NAACP official backs off from Chavis

August 08, 1994|By James Bock and Michael A. Fletcher | James Bock and Michael A. Fletcher,Sun Staff Writers

The NAACP's board chairman said yesterday that he knew nothing about Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.'s agreement to pay a fired employee up to $332,400 until more than eight months after the secret deal was made.

Dr. William F. Gibson said he would reserve judgment on Dr. Chavis' handling of the settlement with Mary E. Stansel, the former aide, until an Aug. 20 emergency board meeting in Baltimore. He said the NAACP general counsel -- who also was not told of the agreement -- was preparing a report to the board on the case.

Coming a week after Dr. Gibson praised Dr. Chavis at an Atlanta news conference, the remarks suggested that the chairman of the 64-member NAACP board was putting a little distance between himself and the embattled executive director.

"I'm sensitive to the concerns of board members who have a real, sincere concern about their fiduciary and administrative responsibilities. I

am in that camp with them," Dr. Gibson said in a telephone interview from his Greenville, S.C., office. "I scheduled the special board meeting to get them a full hearing of the facts."

Dr. Gibson repeated that Dr. Chavis had authority to deal with the

Stansel case without consulting the board but added, "I didn't say that was the way I would have handled it."

Dr. Chavis should have consulted the NAACP general counsel about the case, Dr. Gibson said.

The board chairman said he learned of Ms. Stansel's threat to sue last fall and referred the matter to Dr. Chavis because the NAACP constitution leaves almost all personnel matters in the executive director's hands.

But he said he didn't know of the Nov. 12, 1993, settlement until July 28, when a reporter called to ask about it.

"It was a surprise," Dr. Gibson said.

The deal came to light only after Ms. Stansel, a 49-year-old lawyer and former U.S. Senate aide, filed a breach-of-contract suit against Dr. Chavis and the NAACP on June 30 in District of Columbia Superior Court.

In the settlement, Dr. Chavis, on behalf of the NAACP, pledged to pay Ms. Stansel up to $82,400 while helping to find her an $80,000-a-year job elsewhere.

If there was no job offer, the NAACP would pay her an additional $250,000.

See NAACP, 5A

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Ms. Stansel alleges in her suit that Dr. Chavis reneged on his obligation to pay her the $250,000. She contends that the NAACP settled with her because she threatened to sue for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful discharge.

Dr. Chavis says sexual harassment was never at issue. The NAACP has countersued, contending that Ms. Stansel, a volunteer in the 1993 campaign to make Dr. Chavis executive director, overstated her qualifications and didn't make a good-faith effort to find a job.

Ms. Stansel has been unavailable for comment.

"We have never had an executive director who has had this kind of settlement against him directly." JOSEPH E. MADISON NAACP board member Dr. Chavis, who became executive director in April 1993, says he agreed to pay Ms. Stansel to "protect the NAACP from exposure to false and slanderous allegations." The NAACP faces a budget deficit of nearly $3 million.

Dr. Gibson could not explain why board members, who attended three meetings between November and July, did not become aware of the settlement -- and the potential $250,000 liability if Ms. Stansel didn't get a job offer -- from NAACP financial reports.

"Personally, I had no way of thinking I should be looking for a $250,000 item," he said.

Dr. Chavis' predecessor, the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, said that during his tenure with the Baltimore-based civil rights group he never settled any lawsuits against the NAACP or himself without the board's knowledge.

Dr. Chavis said last week that there was "precedent" in the NAACP for the deal he struck with Ms. Stansel. But he refused to elaborate and didn't mention Dr. Hooks by name.

"In my 16 years at the NAACP, I never made any settlement of any kind affecting the executive director," said Dr. Hooks, who now works with an investment firm in Memphis.

"Secondly, in case of my executive directorship, if I ever entered any settlement [of suits against other NAACP officials], it was with the advice and consent of the general counsel, the board's budget committee and the board [chairman]."

Joseph E. Madison, a NAACP board member who has been involved with the group for 25 years, agreed with Dr. Hooks that FTC the agreement entered into by Dr. Chavis was unprecedented.

"We have never had an executive director who has had this kind of settlement against him directly," said Mr. Madison, a Washington radio personality and vocal critic of Dr. Chavis. "And we never, never, never -- I will repeat, never -- had an executive director who has been charged with sexual discrimination or breach of contract."

Dr. Gibson said Dr. Chavis had authority to settle with Ms. Stansel because a 1983 change in the NAACP constitution removed personnel matters -- except for employing an executive director -- from the board's control. In October, he said, the constitution again was amended to grant the board limited personnel powers.

He said the constitution now requires the executive director to gain approval of the board's personnel committee when hiring or firing any of the four top NAACP officers: deputy executive director, general counsel, comptroller and Washington bureau director. Ms. Stansel held none of those jobs.

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