Foundation withholds $250,000 from NAACP

August 16, 1994|By Dana Hedgpeth and Ann LoLordo | Dana Hedgpeth and Ann LoLordo,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Susan Baer contributed to this article.

Concerned about the financial health of the NAACP, a key financial backer is withholding $250,000 from the civil rights organization until officials here answer questions about a nearly $3 million deficit the group has accumulated.

The money from the Ford Foundation, a longtime contributor, is the first half of a two-year, $500,000 grant to the NAACP's Special Contribution Fund. The foundation's decision to withhold the money comes as the NAACP's executive director, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., is defending his management of the organization and his decision to secretly pay a former staff member up to $332,400 to settle a claim of sexual harassment.

"We've seen lots of reports about the significant financial shortfall of the corporation and we are making inquiries about it," said Lynn Walker, director of the foundation's rights and social justice program. "I think in all likelihood we would like to have additional information [about the deficit] before the funds are released."

A spokeswoman for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People did not return phone calls yesterday. Dr. Chavis is expected to continue his defense of his management of the organization when he addresses a rally of supporters in New York tonight.

The grant from the Ford Foundation was approved in June. The foundation's concerns were reported in the Wall Street Journal last week, but the foundation did not say at that time that it was withholding the money. Although the foundation is among the NAACP's major benefactors, it is the only one known to withhold money from the group.

A special meeting of the board of the NAACP has been called for Saturday to discuss Dr. Chavis' decision to use NAACP funds to settle the complaint filed by former administrative assistant Mary E. Stansel.

The deal -- made last fall and without the knowledge of the board or the organization's general counsel -- became public June 30 when Ms. Stansel filed a lawsuit against Dr. Chavis and the NAACP in Washington alleging that the NAACP had reneged on the deal and that she was a victim of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful discharge. Dr. Chavis has denied Ms. Stansel's allegations and said he agreed to the settlement to save the NAACP embarrassment.

But critics of Dr. Chavis have seized on the Stansel deal to call for his ouster. They also want the NAACP board chairman, Dr. William F. Gibson, to step down until a full investigation of the matter is conducted. Some state and local NAACP leaders also have joined that chorus.

The West Virginia NAACP became the first state chapter to formally call for the two men's resignations in a resolution adopted Friday. Other state delegations indicated that they were waiting to hear Dr. Chavis' explanation. However, a handful of NAACP branch presidents from Long Island, N.Y., say they are coming to Baltimore this weekend to protest Dr. Chavis' handling of the Stansel matter.

"I want to hear his excuse for spending our money we worked so hard for," Barbara Powell, president of the Hempstead, Long Island, NAACP branch, said of Dr. Chavis.

While the Ford Foundation has delayed releasing the grant money, other major foundations have not taken any action with regard to money awarded to the NAACP. "It's too early to say anything," said one foundation insider who asked not to be identified. "They haven't even finished their own investigation."

The New York-based Rockefeller Foundation gave the NAACP a $200,000 grant this year to help fight employment discrimination, said Danielle Parris, the foundation's communications director. As to the allegations facing Dr. Chavis, Ms. Parris said, "it would not be appropriate for us to comment."

The NAACP's failure to adequately document its initial spending of a $250,000 federal grant has caused the money to be cut off. The Environmental Protection Agency held back funds in June for the two-year education grant that had been awarded in November 1993 because the agency could not get a sense of how the NAACP had spent $60,000 of the grant so far.

The grant was for a program developed by the EPA and Dr. Chavis to help educate residents of minority communities about the potential health risks of nearby waste sites.

Marjorie Weidenfeld Buckholtz, a senior EPA official, said the NAACP has since provided the agency with a work plan and summary budget. She said she is hopeful that the funding will be resumed.

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