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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Bennett and POM

In addition to being the Lehigh Valley's Democratic nominee to Congress, Sam Bennett is also the executive director at Properties of Merit (POM). As explained on the group's web page, the idea behind that publicly and privately funded nonprofit is that "well-maintained streets and buildings collectively have dramatic positive impact on the quality of life of communities."

Last July, Bennett got into a bit of hot water over her $110,000 salary at a service organization whose total budget was only $351,000. The Morning Call's Josh Drobnyk said this.

"How Properties of Merit came to Executive Director Bennett's $110,000 salary goes against Internal Revenue Service guidelines and raises questions about the organization's -- and Bennett's -- decision-making.

"The organization picked three people -- Bennett among them -- to determine a fair wage. It ignored budget size when researching salaries at similar organizations. And it counted future volunteers as employees, comparing itself to organizations with 100 or more staffers
Bennett eventually agreed to slash her $110,000 salary in half while an independent consultant reviewed whether her pay was set too high.

On March 3, consultant Steve Langer released a report exonerating POM, claiming the compensation committee had followed IRS guidelines and had acted in good faith. But fellow blogger Pam Varkony questions whether Langer really was all that independent. Why? Because he is one of the persons who helped set Bennett's salary at $110,000. An op-ed published by POM board prez Jim Molchany last July, twice mentions that Langer's services were used to set that salary.

With this background in mind, Bennett was asked a few questions about POM and her salary.

Question: Exactly how much were you paid last year as executive director for nonprofit Properties of Merit? You had agreed to a fifty per cent pay cut while an independent third party reviewed the propriety of paying you $110,000 to manage a nonprofit whose budget is only $351,000. So was your 2007 salary only $55,000 or was it actually a higher figure?

"My salary was $88,000. The paycut did not take place until July or August. There was nothing wrong with my original salary. But I need to demonstrate that I'm responsive to people's concerns. The allegations were completely unfounded. The political reporter of The Morning Call writes an investigative piece based on lies, half-truths and innuendo. But I had to be perceived as being responsive. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard."

Question: When your $110,000 salary was determined at POM, you were part of the committee. An "independent third party" has determined your salary was properly set. But according to a report from Pam Varkony, independent consultant Steve Langer just happens to be one of the people involved in the original decision. How can you claim he is really an independent third party?

"That consultant is internationally regarded as an expert in nonprofit compensation. He did months of research and released a report. He was not involved in the compensation committee. The Morning Call never even ran a story. They protect their favorite son."

Question: OK, but what about Pam Varkony's blog that this independent consultant had a role in setting your original salary?

"POM posted the consultant’s report on its website, mypom.org, and this report was prepared by Steve Langer, a non-profit compensation expert from Colorado. I’m confused as to how Pam Varkony drew the conclusion that this individual served on a committee for POM. Pennsylvania has one of the lowest levels of women in elected office in the country. This is an important issue that Pam and her 'Power of Women' would do well to address. I’d be disappointed if Pam was using this as an opportunity to level a partisan fueled attack on POM in order to support her fellow Republican Congressman Dent – and attacking one of the few women running for Federal office in PA in 2008. After all, Pam attacked Hillary Clinton with a distasteful smear against all women, saying (in her infinite wisdom) that it just might be true that girls are bad at math.”

Question: Has Bennett's husband, Martin Estrada, or his business ever received any payments from POM?

"No! I'm a little shocked by that question. Martin donates his time to POM. He does work for a software firm called EMC and we have purchased their software. But he makes no money from that. It would be like he was working at Alpo and we bought Alpo dog food."

Blogger's Note: I have asked The Morning Call why it has failed to report Bennett's exoneration, even if it is questionable. The paper's original, front page story, hurled some serious accusations. Amazingly, the paper declined comment.


A.J. Cordi said...

There was nothing wrong with my original salary.

Are you kidding me?

Oh, for Pete's sake! said...

I’m confused as to how Pam Varkony drew the conclusion that this individual served on a committee for POM.

Actually, Ms. Varkony did not draw that conclusion at all. She stated that Mr. Langer was a consultant in the salary setting discussions by the compensaton-setting committee. You can find that article here. Additionally, the op-ed written by POM's own Jim Molchany (according to Mr. O'Hare's original post) also mentions Mr. Langer's services were used to set the salary , so it does seem odd for Ms. Bennett to claim, "He was not involved in the compensation committee."

How is it reasonable to ask the person who advised on the initial high salary to act impartially in reviewing the situation for any impropriety afterwards?

Also, Ms. Varkony's comment about girls and math can be found here. As it is plain to see, the statement was made as a very tongue in cheek closing comment to an article that is actually complimentary about Sen. Clinton's connection with female voters here in the Valley.

And what does a small field of female politicians in PA have to do with inappropriate nonprofit salary setting for a congressional candidate up for election? Changing the subject this way seems like an attempt to paint herself as a victim or underdog, without having to address the original question.

A.J. Cordi said...

Very well said, pete's sake.

Bill Villa said...

"I have asked The Morning Call why it has failed to report Bennett's exoneration, even if it is questionable. The paper's original, front page story, hurled some serious accusations. Amazingly, the paper declined comment." -Bernie

Bernie, I think "typically" or "not surprisingly" would be a more accurate choice of words here than "amazingly."

