PLATTSBURGH - The story of scandal involving the salary of the former executive director of the United Way of Central Carolinas may be more than a year old, but it's now beginning to have a ripple effect in the North Country.
John C. Bernardi, executive director of the United Way of Clinton and Essex Counties Inc., said it has come to his attention a story which aired on CBS News Nov. 19 titled "Recession-Proof Job? Non-Profit CEO," has raised concerns locally about charitable giving. In the report, the controversial salary of former Charlotte, N.C., United Way executive director Gloria Pace King was referenced, highlighting how King pulled in a $380,000 salary and $2.1 million retirement package.
"This is a story that's resurfaced from June 2008," said Bernardi. "It looks like [CBS News] was doing a story on charitable giving and just pulled this up as an example."
Recently, Kirk A. Stallsmith, vice president of the local United Way's board of directors, learned of concerns regarding making donations to the organization from employees of Georgia-Pacific in Plattsburgh, where Stallsmith serves as general manager.
Several employees had seen or learned of the CBS News report and mentioned they wouldn't participate in donating to the United Way campaign as a result. Stallsmith immediately responded to the concerns by issuing a company-wide e-mail which clarified several key points in the news report.
"People need to be cautious when they read or hear something on the news and not draw broad assumptions," said Stallsmith. "It was clear by reading the CBS report that there was a branch of the United Way and a few select other charitable organizations where perhaps the board and the leadership of the organization lost track of their ultimate mission."
Stallsmith also noted there are "vast differences in the size and scope of charitable groups depending on the population base they are serving."
"I would certainly expect a CEO of the United Way branch in a large metropolitan area to make a larger salary than someone in a small community with a small staff," said Stallsmith. "It essentially becomes comparable to the size and scope of the fund raising and support effort."
However, the salary of the former executive director at the Charlotte United Way, was, in Stallsmith's opinion, "absurd."
"The person who took over the position with a lower salary appeared to be in the proper compensation range given the responsibilities," he said, adding however, there may be significant details not given to the CBS reporter that provided "some justification for how she was compensated."
"On the surface, it certainly sends a very poor message and I am sure in Charlotte, many United Way donors are seeking answers to their questions," he said.
The North Country, said Stallsmith, is fortunate to have a group of local community leaders who "understand what it means to serve, what the expectations are and the responsibilities associated." "The people that I have met on the charitable boards in the North Country take their role very seriously and they do so with a very high sense of ethics and integrity," he said. "Just because one thing occurred at one district, states away, does not make it a common practice nor should it paint a broad picture of United Way in general."
Bernardi agreed, adding the report has "created obvious concerns."
"The idea, from our standpoint, is to let people know that we're very healthy and our salaries are in line with other human service providers in the region. Nobody on the staff is getting a huge salary or bonuses or anything of that nature," said Bernardi, who disclosed the combined annual salary for himself and two other employees of the local organization is approximately $140,000.
Bernardi further noted only 12 percent of donations specifically designated for the local United Way goes toward administrative and management expenses, which he said is "quite low." One-hundred percent of donations to specific partner agencies, however, go directly to those agencies, he said.
"In our case, every penny goes to the organization," Bernardi said.
When compared to the United Way of Central Carolinas, the service area of the local United Way as well as the population served is a fraction of the size, said Bernardi. That's even given the recent expansion of United Way of Clinton and Essex Counties into Franklin County, he added.
"It's increased the size of our service area significantly, both geographically and by population," said Bernardi. "It's significant, but we're lucky in some respects because we do have a great network of volunteers.
"Expanding into Franklin County is clearly going to be a big challenge," Bernardi added. "We do think it's going to be, in the long run, great for the region."
Though the organization is now in the process of "building relationships and beginning to form a positive presence in Franklin County," the main focus of the current fundraising campaign of United Way of Clinton and Essex Counties will be on raising $700,000 for its existing 33 partner agencies, said Bernardi. The campaign is approaching the half-way mark, which is important, he added, because "the needs are so great" in the region.
"We're getting there," said Bernardi. "We'd like to be a little further ahead, but we remain optimistic that we're going to be able to make the goal."