CHARLOTTE — Gloria Pace King's combined salary and benefits package is the highest found in an analysis of tax records from 31 United Ways across the country.
Her salary ranks fourth.
It included a bonus that was the biggest among a smaller sampling of 14 agencies of similar or larger size.
Her expense account is at least a third higher than her peers.
Yet, King's retirement package sets her most apart.
She'll receive a full, lifetime pension of more than $200,000 a year &mash; 60 percent of her pay. Experts say that level is typically reserved for 30-year employees. King, expected to retire within three years, would receive it after 17.
In 2007 the board of directors of United Way of the Central Carolinas increased King's benefits contributions more than sevenfold to $822,000. She will receive retirement payments of roughly $500,000 for the next three years — part of an accelerated effort, the board says, to bring King's pension to where it should be. Those payments, the board says, skew any comparison of King's salary and benefits.
But even without the increase, King's former pension payment of more than $108,000 was the largest among the United Ways surveyed - many of which serve more people and raise more money.
The board has declined to explain why the catch-up payments are needed; to give details of how it arrived at the size of King's pay package; and to release minutes of board meetings that could shed light on the issue.
Thursday evening, the Charlotte Observer gave the board's public relations firm a list of questions related to the paper's findings. The firm said the board would try to provide answers by Monday.
Monday, the board again declined comment.
The board planned to hold a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning. Chairman Graham Denton declined Monday to provide details, but sources said the board would consider replacing King.
King will not be attending, said her attorney, Bill Diehl. Diehl told the Observer last week that King signed a 3-year contract in January. He said she hired him after the Observer and its TV news partner, WCNC, Channel 36, questioned King's pay in June.
King, president and CEO since 1994, has declined comment throughout. Her board has said she's earned her salary and benefits.
United Way of Central Carolinas ranks among the United Way's top 20 largest fund-raisers. The watchdog group, Charity Navigator, gives King's agency high marks for efficiency. The board credits King with boosting the agency to No. 2 in the number of donors giving at least $10,000.
Under King, said former chairman Mac Everett, the agency's board has assumed a higher profile with the corporate community. Today, the 60-plus-member group includes bank presidents, university chancellors and executives from some of the area's most important companies.
Russell Robinson, a longtime board member who hired King, says she has built the best United Way in the country.
"Everybody knows Gloria," says Neil Belenky, the retired CEO of the Greensboro United Way. "And they know Charlotte because of her."
But lingering questions over King's pay and the board's handling of donor money threaten the agency's annual campaign, set to start next week. The United Way supports 91 agencies. Last year, the United Way said its drive raised $43.5 million, more than double the amount from King's first year.
Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy, says the Charlotte board "is out of touch" with reasonable compensation for a nonprofit CEO.
"The numbers speak for themselves," he said. "It's obvious they're providing her with a much higher-than-usual benefits package, even when compared with other United Ways, which typically provide compensation packages much higher than the rest of the charitable sector."
Giving King a full pension more than a decade earlier than most employees will mean an extra $70,000 a year for life, estimates Dan Farrell, a Michigan-based accounting expert and consultant on compensation and benefits issues.
"I don't see too many people getting deals like that," he said.
Companies typically pay between 5 percent and 15 percent of an executive's salary on benefits each year, said Linda Lampkin, researcher director with ERI Economic Research Institute, which studies nonprofit compensation.
In 2007, King's benefits were three times her salary. In 2006, they amounted to 22 percent. This year, they stand to be almost twice as much.
Her bonus more than quadrupled in less than a decade — hitting $90,000 last year, or about a third of her salary.
Cities such as Seattle, Indianapolis and Birmingham did not offer bonuses. Others, such as Philadelphia, Cleveland and Dallas, pay bonuses of 10 to 20 percent of CEO salaries. In Dallas, that amounted to $64,000 in the 2006 fiscal year, the next highest amount from the agencies surveyed.