Backstory: Most Hang-Ups for One Story | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » News

Backstory: Most Hang-Ups for One Story


Published December 26, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.

  • File: Thomas James

Let's face it: Nobody wants to see their salary in print — unless it's in Forbes' annual list of the world's billionaires. (Sorry, Mom. Not this year.)

So I wasn't too surprised by the reaction I got when I started reporting a story in May about Vermont's highest nonprofit salaries. One executive director nearly begged me not to write about his hefty haul. "I really hate this, to be honest," the ED said.

Others were less polite. When I reached Brattleboro Retreat president and CEO Louis Josephson to inquire about his 2016 payday of $402,000, the doc said, "I just don't want to comment, honestly." A moment later, he hung up on me.

Then-gubernatorial candidate James Ehlers was equally uninterested in discussing his financial relationship with the nonprofit he runs, Lake Champlain International. In addition to paying Ehlers roughly $97,500 in wages and benefits in 2016, the conservation and sporting organization also gave him $15,750 in rent. For the past 15 years, it turns out, LCI has been headquartered in a building Ehlers owns.

"Are you trying to get at something nefarious here?" he snapped when I asked about the unusual arrangement. "Because it sounds like you are."

Some in the sector appeared unaware that nonprofits are required to disclose top officials' pay. When I asked St. Johnsbury Academy board president Jay Wright about the $287,000 in salary and $72,000 in benefits that headmaster Tom Lovett made in 2016, Wright grew downright hostile.

"No, that's not a matter for public disclosure," he said. "This is none of your business."

Actually, it is. The public subsidizes nonprofits with major tax exemptions. In return, they're expected to disclose their finances to the public.

Wright, apparently, sees it differently. The St. J board president ended the call like the Retreat CEO.