12/14/05 — County ARC chapter not worrked about resignation

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County ARC chapter not worrked about resignation

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on December 14, 2005 1:52 PM

Even with the resignation of a second National Red Cross director within three years, local director Chuck Waller said he feels Wayne County will continue to support the agency here.

American Red Cross President Marsha Evans announced her resignation Tuesday because of friction with the board of governors, shortly before witnesses and lawmakers at a congressional hearing assailed the charity's response to Hurricane Katrina.

Waller said the controversy does not negate the thousands of dollars raised here, or tarnish the work of the volunteers who gave their time to help the hurricane victims.

"I'm thinking that we're still going to have that support locally," Waller said. "I'm of the opinion that there will not be a lot of change locally. My thought is that people support you based upon your services in your community. I hope people see that the services in our community are very, very good and that the Red Cross is doing what they should in Wayne County."

Waller also said he believes the Red Cross is currently at a good place in public view and he hopes it's also at a good place in local view.

His reaction to Evans' resignation was that he feels she has done a good job. "You measure a leader (by asking) did they leave you better than they found you, and I think she did."

Red Cross spokesman Charles Connor said the board was not unhappy with Evans' handling of the hurricane crisis, "but had concerns about her management approach, and coordination and communication with the board." It was the second time in three years that such feuding led to a leadership change after a national disaster.

At the hearing in Washington, lawmakers said the Red Cross's uneven response to Katrina calls for major changes in how the charity coordinates with local groups, handles its finances and distributes aid to the disabled. A Louisiana congressman even suggested the possibility of stripping the Red Cross of its dominant role in major relief campaigns.

Jack McGuire, executive vice president of the charity's Biomedical Services, was named to serve as interim president while a search for Evans' permanent successor is conducted.

A former Navy rear admiral who previously ran the Girl Scouts of the USA, Evans took over at the Red Cross in August 2002 as the organization was shaking off criticism of how it handled some donations sent in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Evans's predecessor, Dr. Bernadine Healy, said she was forced to resign partly because of disagreements with the board over whether money coming in after Sept. 11 should be placed in a separate fund or a general disaster fund. Some donors were upset that $200 million was set aside for future terrorist incidents.

Healy, now a health columnist with U.S. News & World Report, said in a telephone interview that her departure and Evans' removal reflected serious problems in how the 50-member Red Cross board addresses its internal conflicts and clashes with its top executives.

"You can't have 50 people making decisions," Healy said. "The Red Cross is a public treasure that belongs to America and must serve America. Until these governance problems can be sorted out, it won't be able to do so effectively."

She noted that the Red Cross is chartered by Congress, and the U.S. president is its honorary chairman. "The only people who can fix it are at that level," she said.

After the Sept. 11 donation dispute, the Red Cross promised greater accountability. But the unprecedented challenges posed by this year's hurricanes raised new problems.

Critics said the Red Cross failed to respond quickly enough in some low-income, minority areas; others faulted it for balking at cooperation with grass-roots organizations even as it collected the bulk of hurricane relief funds -- more than $1.8 billion to date.

On the positive side, the group mobilized roughly 220,000 volunteers in response to the hurricanes, accommodated hundreds of thousands of evacuees in shelters, and provided financial aid to about 1.2 million families.

Evans, 58, acknowledged in September that the organization's response to Katrina and Hurricane Rita had been uneven, saying the power of the storms "eclipsed even our direst, worst-case scenarios."

In recent weeks, the organization has vowed to address some of the criticisms by seeking greater diversity within its ranks and establishing partnerships with local groups.

At the hearing, Rep. Jim McCrery, a Louisiana Republican, called on Congress to reconsider whether to continue giving the Red Cross a lead role in responding to natural disasters. Having such a designation gave the organization a boost in fundraising, absorbing about 60 percent of all donations, he said.

Joseph C. Becker, senior vice president for response and preparedness for the Red Cross, said the group did its best. "We chose to help those whom we could without delay, while striving to serve all who needed us."