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Falling out at local United Way

Kathleen Mommé

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(Sept. 6, 2018) Former United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore President & CEO Kathleen Mommé last week issued a statement regarding her apparent termination in July, while the nonprofit’s board released a statement disputing some of her claims.

The Salisbury-based organization serves Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset and Dorchester counties with a stated mission “To create and enhance opportunities for making a positive and lasting impact in Education, Financial Stability and Health for all.”

Mommé, with the organization since 1994, said in an email to local media last Wednesday she had “been on a gag order until now” and attached a response to what she called “being abruptly fired from the United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore following 24 years of perfect performance records along with their efforts to keep me quiet and try to keep me from suing them.”

The statement, titled “Kathleen Mommé Public Response to UWLES Board of Directors Request to Have Mommé not sue UWLES,” follows:

“It has been an honor to serve our community for the past 35 years including the past 24 years with the local United Way making a real impact in our neighbor’s lives. Every moment of these years, I have felt that it has been a true blessing to serve, continuously break performance records, always give my staff & volunteers credit, create a work culture that was caring and family friendly and received numerous state and local leadership awards. My priority is, as it always has been, United Way donors, partner agencies and the many helped by them and I remain committed to serving the many people served on the Lower Eastern Shore as I have since 1983.

“I did not resign from United Way. I was abruptly terminated by the United Way’s legal counsel on behalf of the Board of Directors with no real opportunity to advocate for myself or to speak with any Board members. It has been a painfully heartbreaking end to my successful career with United Way.

“Following 24 years of dedication to the organization, I was terminated based on concerns that members of the staff expressed, not to me, but to certain members of the Board, mainly in regard to my management approach and style. I have always brought a certain (appropriate) intensity to my work and my desire to grow and expand the United Way, its donor base, and its impact in the community. This intensity has always made me demanding mostly of myself, but also of my staff, as we have strived over the years to fulfill challenging goals and meet ever-increasing and critical community needs.

“While I fully recognize this about myself, I do not apologize for it. And I do not regard that (appropriate) intensity, or the fact that it may have made certain staff members uncomfortable or resulted in a work environment they disliked, as a valid reason to summarily terminate me under circumstances, poorly managed by Board leadership, which incorrectly suggested to the public that something more sinister had occurred.

“Staff members who I hired and trained and mentored had complaints mainly in regard to my management approach and style, which unfortunately were never conveyed to me by them; and were not conveyed by the Board as part of any review or evaluation of my performance; but instead, were enumerated as accusations shortly before I was informed by the current Board leadership, through their legal counsel, of my termination effective July 31, 2018.

“I am, of course, considerably older than most of the staff, having a generational gap to bridge and perhaps bringing more traditional notions of hard work and accountability to the ‘team’ and ‘family’ atmosphere that I worked so hard, for so many years, to cultivate at the organization I loved so much. More traditional notions of hard work and accountability, perhaps, were inconsistent with the expectations and work-related objectives of a newer generation of employees, and (apparently) the Board leadership that ultimately advocated for and orchestrated my firing.

“I have always cared deeply about my staff, and have always strived to be a loyal and responsible personnel manager. This I can say without equivocation. I have always communicated with staff openly and honestly, and constructively. I have also always treated the United Way Board members with utmost respect and appreciation for their valued contributions of time, energy, and expertise.

“The Board offered me a considerable amount of donor funds in exchange for my silence and to waive any legal claims I might have. A lengthy and non-negotiable written agreement titled ‘General Release and Covenant Not to Sue’ was presented to me in this regard. Although (due to financial concerns) I initially considered receiving a severance payment in connection with my termination, after further thought, I decided that I will not sign the proposed agreement (despite the serious financial strain this sudden firing creates for me and my family), and will not accept a payoff, especially one using donor funds.

“So, my heart is literally broken over the manner in which I have been cast aside with little or no regard, after so many years of dedicated and fruitful service. Thanks to my faith, my family and close friends, I will move forward with the same passionate energy that I have always carried into my work, as I look for new ways to serve the community I love and cherish so much. For as Proverbs 3: 5-6 states ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your path.’”

A statement issued last week by the United Way Board of Directors, calling Mommé’s comments “unfortunate and/or incorrect,” follows:

“Between May and June 2018, four of the nine members of the United Way’s paid staff resigned, in part, because of serious concerns they had with Ms. Mommé and the work environment she fostered.

“In response, the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors retained an independent human resources consultant to conduct a thorough investigation, which included interviews of current and former staff, among others. The consultant also interviewed Ms. Mommé and provided her with the opportunity to respond to the concerns the staff raised. Following the investigation, the Board of Directors reviewed the consultant’s findings in consultation with legal counsel and voted unanimously to terminate Ms. Mommé’s employment.

“The United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore is conducting an executive search for a new CEO. In the interim, Pam Gregory will serve as interim CEO.

“We are excited to move forward into our 2018/2019 campaign season and working together positively to impact the lives of our friends, neighbors, and family members right here on the Lower Eastern Shore as we have for the last 73 years.”