NAACP board to meet Aug. 20 on Chavis' bid to settle sexual harassment case

August 02, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

The NAACP board will hold a special meeting Aug. 20 in Baltimore to deal with the controversy surrounding the executive director's offer to settle a fired employee's sexual harassment suit for $332,000.

But NAACP board members, including supporters of Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., continued to worry aloud that the executive director showed questionable judgment in not consulting the board before making the offer to Mary E. Stansel in November 1993.

Robert E. Starr, a board member from Fort Worth, Texas, who has supported Dr. Chavis, expressed "serious concerns as to whether the executive director is becoming a liability to the NAACP as opposed to an asset."

"It may well be that the executive director had the authority to sign such an agreement, but there is some very strong doubt as to whether it was wise to oblige the organization to such a financial burden under present financial conditions without consulting the board," Mr. Starr said. He said his view reflected the sentiments of NAACP officials in his area.

The NAACP's board is about to embark on a fund-raising campaign aimed at erasing a deficit of nearly $3 million. Officials are concerned that negative publicity about Dr. Chavis' use of NAACP money could hamper fund raising.

Dr. Chavis committed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to pay Ms. Stansel up to $82,400 while he tried to find her an $80,000-a-year job. He promised another $250,000 if she received no job offer.

Ms. Stansel, a Washington lawyer, had threatened to sue the NAACP for employment discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful discharge after Dr. Chavis fired her as his aide in the spring of 1993. She recently sued Dr. Chavis and the NAACP for allegedly reneging on the deal. The NAACP has countersued, saying she misrepresented her job qualifications.

Kelly M. Alexander Jr., a Charlotte, N.C., board member and strong Chavis supporter, faulted the NAACP leader for not letting the board know about the deal.

"I would not have made the same call. I personally would have consulted the board," said Mr. Alexander, who added that he learned of the deal "when I opened the newspaper."

But Mr. Alexander said he was troubled that the controversy was a "newspaper-driven phenomenon" in which Ms. Stansel and Chavis opponents were using the sexual-harassment charge to subject the 46-year-old executive director to the "death of a thousand cuts."

"That's a tough one for anybody to survive," he said. "The issue is whether or not he should have notified and consulted the board, regardless of what his authority is. But that's not sexy."

William F. Gibson, the NAACP's board chairman, scheduled the special meeting of the 64-member board for the eve of the civil rights group's second summit of black leaders, including Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. The summit is set for Aug. 21-23 at NAACP headquarters in Northwest Baltimore.

Joseph E. Madison, a Chavis critic, said that with the summit as a backdrop, the NAACP leadership might try to make the board meeting a "pep rally" for Dr. Chavis in which any tough questioning would seem divisive and unreasonable.

"It's a clever move on their part," he said.

The internal politicking that will precede the special meeting has begun. A group of about a dozen Chavis supporters on the board met privately this weekend in Atlanta to discuss the controversy. Board members who attended said they paid their own expenses.

John J. Mance, a veteran California board member who attended, said he was behind Dr. Chavis and convinced that the allegations against him are "a low blow."

Larry Carter, an Iowa board member who went to Atlanta, said he "needed no reassurance. We have two of the greatest civil rights fighters in the history of this association in Dr. Chavis and NTC Dr. Gibson."

"Suffice it to say from everything I saw, everything I heard, there's no way I feel close to thinking Dr. Chavis is guilty of any sexual harassment. There's just no way," he said.

George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of the Baltimore NAACP branch, said the controversy could hurt ticket sales for his major annual fund-raiser, a Sept. 21 Freedom Fund banquet at Martin's West.

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