Here Are Hard Questions for the NAACP Board to Answer

August 16, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington.--The national board of directors of the NAACP will hold its most critical meeting in the organization's 85-year history in Baltimore on Saturday.

The surface catalyst for this explosive session is a secret $332,400 settlement to try to silence a former woman employee who claims she was fired after ''an adulterous relationship'' with NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Chavis, Jr. ended.

But so much more is at stake, including the very survival of the oldest and once most-powerful of the nation's civil rights organizations. The board should deal with these other issues:

* Whether Mr. Chavis and board chairman Dr. William F. Gibson are such incompetent, arrogant leaders that they have brought the NAACP to the brink of self-destruction.

* Whether Dr. Gibson and his board allies have been so ruthless as to make the NAACP board a bickering, incompetent, irrelevant disgrace.

* Whether loose and improper uses of scarce NAACP funds by Mr. Chavis and Dr. Gibson have destroyed the respect and trust of major supporters, such as the Ford Foundation and General Motors, and of even the smallest donors.

* Whether Dr. Gibson is untruthful in saying that he knew nothing about a $332,400 commitment of hush money to former employee Mary E. Stansel until months after the short-lived deal was cut.

I have been warned by a source in NAACP headquarters that the board may barely get to the real issues on Saturday.

The strategy, I am told, is to try to blame the former executive director, Benjamin Hooks, for all the current woes of the NAACP, then assail the media -- and me specifically.

The Gibson plan allegedly is to divert board members from the issue of whether to oust him and Mr. Chavis until half the board members start running to catch planes home and no decision can be made.

If such a farce is carried out, NAACP paralysis will continue, with the organization unable to deal with such great issues as a crime bill, health-care reform and welfare reform.

Several prominent national board members have complained repeatedly and futilely to Dr. Gibson that the board, as stacked by the chairman, shows no leadership, direction or vision.

Last Feb. 2, Leroy W. Warren, Jr., a national board member from Silver Spring, Md., wrote to Dr. Gibson that, ''Black people are facing a very serious crisis in this country at all levels. . . . We as a NAACP National Board are not addressing many relevant issues in an adequate and in-depth manner.''

Similar complaints have been voiced by Mrs. Medgar Evers, widow of the slain Mississippi civil rights leader; Hazel Dukes, New York president; Dr. Charles Butler, Pennsylvania president; Greg Evans, Oregon/Washington state president; Joe Madison, Washington broadcaster, and others.

Also in his February letter, Mr. Warren wrote, ''You have allowed your close personal friends and/or surrogates to run amok and operate like a Mafia which, by devious actions, continually sets out to destroy those who disagree with your and/or their positions . . .

''I have come to the conclusion that you and many of your favorite National Board Members are more concerned about staying in power than dealing with substantive issues critically affecting the masses of Black people.''

On Monday, Mrs. Evers asked me to print her appeal to fellow board members:

''This is a fateful meeting at which each board member must ignore threats, or fear of losing some position of power or prestige, and do what we know is necessary to restore the NAACP to its glorious history of integrity and power. We must be selfless and brave and face the issues with courage.''

Chairman Gibson seemed invulnerable to critics until the recent hush-money scandal. Recently, he has given signs that he might jettison Mr. Chavis to retain his power.

But is Dr. Gibson lying when he says he knew nothing of the Stansel settlement until July 28?

I have a copy of a letter written to him on Oct. 12, 1993, exactly one month before the ''settlement'' was signed by Mr. Chavis, in which Ms. Stansel's lawyer, Kenneth Shepherd, warned that Dr. Gibson, the NAACP and other staff members might be made defendants. Mr. Shepherd then spelled out for Dr. Gibson details of a settlement.

''Ms. Stansel's settlement demand is: $216,000 damages for loss of employment computed at $9,000 per month times two years, or, alternatively, reinstatement to her position as Dr. Chavis' Executive Assistant effective from the date of placement on administrative leave, or, alternatively, placement in a comparable position elsewhere; plus $250,000 for mental anguish, inconvenience and other injuries; plus attorney's fees.''

I also have documents showing that Bridnetta D. Edwards of the law firm Alexander, Gebhardt, Aponte & Marks was hired immediately to represent both the NAACP and Mr. Chavis. She sent copies of her reply to Shepherd to both Dr. Gibson and Mr. Chavis.

Dr. Gibson, who has micro-managed almost everything during Mr. Chavis' tenure, now wants the board, NAACP donors and you to believe that he merely turned the Stansel problem over to Mr. Chavis and never learned of the hush payments until eight months later.

When copying Dr. Gibson, Edwards clearly did not think the chairman was a disinterested, uninvolved bystander. Anyone believing that would still have to find Dr. Gibson guilty of incredible misfeasance and malfeasance.

Some of the few people of intellect and vision who remain on the national board tell me that they will resign if Dr. Gibson and his cronies prevail at the Saturday meeting. That would be the absolute ruin of the once-great NAACP.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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