Howdy Doody Charleston Post and Courier!

As a child of the Fifties I distinctly remember bounding out of bed bright and early every Saturday morning to watch my favorite kid’s shows on TV. There was Fury, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Pinkie Lee, and my personal favorite, The Howdy Doody Show. This was probably the most notable of the entire Saturday morning lineup as witnessed by the fact that one of the original Howdy Doody puppets is now on display in the Smithsonian Museum.

Howdy Doody was a really good show and, like all kid shows from that era, it had its hierarchy of characters. Although Howdy was the star of the show, Buffalo Bob Smith was the one who pulled the strings. That seems logical, given the fact that Howdy was a puppet on strings. There were also a host of other puppets on this show. There was Howdy’s sister Heidi, Mayor Phineas T. Bluster, Dilly Dally, and Flub-a-Dub.

flub-jpg3fw3d44526h3d500Flub-a-Dub was the strangest puppet I have ever seen. He was, according to Wikipedia, “a combination of eight animals: a duck’s bill, a cat’s whiskers, a spaniel’s ears, a giraffe’s neck, a dachshund’s body, a seal’s flippers, a pig’s tail and an elephant’s memory.” If old Flub-a-Dub were around today I suspect that, given his diverse background, he would be a prime choice for the VP candidate of any major political party.

Then there were string-less characters of the human variety. Clarabell the Clown, a mute, communicated through two horns on his belt. One was a “no” horn, the other was a “yes” horn. If that didn’t suffice he would whip out the old seltzer bottle and squirt out a “maybe.”  Bob Keeshan, who played the part until he was fired in a wage dispute, moved on to become Captain Kangaroo.

thunderthudframedAnother human character was Chief Thunderthud of the Ooragnak Tribe. “Ooragnak” is kangaroo spelled backwards. As soon as he appeared on set he would chant this mantra: “Me, heap big chief, Thuderthud, need-um squaw.” In retrospect I guess he was one horny Indian although, at age six, I had no idea what “horny” meant.

Before delving into the Post and Courier’s connection to the Howdy Doody Show, I must mention the “Peanut Gallery.” This was a small group of very lucky kids who got to sit on stage as the show was broadcasted live. As a child, I spent many an hour in rapt awe (and jealousy) of those benighted kids in the Peanut Gallery. I longed to savor the spray from Clarabell’s misdirected seltzer bottle and to watch old Flub-a-Dub flop around onstage.

I don’t subscribe to the Charleston Post and Courier any more. That relationship ended long ago. I think of my decision to stop throwing good money at a mediocre newspaper as a Howdy Doody moment…when I realized that what I thought of as real was nothing more than make-believe…puppets, horns, strings, mute clowns, seltzer bottles, Peanut Galleries, and horny Indians. I don’t know how many of these sorts of props the Post and Courier keeps on hand but I hope they’re enough to keep them afloat in the internet age. On the other hand, they could restore/earn/acqire a certain viability if they decided to embark on a revolutionary policy: Tell the Truth no matter whose toes get stomped in the process.

Organizations which have no deep roots within the good-old-boy system are, by P&C standards, choice pickings for in-depth critical reporting. If, on the other hand, an organization is powerful and well-connected, this newspaper is much more cautious in it’s reporting.

Case in point: In the past seven months the P&C has published two stories about various charities in the Low Country. The first story, by Renee Dudley was titled: Shelter exec’s salary rises-Veterans facility chief’s pay doubles in hard times. This story was published on 10/31/10 as a no-holds-barred expose of what Ms. Dudley and her editor saw as excessive compensation paid to the director of the Good Neighbors Veteran’s Shelter on Spruill Ave. in North Charleston. The reporter went into great detail about the $128,000 yearly salary of the executive director, Nancy Cook, and included a chart encompassing several years which compared Ms. Cook’s salary with that of other shelter executives. This was a decent piece of investigative journalism but is tempered by the fact that the Veteran’s Shelter is a small enterprise lacking an influential board of directors to rise to their defense or to intercede in order to shape, or tone down, the contents of any investigation.

Add to that the fact that, unlike Goodwill, this organization can’t afford to hold frequent (and expensive) catered soirees where local bigwigs, muckety mucks, and media folks can hobnob over plates full of shrimp, meatballs, and fancy  desserts.

