NAACP board, Chavis ready for showdown

August 10, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

A group of NAACP board members, troubled by the growing controversy over Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.'s secret deal with a fired aide, has set the stage for a showdown between Dr. Chavis and the 64-member board.

That showdown would come in Baltimore, where Board Chairman William F. Gibson had already scheduled a special board meeting Aug. 20. The meeting's agenda originally was simply to discuss a lawsuit filed by Mary E. Stansel, the former aide, against Dr. Chavis and the NAACP.

But the group of board members, in an apparent effort to ensure that they would have the option of taking action against Dr. Chavis, Dr. Gibson or both, have demanded an expanded agenda to allow "corrective actions" against NAACP leaders.

In the request to Dr. Chavis, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun, the board members wrote: "The object of such meeting is to review the job performance of the officers and staff of the NAACP and to take necessary corrective actions."

Terhea A. Washington, a spokeswoman for Dr. Chavis, said she had not seen the letter, but that "I expect Dr. Chavis would work with his board. . . . He has never tried to deny the board any access or opportunities to meet."

Technically, the board members have requested a special meeting to immediately follow the one already scheduled by Dr. Gibson.

According to the NAACP constitution, the executive director must schedule a special board meeting when 15 or more board members request it in writing. Board members said more than 15 of them have signed the Aug. 8 letter. They said they faxed signed copies of an identical letter requesting the meeting to NAACP headquarters in Baltimore.

"Many [NAACP] branches are asking me questions that I can't answer," said Hazel N. Dukes, president of the New York state's NAACP chapter and a board member who signed the letter. "We need to expand the information beyond just the lawsuit."

"I've been inundated by calls from people in the street to people I know in the foundation and corporate worlds saying, 'What in the world is going on?' Most people are appalled that board members can't discuss this intelligently," she said.

With the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People facing a nearly $3 million deficit, people on both sides of the Chavis-Stansel controversy are worried that the bad publicity could affect the group's ability to raise funds.

Dr. Chavis has been under fire for agreeing last November -- without consulting the board or the NAACP general counsel -- to pay Ms. Stansel up to $82,400 while he helped find her an $80,000-a-year job elsewhere. If she received no job offer, the NAACP would pay her another $250,000 as part of the deal.

Ms. Stansel, 49, a lawyer and former Capitol Hill staffer, contends in a lawsuit that the NAACP reneged on the deal in May and stopped paying her. The agreement came to light after she filed the lawsuit against Dr. Chavis and the NAACP June 30 in the District of Columbia.

In her suit, Ms. Stansel says Dr. Chavis sexually harassed her. She offers no details.

But the 46-year-old NAACP chief executive denies that sexual harassment was ever at issue. He also denies Ms. Stansel's claim, as reported by syndicated columnist Carl Rowan, that he had an "adulterous relationship" with her.

Dr. Chavis said this week that unspecified "outside forces" -- people opposed to his reaching out to black separatist Louis Farrakhan and to young African-Americans -- are using the Stansel controversy to try to force his ouster.

But Ms. Dukes said the controversy has "nothing to do with his reaching out to Farrakhan or to youth or visiting the 'hood. It's strictly a question of credibility and management."

"I know people who are staunch supporters of Dr. Chavis who are appalled at this action," she said.

Joseph E. Madison, one of Dr. Chavis' harshest critics on the board, said "no outside forces" hired Ms. Stansel or signed an agreement with her, and that none has urged board members to criticize the NAACP leader.

"Am I acting on behalf of 'outside forces'? Absolutely not," Mr. Madison said. "I was not elected to the board to be a rubber stamp. If there are outside forces trying to bring Dr. Chavis down, I want to know the name of those forces. It's nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from his own unilateral, independent actions."

Ms. Washington said Dr. Chavis welcomed the chance to defend the deal with Ms. Stansel at the Aug. 20 board meeting. He has said that he made the deal to "protect the NAACP from exposure to false and slanderous allegations."

The spokeswoman complained that news reports have promoted "the belief most people have that he did this to hide something, when in fact he was exercising his executive authority to handle an administrative matter."

"It's very clear to us that all of America is getting a distorted view," Ms. Washington said. "When Dr. Chavis has an opportunity to explain everything to the board, it will cast a different light."

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