1-1, you start questioning 24-hour ability to respond to health and human services needs in this community - I think itís pretty effective.


Q: If you could do it over again, would you negotiate for salary and benefits differently and would you ask for less money?


A: I would not ask for less money. I am a person that feels that when you work in the not-for-profit arena, if you deliver, you should be

compensated. As many of the baby boomers are retiring out of this business, there is a leadership vacuum that is being filled by executives from corporate America. When that happens, the salaries are not going down, they are going up. Theyíre not going to work for what we worked for. But I will stand toe-to-toe with anyone in terms of ability to run an organization as complex as the United Way. If you look at my salary of $120,000 in 1994 versus $290,000 in 2008, I would bet you that $120,000 that Don Sanders was making in todayís numbers, with a 3 percent or 4 percent inflation rate, is going to be a lot higher. So, no, I would not work for less money.


Q: Would you go about the way you negotiated salary and benefits differently?


A: Itís interesting because I didnít negotiate my salary. I never had to. Itís not like I sat and said, ďThis year, I want 3 percent or I want $20,000. Iíve never tried to negotiate salaries. They always gave it to me. It was always a wonderful day in December, compensation day. Iíd go in, Iíd make my report, theyíd go into executive session, theyíd call me back and theyíd say this is what youíre going to get.


Did I ask them to look at the pension plan? Yes.


Q: So youíd do it the same way?


I would not do it the same way, because I donít like what has happened. I donít like the negative impact on peopleís lives. I led an organization whose job it was to care about people. It was our job to put peopleís lives back together. I donít like the idea that that is not going to happen.
If I had it to do over again, I would put in a better system of communication. I would make sure that when the volunteers said they were going to do something, I would own the responsibility to make sure that it, in fact, did happen. Yes, I would do the process differently because I would never have wanted this to happen.


Q: The United Way board has said it will not pay what is specified in your retirement package. Will you sue the board for that money or for anything else?


I have filed a suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission here in Charlotte, on December 21. That talks about age, race and gender. And that is the first stage of action. I certainly plan to defend my reputation. I will work to see that, what Iím entitled to, I will receive.


Q: Does you suit say you were let go because of issues related to age, race and gender?


A: Yes, and retaliation. I feel like this constant barrage of newspaper articles and volunteers that donít know what happened and the Sink Report that says I manufactured all of this myself - had I known I was that powerful, I might have asked for something different. Iíve been perceived as someone who manipulated 65 people (on the UW board).


You will recall, when media reports started, I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. The volunteers were out there talking about how great I was, and that I deserved it. And they would do it again. Now, everybodyís got amnesia.


Q: Leaders of many United Way agencies are mad at you. Is that anger justified, or is it misplaced?


A: I think itís misplaced anger. I wouldnít say that I was ever the most popular person with United Way agencies, but I totally respected the United Way agencies. I went so far as to put the president of the Council of United Way executives on the board of United Way of Central Carolinas. Not in an ex-officio capacity. In a voting capacity. I told them, ďYou are what I sell. You are the product. Without you, there is no United Way.Ē


There are United Ways across this country that have disaffiliated with member agencies. They have gone to a request for proposals, where anybody can take the money. They feel like agencies have entitlement mentality. They donít feel like the agencies meet the needs that that particular United Way might have.


I stand up in front on them and say, ďWe are here. I believe in you. I need you to raise money.Ē Did I always do things the way they wanted me to do? No, because I say what I want to say and, when it was necessary, I held them accountable.


Let me say this: When I was raising money, life was good. I canít tell you how many agency execs would come to me on victory night, when we would unfold that number for pledges made, and say, ďMy God, I donít know how you keep doing it.Ē But I kept doing it - on their behalf. I kept designated dollars outside the system below 25 percent. I truly believe, had the agencies been with me when this happened, as opposed to being the first group, they preceded the board in throwing me under the bus, that we might have had a different outcome.


Q: What is your assessment of the future for the United Way of Central Carolinas?


A: I think the United Way of Central Carolinas is a different organization. It is a different organization in financial size, itís a different organization in scope, it has already moved some of the programs away. Theyíre going to have to reorganize. Most of my team is gone. There were a lot of people who left at the end of the year. And a lot of those people, unfortunately, take with them a lot of institutional knowledge.


