Black Forum Chief Resigns Amid Division Over Tactics

May 05, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Matthew Thomas stepped down last week as chairman of the Black Political Forum just as the group aggressively expanded its focus from Annapolis to the entire county.

His resignation came amid signs that the forum will take a more confrontational approach with County Executive Robert R. Neall, whom it denounced last week for appointing no minorities to his Cabinet during his first five months in office.

Thomas turned over the leadership Tuesday, when the group issued a report accusing Neall of perpetuating a system of racial segregation in county hiring.

"The timing is basically purely coincidental,"he said Friday. Thomas explained that he has neglected time with hiswife and two daughters since the forum was created to push minority concerns during the 1989 Annapolis elections.

Forum treasurer Leslie Stanton, commissioner of the Annapolis summer basketball league, took over as acting director but said Friday he does not want the job permanently.

When forum leaders presented their report to the newsmedia, they displayed a clear division in the ranks concerning how to deal with Neall.

After Thomas said the report was intended as a non-confrontational guideline for Neall and asked for a meeting with the county executive, forum member Kenneth Webster pointedly announced the resignation.

"I wanted to make it clear that this report is critical of the administration," Webster, a state housing press officer, said Friday. "I named the report, 'Bobby Neall's Days Has Lighthizer and Pascal's Ways.' That ain't nothing like a guideline."

Webster heads the forum's county government subcommittee, which charged that Neall has done nothing to improve on the record of his predecessors, O. James Lighthizer and Robert Pascal.

Asked if he welcomed Thomas' resignation, Webster said, "The kind of leadership he provided in the forum would not be conducive toward improving the plight of African-Americans in Anne Arundel County."

Thomas said that in earlier meetings, Neall promised to take specific steps to answer minorityconcerns in June, after the budget is passed.

"I personally am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt," Thomas said Friday.

Neall said he would consider the forum's report, but he rejected its recommendation that he elevate the job of minority business enterprise coordinator to a Cabinet-level position.

Webster, a former statedelegate from Baltimore who served with Neall, scored no points withthe executive last week when he likened the county's minority hiringrecord to apartheid.

Neall questioned whether he should bother tomeet with the forum after Webster said that asking him privately to improve affirmative action would be like appealing to the Ku Klux Klan to draft a civil rights bill.

Thomas said he saw no point in debating Webster on how to advance the forum's agenda with Neall, adding, "I don't want there to be any misperceptions that the community is not united on this issue."

Thomas intends to continue as an activeforum member. He suggested that the group would have its best success following the conciliatory example of the late Dr. Aris T. Allen, who was the General Assembly's only black Republican when he died in February.

"Actions speak louder than words," Thomas said. "Of the people working in the community, no one thinks we can continue to be confrontational and get things done.

The coalition of religious, police, civil rights, business and community leaders that cuts across party lines claims among its major successes the hiring of a black assistant city police chief and the clearing of two black officers charged with misconduct as members of the department's street-level drug unit.

"I wanted to make sure that the forum got off the ground andestablished itself as a reputable organization that can deal with issues," said Thomas, 40, a county fireman.

The forum is also co-sponsoring the area's first Malcolm X Day celebration May 19, with an anti-drug rally backed by the city and county at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Talk show host Tony Brown will make an appearance.

Webster, who is chairman of the Annapolis chapter of Blacks in Government, said the next item on the forum's agenda will be a report asking why the all-white County Council has no minority staff members.

Thomas said he wants to devote more attention to Republican Partyactivities and his newly founded construction services and maintenance firm.

"Minority business has been a pet peeve of mine," said Thomas, who has conducted minority business workshops for the county's Office of Economic Development. "Hopefully, any success I can achieveas a small-business man can be duplicated."

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