NAACP opts for audits of leaders

October 16, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

The NAACP board, backing a proposal by Chairman William F. Gibson, voted yesterday to order an independent audit of expenditures by the civil rights group's leaders over the past five years.

The unanimous vote represented a victory for Dr. Gibson because the board did not vote him out of office or ask him to step aside temporarily.

The 62-year-old Greenville, S.C., dentist faces allegations that he improperly received thousands of dollars in reimbursements for expenses that he had already charged to an NAACP credit card. He denies the charges.

Dr. Gibson, who went into a luncheon break flashing a thumbs-up sign after having launched the successful pre-emptive strike against his critics, said at a news conference that an "overwhelming majority" of board members "still have confidence in my leadership."

But a move by Dr. Gibson to disband an existing board audit committee ran into a wall of opposition and was withdrawn.

The chairman, who has headed the board since 1985, said the audit would cover the period between Jan. 1, 1989 and Aug. 31 of this year.

He said the officers whose expenditures would be audited include the executive director, chairman, vice chairman, president and treasurer of the NAACP, as well as the officers of its affiliated Special Contribution Fund.

Among those affected would be two former executive directors, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. and the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks; former president Hazel N. Dukes and current president Rupert Richardson, and treasurer Jerry L. Maulden.

Ms. Dukes has been a critic of Dr. Gibson's leadership, and Dr. Chavis, who was fired Aug. 20, is suing the NAACP over the procedure followed in dismissing him.

Mrs. Richardson, a Gibson ally, told reporters that implicit in the vote to hold the independent audit was the desire of the board to "let [Dr. Gibson] lead us forward."

Dr. Gibson said the auditors had not been selected nor was there a target date for completing the investigation.

He said the board members "want it done as expeditiously as possible."

The chairman's one-year term expires in February. He has not said whether he will be a candidate for re-election.

A board committee had already been appointed to look into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's finances in the wake of Dr. Chavis' ouster. Dr. Chavis was fired after he made a secret deal to pay a former aide up to $332,400 to ward off a threatened sexual harassment lawsuit.

Board member Joseph E. Madison, who led the move to fire Dr. Chavis and has been critical of Dr. Gibson, said he was encouraged by the vote to order an audit.

"The process is a good one: Do an audit, see what happens, see what comes out," he said.

"People are putting the concerns of the NAACP above those of individuals."

Anthony Fugett, a Baltimore board member, said he hoped the audit would help lift a cloud over the NAACP.

"Clearly we've got to open up," he said. "It has to be open and independent and perceived as such."

In addition to the questions about its leadership, the NAACP faces its most severe financial crisis in recent years. Mr. Madison said the board was told that the NAACP's deficit has reached $3.8 million, up from $2.7 million six months ago.

To cut costs, the NAACP has laid off seven employees, ordered most workers to take two weeks off without pay and frozen all but essential travel.

The board meeting was held at the NAACP's Northwest Baltimore headquarters as an austerity measure.

The Ford Foundation, historically one of the NAACP's largest donors, has withheld disbursement of a two-year, $500,000 grant pending development of a "recovery plan" to control costs, boost membership and raise funds.

Board members brought nearly $200,000 in new contributions to yesterday's meeting, and the AFL-CIO pledged to donate $250,000 to the civil rights group.

The NAACP announced yesterday a partnership with the American Urban Radio Network in which 250 affiliate stations across the country will air public service announcements with the theme, "Imagine an America Without an NAACP."

dTC The campaign will run from next month through April and feature a half-hour "State of the NAACP" address by Dr. Gibson and other officials on Oct. 27.

Earl T. Shinhoster, the NAACP's interim senior administrator, said the radio blitz was part of an effort to increase NAACP membership to one million by year's end.

L He said that would represent a doubling of NAACP membership.

The number of NAACP members has been shrouded in mystery.

Dr. Chavis put membership as high as 675,000 near the end of his tenure, while NAACP insiders have said the figure is really less than 450,000.

"We are neither daunted nor will we be sidetracked by the various and sundry accounts that have been revealed so far," said Mr. Shinhoster, alluding to a series of syndicated columns by Carl T. Rowan urging that Dr. Gibson resign.

"We want the world to know the NAACP is alive and well and a bona fide institution in American life today."

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