As it seeks to continue its rebound from a scandal over excessive executive pay, Goodwill Omaha is turning to a retired Army brigadier general with recent experience in the Omaha nonprofit world.

The board of directors of the charity announced Monday it has hired Michael McGinnis as its new CEO, replacing the ousted Frank McGree.

McGinnis comes to Goodwill after having spent nearly four years as chief executive of the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum near Ashland, Nebraska. Before that, he spent four years as director of the University of Nebraska’s Peter Kiewit Institute.

“We were so fortunate to have substantial applications from both local candidates and candidates around the country,” Erin Limas, the Goodwill board member who chaired the search committee, said in a statement. “It was a very difficult decision, but one that the committee has made with confidence for the future of Goodwill in the areas we serve.”

McGinnis’ base pay will be $215,000 annually. He will take over in two weeks.

Goodwill’s board fired McGree on Oct. 28 last year, just days after The World-Herald published an investigation detailing corporate-style executive pay at the widely known charity that sells publicly donated used goods to employ needy job-seekers.

McGree received base pay, retirement pay, bonuses and other compensation exceeding $400,000 annually — more than double the average for CEOs at other Omaha social service nonprofits. A $519,000 lump sum payment in 2014, part of a retirement agreement intended to retain McGree, brought his pay that year close to $1 million.

In all, 14 executives and managers at the charity were paid $100,000 or more. Nationwide, no Goodwill affiliate of its size had more employees paid in six figures.

Goodwill spent so much on executive pay and other administrative costs that scant dollars from its signature thrift stores were left to support the community jobs programs that are central to the charity’s mission. More than a dozen employees told the paper that mission had taken a back seat to executive pay, with job trainers who worked with disabled students frustrated by the charity’s reluctance to hire graduates to work in the profit-driven thrift stores.

In addition to McGree’s firing, the revelations led the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office to launch an investigation of Goodwill, one that is still believed to be ongoing. McGree last week also went to court attempting to collect another $550,000 from Goodwill that he says he’s owed as part of a severance agreement he had struck with the charity.

In the 11 months since McGree’s ouster, the charity has made wholesale changes, including the firing or departure of nearly all its highest paid executives. The number of employees paid $100,000 or more was recently down to four.

It also has been undergoing an internal ethics review and brought in an outside consultant to examine its operations.

The charity in the interim has been led by Pauli Bishop, Goodwill’s chief financial officer, whose work was praised by Goodwill board chairman Mark Stokes.

“Pauli has done a remarkable job of rebuilding employee trust and managing a multitude of situations,” Stokes said.

Now the board is turning to McGinnis, a Wisner, Nebraska native who spent 29 years in the military, retiring as a brigadier general.

McGinnis graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. He also holds master’s degrees from the U.S. Naval War College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a doctorate from the University of Arizona.

He first came to Omaha in 2009 as director of the Kiewit Institute. He then moved on to the SAC Museum in January of 2014.

During his nearly four-year tenure at the museum, McGinnis was credited with stabilizing its finances. Running nearly million-dollar annual operating deficits when he was hired, the museum is projected to finish the current year in the black.

He also took the museum through a name change a year ago, getting back to its SAC Cold War roots. It had formerly been called the Strategic Air and Space Museum.

“Mike has skillfully guided the museum to significant growth and success during his tenure. He led a talented management team that raised the guest experience to new levels,” said Gary Gates, the chairman of the SAC Museum’s board. “While Mike will be missed, I am confident in the management team’s ability to run the museum while the board undertakes a search for an executive director.”

In 2015, the most recent year for which the museum’s financial report is publicly available, McGinnis received base pay of $157,230 and other compensation of $19,209.

McGinnis said it had been “an honor and a privilege” to serve the museum, which he said “is well positioned for continued success in the years ahead.”

Editor’s note: Staff writer Henry Cordes serves as a volunteer board member for the SAC and Aerospace Museum., 402-444-1130

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Reporter - Metro News

Henry is a general assignment reporter, but his specialty is deep dives into state issues and public policy. He's also into the numbers behind a story, yet to meet a spreadsheet he didn't like. Follow him on Twitter @HenryCordes. Phone: 402-444-1130.

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