To Save the NAACP

October 07, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Some Americans thought that when the NAACP board fired its executive director, Benjamin Chavis, after he used NAACP funds as ''hush money'' paid to a woman who charged him with sexual improprieties, the organization would quickly climb back to fiscal good health and national power.

Not so. A crisis situation continues at the nation's oldest and once most-important civil-rights organization -- and not just because of a membership decline and a reluctance of big foundations and corporations to give money to it.

Serious abuses of the meager funds of the NAACP have taken place for years, with Chairman William F. Gibson cited by some board members as the leading offender. But the senior staff at the Baltimore headquarters is so intimidated that it will not give straight answers to vital questions about how and with what authority Dr. Gibson uses NAACP funds so lavishly.

I note from American Express card records that in June 1990 Dr. Gibson billed to the NAACP three separate payments of $312.38 each to American International Rent-A-Car in Greenville, South Carolina, his hometown. Multiple payments to this car rental company have been charged to the NAACP for eight years, as have charges for truck rentals from other companies. Ask Baltimore headquarters if Dr. Gibson has written authority to rent whatever vehicles he wishes, to be driven by anyone he chooses, and you get silence.

I note in the records that Dr. Gibson has made many flights to New York, where he stays in the Ritz-Carlton, the New York Hilton and other very costly hotels when no readily apparent NAACP business was involved. I ask if outside auditors, the board's internal audit committee or the NAACP treasurer has ever determined whether some of these trips were personal and not chargeable to the NAACP. I get the old dip-and-dodge.

I note that American Express card records show Dr. Gibson making purchases at Ayers Leather Store (a briefcase, he told me), The Crystal Shoppe and other stores in Greenville, and at dozens of flower shops across the nation. I see that in Greenville, Dr. Gibson has charged more than 100 meals at just one restaurant (The Dragon Den) to the NAACP. (Dr. Gibson tells me he was always entertaining someone for the NAACP, whether the bill was $9 or $99).

I ask whether there is anything that Dr. Gibson cannot buy or do with NAACP money, but no answer is yet forthcoming from either staff or the audit committee.

Dr. Gibson tells USA Today that I am asking such questions and writing these columns because I have a personal vendetta. I barely know Dr. Gibson personally. I admit that my contempt surpasses a vendetta when I see officials ruthlessly dragging the NAACP to ruin.

I have no patience with those such as Baltimore NAACP staffer Fred Rasheed, who think that the NAACP can regain a reputation for fiscal integrity if no one exposes any more rot and corruption. Regarding my column about the rising firestorm of demands that Dr. Gibson resign, USA Today quotes Mr. Rasheed as saying ''We were beginning to see daylight and we were beginning to regain our credibility. I'm really sorry to see this wound being reopened before it's even healed.''

Mr. Rasheed has been in a cloud of timid wishful thinking. The NAACP can regain good health, but only when its wounds are drained of pus and poison and the entrenched cancers are cut out. No Band-Aid cover-up will work or ease the pain.

If Dr. Gibson refuses to resign and tries to continue to control the NAACP by intimidation and by stacking every committee with his cronies, he will subject the organization to tax and other probes that will be both embarrassing and destructive.

Dr. Gibson must get out of the way so the NAACP can have a small, dedicated, honest board overseeing a staff that has vision, but most of all guts.

We shall see in a week, when the board meets, whether Dr. Gibson will permit a transition to trustable leadership of a new NAACP.

8, Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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