Editorial: Discordant holiday notes

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 29, 2006

In a season of joy and goodwill, stories that highlight inequities, disappointment and sheer callousness strike us with a particular dissonance, like having a screechy grunge band intrude upon a children’s choir singing “Silent Night.” Here are some recent dispatches that make us want to stuff coal in someone’s stocking.

Gifts of the magistrate: It was bad enough that top Pillowtex executives had already reaped handsome payoffs after the textile manufacturer shut down in 2003. While more than 4,000 laid-off workers struggled to put groceries on the table, pay medical bills and save their homes, the firm’s top executives and salaried employees — who already had the most financial security — shared a payout totaling $2.5 million in the initial bankruptcy proceedings. Now comes the salt in the wound: Under the final bankruptcy schedule, the awards rise to at least $5.2 million because those guiding the firm’s dissolution met certain incentive goals. The result: CEO Michael Gannaway and President Mike Harmon will each get an additional bonus of more than $250,000, bringing their total bankruptcy bonuses to more than $550,000 each. Meanwhile, most rank-and-file union workers netted between $1,220 and $2,000. This may be standard procedure in bankruptcy proceedings, but it still stinks worse than fermented egg nog.

Home for the holidays: The 33 developmentally disabled residents of Rowan Homes recently learned that Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare is terminating its contract with the service provider and will seek another operator for the group homes in Salisbury. Piedmont Behavioral contends this is simply a financial decision, based on what it can pay Rowan Homes to run the facilities. But the anguished response of residents and their families shows an emotional calculation that extends beyond the bottom line. Changing the contractor in this situation isn’t simply a matter of plugging new numbers into an equation. Residents have built up longterm relationships with care providers, and it’s a wrenching experience to learn that’s about to change. The financial considerations may be immutable, but Piedmont Behavioral could have done a better job of communicating with residents and their families. Ultimately, the message might have been the same. But better delivery could have eased the trauma and helped head off this Christmas crisis.

Pilfered palm: It happens every year. Churches and homeowners put a lot of effort into holiday decorations that many enjoy — until thieves strike. Sometimes they make off with creche figures or reindeer displays. But this year’s Golden Grinch award goes to the sticky-fingered miscreant who stole a palm tree from the Yelton family’s tropically themed Christmas display in the Glen Heather neighborhood. Rather than visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, these thieves deserve sand in their beds and a coconut to the noggin.