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How an Office Romance Went Off the Rails and Brought Down the NCPA’s John Goodman

One-time 'temp secretary' becomes think tank's HR director following alleged California incident.
A torn photo of John Goodman and Sherri Collins.

Back in June, when the National Center for Policy Analysis fired its CEO for alleged “sexual misconduct and breach of fiduciary duty,” the free-market think tank had more than a dozen directors on its board. Chief executive John C. Goodman denied the charges at the time, you might recall, and said his dismissal was based on trivialities. Today the NCPA board is down to just five directors—and insiders say the Dallas nonprofit is struggling to survive.

So, what happened to bring all this about? The apparent implosion has come as the result of an office romance between Goodman and a staffer that went way off the rails, leading to an unusual “job promotion” that backfired badly.

In the world of free-market think tanks, Goodman was a star. Best known as the “Father of Health Savings Accounts,” Goodman was the founding president of the 31-year-old NCPA and a nationally quoted champion of privatization, tax reform, and a consumer-driven health system. He’d advised politicians like George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich, testified before Congress, and written numerous books as well as opinion articles for The Wall Street Journal. Photos of Goodman and such Republican luminaries as Dan Quayle, Clarence Thomas, and William Bennett lined the halls of the NCPA headquarters in North Dallas.

So it came as a surprise, to put it mildly, when the think tank announced in June that its board of directors had dismissed the 68-year-old Goodman as president and CEO. Goodman told the Dallas Morning News the charges weren’t true, insisting that his ouster was the result of “trivial stuff.” Reached by phone, one board member agreed that Goodman’s dismissal was a “shocker,” but declined to comment further. Very quickly, an iron curtain of institutional silence fell over l’affaire Goodman. The NCPA appointed an interim CEO, corporate-governance expert and talk-show host Dennis McCuistion, who said that business at the 501(c)(3) nonprofit would continue as usual while a permanent replacement for Goodman was sought.

What really led to the upheaval at the venerable conservative organization, though? According to documents, emails, and interviews with multiple sources familiar with the situation, Goodman’s firing stemmed from an extraordinary arrangement that was made with an NCPA employee named Sherri Collins, after Collins accused Goodman of assaulting her in a Southern California hotel room in 2012, D CEO has learned. To avoid threatened litigation for violating “both state and federal discrimination laws” over a period of many months, Goodman agreed to promote Collins from an assistant’s position to be the NCPA’s director of human relations, at a yearly salary of $85,000, plus a guaranteed annual bonus and other  benefits, for at least three years, sources say. Collins had done “aspects of HR work” at previous jobs, NCPA spokeswoman Catherine Daniell says.

When another employee came forward this spring to protest her treatment by the HR director, as well as the “relationship” between Goodman and Collins, sources say the relationship became the focus of scrutiny by the group’s board members. For many if not most, this was the first they’d heard about it. At least one of the directors, John Strauss, raised questions about Collins’s professionalism and the California incident, asked that his six-figure contribution to the NCPA be returned, and resigned his position on the board. Eventually the HR director left the organization.

In early June, Collins, then 47, was arrested at a house in Frisco for assault and criminal mischief. According to Frisco police, Collins had assaulted a “boyfriend” (not Goodman) by trying to hit him with a fake plant and throwing things across the living room at him. It wasn’t Collins’ first brush with the law. Texas Department of Public Safety records show she had been arrested four times in North Texas between 1997 and 2009, on charges ranging from assault and theft to criminal mischief.

NCPA board members who were asked to comment for this story, including Jerry M. Mills, the board chairman, and Mike Montgomery, did not return phone calls. Neither did Strauss or Goodman. Collins referred us to her attorney, Chuck Elsey of the Elsey & Elsey law firm in Flower Mound. He didn’t respond, either. Our sources asked to remain anonymous either because they were still negotiating for NCPA severance packages, had promised “not to say anything bad against” the organization as part of a severance agreement, or did not want to jeopardize the jobs of friends still working at the think tank.