Contrast this with another story published on 3/21/11 by Ms. Dudley, Doug Pardue, and Glenn Smith titled: Nonprofit plight: Some agencies soared during recession, while others faltered. This was a more general article examining numerous charitable organizations and their executives’ compensation. Here is a link to that article:

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/mar/27/nonprofit-plight/

Of particular interest to me was the revelation that Robert Smith, executive director of Goodwill Industries of Lower South Carolina, takes in a cool quarter million plus per year as head of that organization. This makes him the highest compensated CEO of any “charitable” entity in the Low Country and goes a long way towards explaining why Goodwill is currently charging $3.49 for used t shirts.*

Unlike the previous article written solo by Ms. Dudley, this group effort was a major disappointment.  Glenn Smith, who was responsible for the interview with Goodwill’s CEO, really broke out the kid gloves and the velvet hammer on this one. I use the term “interview” very loosely because his contribution reads more like a press release, chronicling Mr. Robert Smith’s rise over the past few decades from a lowly truck driver to his current, much more lucrative, position. I quote: “Smith said the compensation figures can be misleading. Of the $228,000 credited to him in 2009, $160,000 represented his base salary. The rest was made up of medical and dental benefits, retirement funds, a vehicle allowance and other perks, he said.” 

Vehicle Allowance?
Vehicle Allowance?

The Goodwill executive suggests that all those extras don’t really figure into the equation…mere fluff…forget-about-it. I also noted that Glenn Smith didn’t press him about the “other perks” to which the Goodwill CEO made reference.

Glenn Smith summarizes the conversation with the following: “The organization, which receives no federal or state dollars, also understands that it needs to pay a decent wage to hire the best and brightest talent to sustain its rapid growth, he said.”  The Goodwill CEO’s points out that “We have to make sure we are competitive for that talent,” he said. “Performance needs to be rewarded.”  Yup, it sure does. I guess that explains the $30,000 bonus that was stacked on top of his already ample salary and “perks.”

Robert Smith appears to have done an end-run around the CEO salary issue with the last statement by indicating that his staff is also highly compensated. To any enterprising reporter that comment should have immediately opened up another can of worms. Glenn should have requested information regarding the compensation of all the top executives at Goodwill. Maybe his judgement got the old el-kabong from the velvet hammer.

One gets the feeling that, when the Goodwill CEO mentioned the “best and brightest talents,” he was referring to himself. I suggest that Goodwill undertake at least one immediate cost-cutting measure. Fire their chief information officer. Why waste that money when the Post and Courier is willing to do the job for free? Better yet, reduce Mr. Smith’s excessive salary and distribute it amongst the poor, struggling employees working for chump change with few, if any, benefits.

As to the earlier Howdy Doody allusions, I picture the Goodwill CEO to be an annoying, not-so-nice Buffalo Bob, Glenn Smith as Dilly Dally, his editor as Flub-a-Dub and the subscribers of the Post and Courier as a poorly informed, if not deceived, Peanut Gallery.

I guess that makes me Clarabell…wildly running around tooting my “yes” and “no” horns and squirting seltzer at the pile of calcified, crusty horse shit aka Palmetto Goodwill.Clarabell Smith update

Note: The second article in this series is titled: “Did Goodwill CEO Lie to the Charleston Post and Courier”

Postscript: I did some further research regarding Mr. Smith’s compensation after one person criticized my approach to this issue. She told me his salary was justified because of the “tremendous responsibility” that he had and the large number of employees he had to supervise (roughly 1,100 employees). I discovered the following:

1) Governor Nikki Haley is the “CEO” of around 60,000 state employees and her salary is $106,078 which is around 41% of the amount that Mr. Smith rakes in.

2) The second highest paid employee of Goodwill ($99,723) is their VP of Mission Services. Her salary is around 38% of that which Mr. Smith receives.

3) Dr. Mary Thornley, the president of Trident Tech (and a former Goodwill board member) makes $103,409 per year while having to supervise a full and part-time staff of around 1,100 (not to mention the 12,000+ students at that institution). If one examines the database of state employee salaries compiled by The State newspaper in Columbia you can find many professors at our various state institutions of higher learning who make several multiples of the salary Dr. Thornley receives. My guess is that her salary is lower because she presides over a technical school. The importance of her job is, in my opinion, very much underrated and I believe that she deserves a more generous compensation package. Here is a link to the database to which I referred:

http://www.thestate.com/salaries/

In these hard times I think that it is entirely possible for Mr. Smith to enjoy a very comfortable living on his base salary of $160,000 without all of the perks. Even then his salary would be considerably higher than anyone on his executive staff. If he is unwilling to sacrifice his perks I am quite certain that there would be a veritable plethora of qualified applicants who could perform his job with integrity, trust, and efficiency.

*Since I wrote this article Goodwill has raised the price on used t-shirts to $3.79.

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