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United Way President Resigns, Apologizes for ‘Lack of Sensitivity’

February 27, 1992 GMT

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ William Aramony resigned Thursday as president of United Way of America and apologized for a ″lack of sensitivity″ that led to complaints of extravagant spending and demands by local units for his removal.

Aramony, who headed the nation’s largest charity for 22 years, announced his decision in a teleconference with local leaders of United Way campaigns across the country. Officials said he had submitted his resignation Wednesday but was asked to stay while a successor is sought.

Aramony, 64, was due to retire in July 1993.

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Ted Moore, president of the southeastern Pennsylvania United Way and one of the local leaders pressing for Aramony’s resignation, expressed disappointment that Aramony wasn’t leaving immediately.

″They can depend on other people there until they can get a successor,″ Moore said.

″I do apologize for any problems that my lack of sensitivity to perceptions has caused this movement,″ Aramony said.

Recent news stories have reported that he was paid $463,000 in salary, received generous benefits and traveled in high style - sometimes aboard the Concorde. Questions also were raised about the relationship between United Way and some spinoff corporations.

Aramony admitted that he had made mistakes and had not paid enough attention to details.

″I don’t like it,″ Aramony said of the criticism directed at the United Way. ″It hurts me to see and hear unfair criticism of a system that has done so much for this country.″

″I’ve never been through something like this in my life.″

He admitted he had traveled first class on some of the more than 10,000 trips he made on United Way business but said he had flown the Concorde only two or three times.

″I probably never should have done it in the beginning, in retrospect,″ he said of his first-class travel.

Across the country, officials of local United Way campaigns expressed fear that the disclosures would reduce contributions.

LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., chairman of the executive committee of the charity’s board of governors, said an outside investigative firm hired in December found ″no wrongdoing on the part of Bill Aramony in its preliminary investigation.″

A followup investigation will be completed in early April, he said.

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Aramony said he was retiring ″to put things back in proper focus ... because media attention is overshadowing the importance of the work of United Way and the countless accomplishments we have made together.″

Leffall said that any allegations against the organization’s leadership, ″whether true or not, can damage public confidence in the United Way movement and its ability to fulfill United Way’s century-old mission of helping Americans in need.″

During the teleconference, an angry caller from Des Moines, Iowa, told Aramony: ″Your message is not selling well here. I believe we are being seriously damaged by these allegations and this publicity.″

″I’m somewhat relieved that he’s retiring because I think if he continued it would have continued to play out in the newspapers,″ said Brian Hassett, president of the United Way of central Massachusetts, based in Worcester. ″I think it was the right thing to do.″

Hassett said the allegations had made the charity’s work more difficult.

Marian L. Heard, chief executive officer of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, said Aramony’s resignation was probably ″prudent,″ but added: ″Bill has been a visionary and a leader and we all have admired what he has done.″

In Lexington, Mass. about a dozen representatives from United Way branches around Massachusetts watched the conference on a video and audio hookup and greeted Aramony’s announcement with silence.

Berl Bernhard, a member of the Washington law firm which is reviewing results of the internal investigation said the firm will ″make recommendations for structural and operations changes.″

Bernhard said in their review of United Way operations the law firm ″found some of the practices fell short in the nature of omissions.″

He did not elaborate.

Bernhard said he said he found no evidence of fraud or embezzlement but did find sloppy record keeping and accounting errors.

At least 21 United Way groups have announced in recent days that they were withholding their voluntary dues from the organization until they got answers to allegations that have been raised in the news media.

The amounts, usually 1 percent of local collections, ranged from $3,900 for the Greater Douglas United Way in Roseburg, Ore., to $500,000 for the United Way of the Bay Area in San Francisco.

All figures were not available, but those that were added up to more than $1.7 million. The national organization’s annual budget is $29 million.

Philanthropist Walter Annenberg, who gave $450,000 to United Way chapters in Philadelphia and Palm Springs, Calif., last year, called for Aramony’s resignation on Wednesday.