One employment-law expert briefed by D CEO on the situation, Matt Scott of Dallas’ Kendall Law Group LLP, says problems like the NCPA’s occur with some frequency in today’s workplace, especially when a successful CEO with a “fair amount of arrogance” uses the “organization as their own, to do with it what they want.” At the same time, Scott says, many smaller companies fail to take HR issues seriously, putting people with little or no experience in charge of HR. “That goes on for awhile until they cross the line and it blows up in their face,” says Scott, who has represented both management and employees in employment cases. “So, this [situation] doesn’t surprise me. …

“What is unusual, though, is to settle [a discrimination charge] by giving someone a promotion,” he goes on. “Usually the accused is gone, and the other person stays.” Someone with a criminal background like Collins’ shouldn’t have been hired in the first place, Scott adds. “A number of poor decisions were made, and these things don’t occur in a vacuum. From her hiring to the [alleged California incident to the promotion], it was a recipe for disaster,” he says. “And it sounds like that’s exactly what they had.”

Goodman had led the NCPA ever since its founding in 1983 at the University of Dallas, helping to attract more than $100 million in funding over the years from the likes of Exxon Mobil Corp., the Scaife Family Foundation, and foundations run by Charles and David Koch. For more than two decades Goodman’s wife, Jeannette Nordstrom-Goodman, also worked as a top executive at the nonprofit. (Records show the couple divorced in 2012, and Nordstrom-Goodman has relocated to Florida.) According to the group’s latest Form 990, filed for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2012, the NCPA had $4.13 million in revenue and expenses of $4.92 million, while Goodman’s total compensation was $587,337 (see accompanying chart).

Goodman and the NCPA, which has a full-time staff of 22 plus a number of interns and part-time workers, hired Collins in 2011 as a “temp secretary,” a former employee says, through the Recruit Texas employment agency. No background check was done on Collins. “John liked her,” says the ex-employee. “He would rub her leg. She would smile. It seemed like two people in a relationship.”

Then came the alleged altercation in Southern California. There, the source says Collins later told her and other NCPA employees, the “hotel room was torn up” after Goodman became jealous and upset with Collins and “apparently choked her.” Afterward Collins phoned an NCPA official in Dallas about the incident, crying, and later threatened to file assault charges against Goodman, the source says.

“Settlement and release” and employment agreements resulting from the alleged incident gave Collins new status and freedom at the NCPA, the source says. Stipulations of the November 2012 agreements said that, unless the parties mutually agreed, Goodman would refrain from having any contact with Collins that wasn’t related to the duties of her job—and that he would not act or speak in any way that could be construed as discrimination or sexual harassment. As the months went by, the source says, Collins “started to display a different personality around the office.” According to the source, the HR director became increasingly “hostile, combative, and disrespectful” toward the source and other NCPA employees.  That caused the source to complain in an email to Goodman, Collins, and the think tank’s chief operating officer, Richard Walker, that the NCPA had become “a hostile work environment because of the … harassment relationship that is taking place” between Goodman and Collins.

Not long afterward, the source says, she was fired. In March, she filed a complaint with the Dallas district office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The source added that Collins also had been let go following a “meltdown” in the office and was threatening legal action against Goodman and the NCPA, aiming to be paid for three full years of work, as stipulated in her employment agreement. In a document prepared by lawyers to rebut Collins’ claims, the HR director was portrayed as the aggressor in the relationship with Goodman. The report also said Goodman believed Collins was suffering from a “multiple personality disorder.”

In July, D CEO was working to secure an interview with Goodman. But that ended July 9, when a voicemail message was left jointly by Goodman and McCuistion, the think tank’s interim CEO. Goodman said that, as part of an undisclosed agreement that had just been reached, “we really can’t say anything.” Then, in a brief formal statement, McCuistion added: “We deeply regret any differences we had with a former employee, and all disputes with her have been mutually resolved. We do not wish to comment further.”

In a press release a couple of weeks later, Mills said the NCPA had patched up its differences with Goodman and was looking forward to working with him on future projects.


As a percentage of expenses, the NCPA compensated its president much more generously than other conservative think tanks.


National Center for Policy Analysis, John Goodman



Ludwig von Mises Institute, Llewellyn Rockwell Jr.



Competitive Enterprise Institute, Fred Smith Jr.



Manhattan Institute, Lawrence Mone



Cato Institute, Edward Crane



American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks



Heritage Foundation, Edwin Feulner




*Base, bonus, and incentive compensation only. Does not include nontaxable benefits or retirement and other deferred compensation. Source: Charity Navigator, latest fiscal year available.

A version of this story appears in the September 2014 issue of D CEO.