Note: This article was originally posted on my other blog (2big2fall) in late May of 2011. I shifted all of the Goodwill related articles to this new blog, thus the incorrect original publication date above.
This is the second in a series concerning Goodwill Industries of Lower South Carolina. The first article titled “Howdy Doody Charleston Post and Courier,” critiques a newspaper article published in March 2011 by our local newspaper about executive compensation at various “charitable” non-profits in the Carolina Lowcountry. The part of this article concerning Goodwill reads more like a press release from Goodwill rather than an investigative report, along the lines of Hey, old Bob is a really swell guy and he deserves his cool quarter million a year!
The Post and Courier seems to have harbored a long-standing love affair with our local Goodwill franchise in general and with its current CEO, Robert Smith, in particular. They published an article on July 3, 2004, implying that Mr. Smith was, for all intents-and-purposes, a thirteenth disciple of Christ, a man who, as Goodwill CEO, didn’t really have a job, according to the preacher of the church he attended at the time, but rather “a ministry.” This article reads like an ad for Gerald’s Tires (“It’s not just a job, it’s an ADVENTURE!”)
(I used to have a link to that article posted here but, for some reason, it keeps getting fouled up. I include the exact date of the article above for those who want to do an archive search at the P&C)
Another article written by Renee Dudley and published in the Post and Courier on March 26, 2011 includes the following comment (Note that this is a cropped screenshot from the Post and courier article. I eliminated the link to the entire article because it keeps fouling up. If anybody wants a copy I will be glad to forward it to you via snail mail):
This passage has the obligatory journalistic “he said” at the end, so I assume that the reporter didn’t just make it up out of whole cloth. I sought clarification of the no tax dollars statement from the Post and Courier and from Goodwill’s law firm after I discovered that our local Goodwill does receive substantial funding from state and federal government agencies for programs it administers.
In my email inquiries, I included a link to a page on Goodwill’s very own website concerning a food service contract they have had with the Naval Weapons Station since 1998. I suppose that I was acting in a sarcastic manner when I asked their attorney if Goodwill was providing this food service for free.
My email to the Post and Courier also requested that the powers-that-be review their erroneous article and issue either a correction or a retraction.
Neither the newspaper nor Goodwill’s attorney responded.
Below is a link to the Goodwill website touting the food service contract at the Naval Weapons Station (see footnote ****): http://palmettogoodwill.net/index.php/component/content/article/149-press-releases-2009/110-naval-weapons-station
Further research also indicates that during the fiscal year 2009-2010 Goodwill Industries of Lower South Carolina received $37,018 from the SC Dept. of Disabilities and Special Needs and during the fiscal year 2010-2011 they have received $34,958 (to date) from that state entity. This information is readily available at the transparency website operated by the S.C. Comptroller General’s Office. Note: Mr. Richard Eckstrom, the Comptroller General, is to be commended for maintaining this valuable service to the taxpayers of this state. His office is an outstanding example of how government can and does work. The employee who forwarded me the web link was knowledgeable, courteous, and very professional.
I strongly suggest that reporters at the Charleston Post and Courier bookmark this link. It might help to avert embarrassment in future “investigations”.
Were I an executive at any of the governmental entities which have partnered with Goodwill, and had I read the Post and Courier article where Mr. Smith fails to recognize the arrangement, I would be livid and perplexed. In this day, where there is so much suspicion and ill-will directed towards government at all levels, it would seem that these various agencies should get the recognition they deserve.
I am also curious about the 2008 pdf budget report from Palmetto Goodwill.
Here is a link to that document: http://www.palmettogoodwill.org/files/annualreport/2008AnnualReport.pdf (see footnote ****)
Towards the end of this rather long document telling you what a bunch of swell folks they are (along with the obligatory photos of executive ribbon cuttings and carefully selected personal success stories) is the financial data. On the right side of the ledger, there is a column which says Statement of Activities. Under this entry are two items of interest. The first one is Business Support Service Contracts-$10,892,753. The second item is Rehabilitation Service Fees & Grants-$274,298. It sure would be a lot more informative if Goodwill was to break down the sources of that largesse.
I found this statement from Goodwill’s 2009 annual report. This goes a long way towards explaining the Business Support Service Contracts entry in the above paragraph:
“Goodwill provides contract services for food service, custodial, warehouse operations, shelf stocking, switchboard and mailroom services to local businesses and government entities. Currently, Goodwill operates nine contract sites at the following locations: Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, GSA Federal Buildings in Charleston, SPAWAR/NPTU in Charleston, Marine Corp Air Station in Beaufort, Charleston Air Force Base and Naval Weapons Station in Charleston.”
Maybe Goodwill should adopt the transparency demonstrated by the state of South Carolina in its own financial website and tell the public what Business Support Service Contracts they have by purpose, vendor, and amount.
I have given carloads of my trash/treasure to Goodwill over the past ten years and I’ll be damned if I will so much as throw a mismatched pair of socks at their roadside signage until this “not-for-profit” opens its books to the public.
