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Charity now says firing was for a good cause

Just when it seemed the board of Charlotte’s United Way chapter had run out of surprising maneuvers, it came up with another: It changed its rationale for firing former President Gloria Pace King — more than six months after the fact.

At first, the board of United Way of Central Carolinas Inc. said an ongoing controversy over King’s compensation had impaired her ability to lead (cover story, April). It reneged on a $2.1 million retirement package it had given her but agreed to pay her $290,000 annual salary for the rest of her three-year contract — a total of $676,657 — while reserving the right to investigate her management of the agency and “revisit the status” of her departure. It then hired a temporary replacement to do the job it was paying King not to.

Now the board claims that she padded reimbursable expenses and refuses to pay what’s left on her contract — about $500,000. It also wants her to return what the agency has paid since her termination. The agency says King misused tens of thousands of dollars on meals with friends and other personal expenses, including nearly $30,000 for season tickets to Carolina Panthers games and more than $5,000 for a 23-page, leather-bound book about her life. It also says she “double-dipped” by taking cash advances to pay for meals during trips, then charging them to the agency’s credit card. In some cases, she didn’t get the approval of appropriate board members.

The agency’s investigation took so long because the necessary documents were not readily available, United Way attorney Russ Sizemore says. For example, it had to get itemized statements from hotels where King stayed. It also was hampered by staff cuts caused by a more than 30% drop in fundraising last year. The probe got prodded Feb. 3 when a federal grand jury subpoenaed records relating to King’s time at the agency, which she had run since 1994.

King’s attorney, Bill Diehl, wants a judge to force the agency to keep paying, saying United Way is trying to vindicate its own misconduct with trumped-up, after-the-fact charges. King’s expense reports were approved by the board, Diehl says, and if there were any wrongdoing, board members knew, or should have known, before they fired her. “They’re digging themselves a hole that they may never come out of as a United Way agency. Who in the world would give money to this agency, which is obviously controlled by so many not-so-bright people? It doesn’t make any sense what they’ve done. It’s a public-relations nightmare that they’ve made worse.”

KINGS MOUNTAINBaldor Electric plans to close its plant in Fort Mill, S.C., this summer and shift production here, where it employs about 400. The Fort Smith, Ark.-based company makes electric motors for water pumps, air conditioners, blowers and compressors. More than 140 work in Fort Mill.

SHELBY — Unless sales pick up, Bernhardt Furniture plans to close its local plant, which employs more than 100, by the middle of the month and consolidate production of upholstered furniture in Lenoir, where it has its headquarters.

SHELBYPPG Industries cut about 90 jobs at its fiberglass plant, leaving it with more than 400. Slow auto sales created weak demand for its products.

MONROEBloomsburg Mills closed its dye plant, idling 87. The New York-based maker of woven fabric blamed foreign competition.

CHARLOTTE — The Southern Conference will hold its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments here in 2010. Early-round games will be played at Bojangles’ Coliseum, with the semifinals and finals at Time Warner Cable Arena, where the Charlotte Bobcats play.

MATTHEWSPokerTek, which develops and markets electronic gambling tables, installed two more PokerPro tables at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, bringing the total to seven. The company didn’t disclose terms. PokerPro tables simulate live poker and allow participants to play one another.