I feel that, unfortunately, designations for where individual pledges are spent are going to increase. And as designations increase, the ability of a local United Way to be a leader gets minimized. Youíre looking at being a bank and a post office, as opposed to setting policy, setting community agenda and being a community impact organization. I think it will be a very different organization. With the economy such as it is, it will be years before it will get back to raising $45 million, and particularly a minimum amount of undesignated dollars.


Q: What will you do next in life?


A: Iím going to write a book. Being a leader when you have to deal with adversity and understanding lessons learned in these jobs, I think I have something that can help other people.


I am going to do some consulting, because Iíve got over 40 yearsí experience in health and human services. I can consult on everything from leadership to volunteerism to philanthropy.


And Iím going to do some motivational speaking. My life, the way I have led it, and where I have come from, and how I have achieved what I have, can be inspirational for other people. I have a story that I hope inspires and gives other people the push they need to be successful.


Q: Will you remain in Charlotte?


A: I have to defer to my children, to some degree. I have two wonderful children who live here. Iím very blessed to have the relationship with them that I do. But they didnít buy into this. And this is not what they see, as young people, as the reward for all of the work and time and energy that I have put into this community. So Iíll study it over the next couple of years and Iíll see - what works for them and what works for me.
I donít have a reason not to stay here. The quality of life in Charlotte is good.


I did not know until I didnít have to go to work every day how much of a corporate entity I was. Everything I did reflected the United Way. And nobody separated Gloria Pace King from United Way. For 14 years I dedicated my entire being to the success of that organization. And now I feel free. Thereís a different life here. And all of what I knew and all of what I did was great, I donít regret any of it.


Would I do it all again? Some of it. I hope Iíd be a little smarter about some of it. But there is life after these conditions.


There are people in this community who I care a lot about. And there are people who have reached out to me - that care a lot about me. So I donít have any reason to pull up stakes and leave Charlotte. If I stay here the next 14 years, Iíll have a very different but equally rewarding experience.


Q: Is there anything else you want to say?


A: Iíd like to say a little bit about my background. My mom and dad were both Southerners. And they ended up in Cleveland. My dad came from Columbus, Ga., and my mom came from Marion, Ala. They were on their way to Connecticut to pick tobacco. They had relatives in Cleveland and they stopped over and they never left.


My mother and father demanded excellence. There was nothing they thought I couldnít do. I had a mom and dad who wouldnít take excuses for why you couldnít do something or why you could not accomplish something.


I went to school to be a registered nurse. I went on and got a business degree. I got a masterís in Business Administration. All the while, I was raising children, married part of that time. The expectations of me have always been very high.


Along with that, my dadís message to me always was, integrity is what youíve got. You donít let anybody take away your integrity. You donít let anybody take away your name.


My mom and dad instilled in me a work ethic and a belief in myself and a spirit to always do the right thing. They held me accountable. That is what drives me - to live up to those expectations.


I have worked and dedicated my life to service. Servant leadership is something I care about, it is in the fabric of who I am. I have always done a superior job in every job Iíve ever had. And Iíve been compensated accordingly for it. But thatís because people recognize what I have brought to the table. And hopefully in this community, people will remember that I was here for 14 years and I dedicated 150 percent of my life to the United Way and to serving people in need through the United Way of Central Carolinas.


Just before I moved to Charlotte, I was working at the United Way in Cleveland. I was senior vice president of community building. I was on what I call the product side of the business, not the fund-raising side.


I had been a single parent since 1982. What meant more to me than anything was for my children to have the best educational opportunities they could have. I wanted them to go to historically black colleges because the only regret that I have as a professional person is that I donít have that experience. I wish I had gone to Howard when my mother tried to make me go. I was very deliberate in forcing them to have that experience. To do it was very expensive, because they went to Morehouse and Spellman.


I wasnít making enough money. I didnít want to leave Cleveland. I had never lived anywhere else. People told me youíre going to have to leave to advance yourself. I found out there was a job here in Charlotte. It was a very sought-after job; 200 people, I think, applied. And I worked harder at this than anything Iíve done, to prepare myself for the job, to learn everything I could. And I was chosen.


But I came here so I could educate my children. I would like for people to know that my oldest is the only black PhD graduate from UNC Charlotte in its history - in Biology. Thatís Kara. I would like people to know that my son, Leslie, went to N.C. Central Law School and then he went on to Georgetown and he has an element in Tax Law. So these children are highly educated, wonderful people, and my best friends. The ability to provide for them what they would need for the rest of their lives is what brought me here.


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