Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

June 16, 2008

Politicking soils Golden Leaf search

Ham-fisted politics have hijacked the effort to pick a new president for one of North Carolina’s biggest foundations.

The board of the Golden Leaf Foundation, created to dole out half of North Carolina’s share of 46 states’ massive settlement with Big Tobacco, was set in early June to name a new chief to succeed Valeria Lee, who is retiring.

But the board, made up of political appointees, yielded to last-minute requests by Gov. Mike Easley and state Senate leader Marc Basnight to delay the decision so it could consider Easley’s top budget adviser for the job.

Dan Gerlach, the budget adviser, is busy with the state legislative session and would not be able to begin the new job until the session ends, Easley reasons.

The move by Easley and Basnight reeks of back-room politics.

If Gerlach wants the Golden Leaf job, he should have applied for it months ago like the hundreds of other candidates who met the application deadline.

But after a careful search by a consultant, screening of candidates by the board’s search committee, and interviews by the full board with four finalists, Easley’s intervention seems like the clumsy move of a lame-duck governor to find an exit strategy for a top aide.

And Basnight’s intervention, in the face of bills pending before state lawmakers that would choke off funding for the foundation, looks like a barely veiled threat: Give Gerlach the job, or kiss the foundation, its assets and its promise goodbye.

Created by state lawmakers to invest in efforts to heal and repair North Carolina communities hurt by tobacco’s decline, the Golden Leaf Foundation is by definition and nature a political creature subject to the whims and agendas of politicians.

And despite the innovative grants and investments it has made, and the effort of its board and staff to maintain the organization’s integrity, the political make-up of the board has saddled the foundation with the perception that it is a political tool.

By mucking up the search for a new president and interfering with the board’s exercise of the judgment delegated to it, Easley and Basnight have further undermined the foundation’s reputation.

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