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December 19, 2007

Atlanta United Way Faces Questions About Retirement Package

The Atlanta United Way is facing scrutiny for securing a $1.6-million retirement supplement for its former chief executive, Mark O’Connell, who retired in July, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Mr. O’Connell’s pension, which was paid by the organization in a lump sum two years ago, coincides with financial constraints that caused the organization to significantly cut back on local grants and lay off workers in 2003.

In his final three years, Mr. O’Connell’s earnings approached $1.2-million, not counting the lump sum. “It was our intent to say we don’t want to pay Mark as an average nonprofit executive,” said former board chairman Phil Jacobs, an AT&T executive. The board approved the pension supplement in 1995 and increased its value in 2000 and 2003. Mr. Jacobs said that, despite the economic slump that hit the organization during those years, the board felt it could not reduce the supplement and still retain him.

Over two decades, Mark O’Connell raised more than $1-billion for the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta. Contributions to the organization more than doubled under his leadership.

But some groups, such as National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, are wondering whether the Atlanta United Way has its priorities in the right place. Aaron Dorfman, the committee’s executive director, commented, “These funds were raised for the purpose of benefiting disadvantaged people in the Atlanta area.”

The United Way declined to disclose what it pays Mr. O’Connell’s successor, Milton Little Jr.

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