We’re talking about 11 Million dollars here and that’s only from 2008.
I am afraid to ask what the Other Revenue column ($232,057) entails.
I can’t say that Mr. Smith purposely misled the reporter into believing that no monies were provided to Goodwill by our government. Perhaps the reporter was just adding his own commentary. On the other hand, the Post and Courier’s slavish fawning over this organization over the years has brought into question any sense of journalistic responsibility.
Postscript: One of the reasons that I am undertaking this endeavor is personal*. I became aware of a massive theft ring which operated out of the Goodwill Pound Store located on Rivers Avenue in North Charleston. This cabal, which included a small group of savvy customers and greedy employees, succeeded in circumventing Goodwill’s loss prevention program and made off with countless trucks full of donated products. I know this because I was asked by one of the participants to join in this seedy enterprise. I declined the invitation and initially did not report it because this individual was frequently high and tended to slobber a bit. Eventually I realized that he was serious.* *
Some months later I reported the incident to Goodwill and to Lt. Melvin Cumbee of the North Charleston Police Department. Note: Melvin didn’t respond to the letter I sent him. He’s getting close to retirement and probably cares a whole lot more about playing the banjo than he does about police work. I can’t say as I blame him. He is a remarkable musician and has earned the attention of some serious pickers up Nashville way. I am really glad that he was kind enough to play banjo on two of the songs on my album.
After a long meeting at company headquarters, I agreed to a request by Goodwill’s loss prevention head that I provide him with a written statement regarding what had transpired at the Pound Store. He assured me that an investigation would ensue. Next thing you know, he’s out the door. Guess who the current loss prevention head is now…who else?…the idiot son of the CEO!*** Nepotism! That’s one way to make sure that anything embarrassing gets swept under the rug. That rug is bound to be a lumpy, crusty, unravelling POS by now.
At this point all hell broke loose.
For my efforts on Goodwill’s behalf, I was accorded the customary whistle blower treatment… a shoot the messenger scenario. None of the customers who ripped them blind was punished. However, this lowly knight in slightly tarnished armor was banished from the court…prohibited from ever returning to the Pound Store. This store was the primary source for books in Charleston. As a book dealer on Amazon, I was a regular customer there. It was my largest single source of income. Mr. Smith’s unjust actions in banning me instead of the gang of thieves who stole well over a hundred grand worth of product from that lucrative location, has driven me to near-bankruptcy. I guess he was just doing God’s work…
Why did he banish me and sweep the sordid affair under the table? Simple…In Goodwill’s own statement of purpose they promise to be responsible stewards of the public’s donations. Any publicity concerning a failure to do so would possibly affect future donations. I pointed out to them that failure to prosecute would only encourage future attempts at larceny. My reasoning fell on deaf ears and I had to be silenced.
My next course of action was to print multiple copies of the written statement requested by Goodwill’s representative and send them to various board members. I got no response from them but I did get a nastygram from Goodwill’s attorney. That was a long time ago. Lord only knows how much they have collected in fees from this ongoing crusade of mine.
If Goodwill decide to sue me I cannot afford representation and will have to act as my own attorney…a dubious prospect at best. I am comforted, however, by the fact that, although I may not be up to par when it comes to the niceties of courtroom rules, regulations, and subpoena power, I could deliver one hell of an opening and closing statement (and would relish the opportunity to do so). Discovery and depositions would be a real gas as well. I have a mile long list of witnesses and questions (especially for the various Board members, past and present, who long ago were made aware of the criminal activities at the Pound Store and chose not to uphold the laws of the state of South Carolina).
From what I have seen most of the board members are chosen for their near anonymity in our community…marginal figures at best…individuals of no real stature or vision…easily controllable tools of the CEO. There is at least one former board member, however, who does not fit this description. She was smart enough to bail out a couple of years ago but was on the board at the height of this mess…a most compelling, high-profile witness. She will remain unnamed in this article but I am very certain that she is aware of her status.
It would appear that Mr. Smith will not confront and rectify these serious issues without a lawyer to act as a human shield. What a shame. Goodwill and the Carolina Lowcountry deserves better than this.
*Another reason that I am taking on this organization is due to the sad sack treatment of lower level employees. Underpaid, harassed and intimidated…fearful folks with no voice. I cover this subject in other posts so I won’t get into it here.
**Please note that this is a condensed version of what transpired. The exact account is four pages long and obviously cannot be included here.
***See my article “The Distant Buzzing of a Kazoo” for the lowdown on the hilarious resume and work history of this chip off the old block. Some say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but, in this case, it would be more apropo to use a turd/rectum analogy.
**** Imagine that! Somebody removed this long active link from the Palmetto Goodwill website. No surprise here. This information can be retrieved from a website called “Guidestar Charity Check.” I am also including the following screenshots to confirm the receipt of Federal funds.