U Turn” by André-Pierre du Plessis

July 18, 2017; KMTV-TV (Omaha, NE)

Yesterday, the Douglas County board in Omaha voted to extend the property tax exemption of Goodwill Omaha. That exemption has been in danger since last year, when an investigative report in the local paper revealed many practices that were felt to fall short of the nonprofit ideal.

Often summarized as mere problems with high levels of compensation for executives, the patterns of questionable practice went much deeper. Conflicts of interest between board and staff, nepotism, and even repackaging of foreign-made goods under “Made in America” labels joined those high executive salaries and sub-minimum salaries for disabled workers to provide a picture that looked far less than ethically focused.

Since the exposés from the Omaha World-Herald came out, Goodwill Omaha has undergone many self-imposed reviews. The organization has been transparent about the moves it has made and the consequent big changes in the way it functions. This openness has been necessary because the surrounding community had withdrawn much of its support for the group. One might consider the county board a part of that community.

In the end, the board voted six-to-one in favor of the extension, but only after the group answered any number of concerns posed by the tax assessor.

Despite the extension of the tax status, Goodwill says they are aware that public opinion is divided on them right now.

“We’re in the process of doing some great things at Goodwill and we’re really excited about them, but we also recognize it’s going to take time for people to see that,” said Brent Koster, vice president of mission advancement at the organization.

Still in turnaround mode, the organization is on a search for a new leader, but that leader will be chosen on very different terms.—Ruth McCambridge