NAACP national office suspends Baltimore County's Pennington

July 23, 1992|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Staff Writer

James R. Pennington, the outspoken, often controversial president of the Baltimore County branch of the NAACP, has been suspended from office after 14 years of service.

Though still a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mr. Pennington is prohibited from running for office in any unit of the association for two years, according to James Williams, a spokesman for the NAACP's national office.

For his part, Mr. Pennington said yesterday that he had already planned to retire. "I called my own number," he said.

Herbert H. Lindsey, a member of the county branch's executive board who challenged Mr. Pennington's leadership with a 35-page report to the national office in March, said he had been confident that the organization ultimately "would do the proper thing."

"But there is no personal glory in having to do this," he said. "It's something that had to be done."

In May, Mr. Lindsey said that Mr. Pennington "couldn't call a meeting in this community and get 10 people to attend."

The decision came two weeks after a 16-hour hearing involving members from the national office and from the county branch.

In a list of recommendations to the national office's board of directors, that office's committee on branches said Mr. Pennington was found guilty of 13 infractions, including a failure to hold monthly membership meetings, a failure to provide the branch with monthly financial statements, and a failure to share fund-raising proceeds with the national office.

The committee also found that Mr. Pennington, a retired Army colonel, had improperly imposed membership fees, had improperly imposed an assessment on executive committee members, and had violated association laws when replacing members of the executive committee.

Mr. Pennington yesterday characterized his removal as a reorganization of the county branch that had been planned well before Mr. Lindsey submitted his report.

"This is my year to retire," he said. "To step down is what I had intended."

Although he said he intended to leave the organization as president this year, he said he mentioned nothing of his plans after the report was filed and during the hearing because "there was no substance to what the thing said."

"The issue is the people in this county," he added, arguing that the controversy over his leadership style was counterproductive.

"An organization has a right to do what it wants politically," he said. "The reorganization of the branch was already under way because it was not accomplishing that which I thought it should . . . and if in the end, I'm the person in the way of [accomplishment] I'll step aside.

Mr. Pennington said he would remain active in the black community as president of the Bannaker Community Development Association Inc., where he said he would focus on trying to improve the county's economy and and employment, among other goals. He will have more freedom there, he said, to invoke change without having to support the NAACP's national office.

Mr. Pennington's confrontational style frequently put him at odds with county officials, as well as with some members of his own organization who thought he was doing more harm than good.

He would often storm into county offices or call officials at home to complain about a lack of progress on public works projects in black neighborhoods. His favorite targets were the police department and schools. Mr. Pennington frequently chided police for failing to recruit or promote black officers.

Mr. Lindsey's report charged that Mr. Pennington's "dictatorial" leadership weakened the county chapter, making it a "paper tiger." Membership in the county NAACP is low, the report charged, and "many people who would probably be receptive to joining the NAACP do not want to join the Baltimore County branch."

Mr. Lindsey's report accused Mr. Pennington of violating the NAACP's constitution and many of its bylaws.

Patricia Pickett, vice president of the county branch, will replace Mr. Pennington until elections for new officers are held in December, Mr. Lindsey said. The committee also recommended that an individual from the national office oversee the branch until the election. A decision about who might assume that position has not been made, said Mr. Williams, of the national office.

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