I doubt there's anyone left out there who is "amazed" by The Morning Call and its M.O. of transparently framed agendas, arrogance, stupidity, stubborn thickness, blurry off-register photographs, typos, errors, lies, pompous opinions, clannishness, missed deliveries, sense of monopoly entitlement, ivory tower inaccessibility, and pages that aren't all the same width.

"Declining comment" as to why they won't be reporting on a merited clarification is typical Morning Call. What's amazing is that they have any subscribers left.

Oh, for Pete's sake! said...

In order to exonerate a person, the Morning Call should have proof that what it reported was false or misleading. The brief 1 1/2 page report available on the POM site doesn't seem to supply this kind of evidence because it is written by the very consultant used to come up with the initial salary, which doesn't make it a third-party or impartial review, regardless of any credentials Ms. Bennett says the reviewer has. (Many may argue that, ethically, a well-respected consultant in this field would decline such a project because of their previous involvement.)

Perhaps the Morning Call is currently being threatened with or in the process of defending itself against legal action brought on by the earlier reporting, and that's why it is refusing to comment now.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Oh, for pete's sake should be blogging or working for the MSM. Bennett's claim that Langer had nothing to do w/ her salary is based on the fact that he was not a member of the compensation committee. But board prez Molchany, in a published op-ed, twice states that Langer's services were used in setting that salary. That's why Pam was incredulous that Langer would be considered an independent third party consultant.

Oh, for Pete's sake! said...

Oh, for pete's sake should be blogging or working for the MSM.

What? And leave my lucrative career as a John Stoffa impersonator?

Anonymous said...

For Bennett to claim that she has been cleared by an independent third party insults the intelligence of the public.

Here is a quote from the July 5, 2007 Morning Call Op-Ed written by POM’s Jim Molchany:

“Along with information and guidance provided by the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, Abbot, Langer and Associates and GuideStar, a firm that compares compensation among thousands of non-profits nationwide, we used the IRS guidelines to arrive at a salary range for Ms. Bennett and set her compensation at the low end of that range.”

Molchany clearly indicates that Abbot, Langer and Associates provided “information and guidance” used by the POM compensation committee “to arrive at a salary range for Ms. Bennett and set her compensation at the low end of the range.”

Molchany's recent letter to the community contains the following line:

“Because of its extensive experience in the area of employee compensation in nonprofit organizations, the Board of Directors of Properties of Merit of Pennsylvania, Inc. retained the services of the Langer Human Resources Group, the spin-off (emphasis mine) of the human resources consulting division of Abbott, Langer and Associates, Inc.

This is just blatantly ridiculous. A “spin-off” company from the original company consulted is not independent. That would be like a business using a CPA from DeLoitte and Touche to perform an audit. The audit leads to questions of impropriety. Meanwhile the CPA leaves DeLoitte and Touche to start his own firm. Now, the audited company turns to this CPA and says “perform a review of the audit you conducted of us while you were at DeLoitte and Touche” and then tries to pass that review off as coming from an independent auditor. That’s madness.

Also, it’s worth noting that Don Cunningham’s Administration did not accept the information provided to them by POM as coming from an independent group. Here is a quote from the Morning Call story of October 10, 2007 regarding POM using Langer Human Resources Group:

“Molchany said several board members in September met with salary consultant Steven Langer, who founded -- and later sold -- the company that Properties of Merit used to compile information about other nonprofit salaries last year, which is now called Abbott, Langer Association Surveys.”

Bennett constantly demonstrates that she thinks you and I are stupid.

We're not Ms. Bennett and your act is running thin.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the hardest job in the world was being a coal miner.

Now I realize the hardest job in the world would be working as a bull s--t detector around Sammy Bennett.

You'd never get a break.

hayshaker said...

Regarding the first two comments, I'm surprised Mr. O'Hare had no followup questioning! Is this all from memory or notes?

I don't have a huge issue with the salary but her position should have included more explanation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'm surprised Mr. O'Hare had no followup questioning! Is this all from memory or notes?

I did some follow up, but very little. I was very busy taking copious notes. I drained my pen of ink and Sam Bennett actually ended up giving me two of her own so I could continue writing. She preferred not being recorded.

Bill Leiner Jr. said...

POM is an excellent program that will improve communities throughout the state. In my home town the POM program is very well received and is an asset to our efforts to improve our community. Lasy year's first POM awards reception was jammed with residents supporting the event. Was Ms. Bennett well paid. Yeah. Did she respond when there was a question raised, yeah. When Mr. Dent's health insurance question was raised did he respond? Yeah. Both did something that many will consider questionable. The issue is "change". Ms. Bennett = change. Mr. Dent = status quo.

A.J. Cordi said...

Was Ms. Bennett well paid. Yeah. Did she respond when there was a question raised, yeah.

Bennett being "paid well" is an understatement. She was paid excessively. The sad part is that she still thinks her original salary was appropriate. If her original salary is her idea of "fair," she really is ridiculous.

Bennett didn't respond right away. Her salary should never have been that high to begin with, but had she responded right away she could have avoided all the bad press and public outrage.

I could be wrong with this and I'll trust someone to correct me if I am, but wasn't her funding and/or her grants suspended (or salary investigated) before she "agreed" to cut her salary in half?

Anonymous said...

Did she respond, yeah.

Yeah, after the Morning Call ran a number of stories on how she was trying to bamboozle people.

I'm sorry, but encouraging people to mow their grass doesn't equate to someone deserving to make nearly three times the average starting salary of a teacher in the Allentown School District.

I am sure Bill Leiner would agree.