Chavis fights today to keep NAACP job Board meets here to discuss lawsuit THE CHAVIS CONTROVERSY

August 20, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this article.

In a taste of the rhetoric he will serve up today to the NAACP board, a combative Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. accused internal opponents, outside detractors and the press yesterday of an "orchestrated campaign to defame the NAACP, to defame me and to defame my leadership."

Battling to save his job at today's showdown in Baltimore with the civil rights group's board, the executive director of the

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People denied sexually harassing female employees or lying about membership gains under his leadership.

The 46-year-old NAACP leader went on the attack yesterday after presenting Susan Tisdale, 32, a second former employee to lodge a sexual harassment allegation against him, at a news conference. Mrs. Tisdale said that she and Dr. Chavis had resolved their dispute and that the sexual harassment charge was a "misunderstanding."

But Dr. Chavis will still have to answer to the board for secretly making a deal in November 1993 to pay another fired aide, Mary E. Stansel, up to $332,400 -- a deal that he revealed to neither the board nor the NAACP general counsel. When made public last month by The Sun and the New York Times, the deal ignited the present controversy.

"I have no intention of resigning from the NAACP," he told the news conference. "I violated no rules; I violated no policies; I violated no procedures."

But Dr. Chavis left the door open for compromise when the board meets at noon today at NAACP headquarters in Northwest Baltimore by saying that, "if the board wants to put in new policies, the board has the right to do that."

Chairman William F. Gibson has summoned the 64-member board to the closed-door emergency meeting to resolve the NAACP's most profound internal crisis since 1983, when the board forced out then-Chairwoman Margaret Bush Wilson in a dispute with Executive Director Benjamin L. Hooks.

Stakes are high

The stakes are great for the 85-year-old civil rights group, the nation's largest.

If Dr. Chavis is fired, some young supporters vow to abandon the NAACP with him. If he retains his job, which NAACP sources say pays about $200,000 a year, contributors may be reluctant to keep underwriting the organization's $18 million annual budget.

Touching on the controversy that precipitated today's emergency meeting, Dr. Chavis said yesterday that he had the authority to make the Stansel deal. "I am the authorizer," he said. "I authorize settlements for the NAACP."

Ms. Stansel is a 49-year-old lawyer and former U.S. Senate aide who volunteered on the campaign to make Dr. Chavis executive director. After the board elected him in April 1993, he hired Ms. Stansel as an interim assistant. He fired her after six weeks.

Ms. Stansel threatened to sue Dr. Chavis and the NAACP. She has alleged in court papers that Dr. Chavis sexually harassed her, but she has refused to talk to reporters about her relationship with the NAACP leader.

Dr. Chavis headed off the threatened lawsuit by agreeing to an out-of-court settlement. The NAACP says Ms. Stansel has been paid $82,400 under the agreement. But she sued Dr. Chavis and the NAACP in June for allegedly reneging on their agreement to pay her $250,000 more if he didn't help her get an offer of an $80,000-a-year job.

The NAACP leader denies that sexual harassment was ever an issue in the Stansel negotiations. The NAACP has counter sued, charging that Ms. Stansel overstated her job qualifications and failed to make a good-faith effort to land a new position.

'Attempts to destabilize'

Dr. Chavis called the controversy over the Stansel deal part of an attempt to cripple his strategy of attracting young and disaffected blacks, including followers of black separatist Louis Farrakhan, to a more militant NAACP.

"We live in a society where every time there is growing consensus within the African-American community toward moving forward our fight for freedom, our fight for justice, there are always attempts to destabilize our movement," he said.

"My presence in the NAACP has helped move the organization back to the front lines of the civil rights movement in terms of leadership. We have been embraced by young African-Americans in particular," he said.

While vowing to tell the NAACP board today "who's trying to pull the organization down," Dr. Chavis singled out syndicated columnist Carl T. Rowan for special criticism.

Dispute over numbers

Mr. Rowan wrote yesterday that the NAACP leader has grossly inflated the group's membership gains, but Dr. Chavis stood by his assertion that NAACP membership has soared from 490,000 when he took over to 675,000. Mr. Rowan says internal NAACP documents show that membership actually has declined and was at least 200,000 fewer than Dr. Chavis says.

The NAACP leader accused Mr. Rowan of engaging in "half-truths, deliberating putting in the public arena things he knows himself not to be true." He said the columnist, who has called on Dr. Chavis and Dr. Gibson to resign, was taking part in a "campaign to assassinate my character."

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