Wanted: Hershey charity board members — the job pays $110,000 a year

Three board members at the scandal-plagued, $12.5 billion Milton Hershey School have retired part of an agreement with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.

Three board members at the $12.5 billion Milton Hershey School for impoverished children quit the scandal-plagued charity in late December -- as they were expected to under a July reform agreement with Pennsylvania's attorney general.

But no new board members were appointed to replace them, despite months of a national search to fill positions that pay a minimum of $110,000 a year.

The troubled charity -- financed by the Hershey Trust Co., which controls the Hershey chocolate and tourism empire -- is one of the nation's richest private child-care organizations. Some believe the charity has been so scandalized that it is hard to recruit qualified people on its behalf. The school and its controlling boards have faced multiple investigations by the state attorney general and the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division.

With the December departures, those boards -- one that manages the school's assets and a second with responsibility for the school itself -- now consist of a total of six individuals, mostly insiders or those who are politically connected in Harrisburg. Two additional board members will have to leave by Dec. 31. 

The state Office of Attorney General, which has stated that it would like the boards to be comprised of 13 individuals with a diversity of skills related to residential education, philanthropy, and business, expressed its displeasure on Friday.

"We remain concerned about the composition of the joint boards, and we expect the trust to fully comply with the terms of the agreement reached last year," Jeffrey A. Johnson, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said.

Hershey Trust spokesman Kent Jarrell confirmed on Thursday the departures of former board chairman Robert F. Cavanaugh and members James E. Nevels and Joseph M. Senser in late December, as part of the July agreement with the Attorney General's Office.

The Hershey Trust website still listed the individuals as board members on Friday, however.

"The process for selecting new directors continues, no new members have been elected to the boards," Jarrell said in an email. The charity has retained the executive-search firm Heidrick & Struggles to assist it in finding candidates.

The two powerful boards, with identical membership, control the entire Hershey organization -- both its philanthropic and business parts. So far, seven members have departed over roughly the last 18 months, shrinking membership to the current total of six. 

The Hershey School boasts more assets than all but a handful of colleges, including the University of Pennsylvania. The chocolate company is a source of more than $100 million a year in cash through stock dividends to operate the school. In November, the Inquirer disclosed that the charity spent only 1.9 percent of its assets on its educational programs, according to its most recent federal tax filing. 

In July, the Hershey School, the pre-Depression charitable vision of Milton and Catherine Hershey to lift orphans out of poverty and the recipient of their estate, agreed to the board members' departures and other reforms to settle the latest attorney general's investigation. The state agency had probed travel costs and whether the charity violated a 2013 agreement to curb excessive board compensation.

Current chair Velma A. Redmond and James M. Mead agreed to resign from the boards at the end of 2017 as part of the settlement. 

The state attorney general has 30 days to review potential new board candidates but does not have veto power over them. The office has sweeping oversight powers of charities such as the Hershey organization. 

A new attorney general, Josh Shapiro, will be sworn into office on Jan. 17.