Awkward fit looming for Decker

Sep. 04, 2014 @ 11:29 PM

CHARLOTTE — As the Family Dollar board of directors weighs competing offers to buy the North Carolina-based retail chain, one of its members — state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker — finds herself in a potentially uneasy position.

A Family Dollar sale might send its headquarters out of North Carolina and put at risk 1,400 corporate jobs. While Family Dollar announced in July it had agreed to be purchased by Virginia-based Dollar Tree in an $8.5 billion deal, Tennessee-based Dollar General has offered more lucrative deals, the most recent one this week valued at $9.1 billion.

The Charlotte Observer reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/1r8KpZr ) that Decker has been on the board since 1999. She became Gov. Pat McCrory's top state business and jobs recruiter as secretary in 2009 but has stayed on the board of the Matthews company.

As a board member, Decker has a duty to Family Dollar shareholders to get them the best investment return. As commerce secretary, Decker has an obligation to the people of North Carolina.

The ethics law prohibits Decker from acting as secretary on any matter for which she has a conflict of interest and bars her from sharing confidential information received as secretary to any private party.

Decker told the newspaper she doesn't see a conflict with her McCrory administration post.

"In my role at Family Dollar, I am a board member and have fiduciary responsibilities to the shareholders," she said Wednesday in a written statement. "As commerce secretary, I work every day to create jobs and help North Carolina thrive. I can perform both roles and meet my responsibilities."

As required by state ethics law, Decker formally disclosed her corporate board position for Family Dollar and Charlotte-based Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated. An official covered by the ethics law can serve in a management position for a private-sector company or hold a significant economic interest in such a company provided they're disclosed.

Family Dollar paid Decker nearly $150,000 in cash and stock during its 2013 budget year, according to a securities filing. She makes $136,000 as commerce secretary.

Charles Elson with the University of Delaware's Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance, said Decker's situation shows why people taking public office often step down from corporate boards.

"It's going to be awkward for her," Elson said. "Getting the highest (buyout) price may not be in the best interest of the state."

Some other members of the Family Dollar board include former Gov. Jim Martin and Queens University of Charlotte President Pamela Davies.