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.”