Chavis drops claims against NAACP

October 24, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

The NAACP will not pay the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., its recently fired executive director, any of the more than $300,000 in salary due on the balance of his three-year contract, according to a settlement agreement to be made public today.

Sources close to parties on both sides of the agreement said the Baltimore-based civil rights group would pay only $7,400 to cover two mortgage payments on Dr. Chavis' Ellicott City home, as well as extend his family's medical benefits and his life insurance through April.

For his part, Dr. Chavis, who sued the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People after he was fired Aug. 20, has agreed to pay back $76,000 that the NAACP lent him to make a down payment on his $478,000 house, the sources said. The NAACP will reduce the loan balance by about $17,000 that Dr. Chavis was due in unused paid vacation.

"The reason I agreed to it is I want to get on with my life without leaving any cliffhangers," Dr. Chavis, 46, said yesterday. "To get a large financial settlement from the NAACP while they're in financial trouble -- I just don't desire that."

The NAACP faces a $3.8 million deficit and has laid off employees, forced staff members to take unpaid two-week furloughs, and trimmed other expenses in an effort to keep making its payroll as it tries to rebuild credibility among its members and outside donors in the wake of internal upheaval surrounding the Chavis firing.

Dr. Chavis, whose wife, Martha, is due to deliver twins within days, said he intended to "do some writing and reflecting on this whole experience and to move on. . . . I've agreed to settle this matter in hopes that it would minimize the internecine conflict, backbiting and back-stabbing that is too prevalent within the NAACP."

But an NAACP source described the settlement as a "total capitulation" by Dr. Chavis.

"Absolutely no money changes hands whatsoever. Dr. Chavis gives up all his claims. He will receive what amounts to some humanitarian assistance for a very short period of time. The purpose is to put all this behind us," the source said.

A press conference scheduled today to unveil the settlement at the office of the court-appointed mediator, Robert B. Barnett, a Washington lawyer, was canceled because the parties could not agree to appear together.

The settlement leaves untouched another major issue between Dr. Chavis and the NAACP: a lawsuit by a former Chavis aide, Mary E. Stansel, that precipitated the executive director's downfall. That leaves a potential $250,000 liability hanging over Dr. Chavis' head.

Ms. Stansel filed the suit in June, alleging that Dr. Chavis had reneged on a November 1993 agreement to pay her up to $332,400 in NAACP funds to settle a threatened sexual harassment claim. Ms. Stansel had been paid $82,400 and says she was due another $250,000 when Dr. Chavis stopped the payments.

Neither the NAACP board nor the organization's general counsel knew of Dr. Chavis' deal with Ms. Stansel. Three weeks after the agreement was reported in the press, outraged board members voted overwhelmingly at a special meeting in Baltimore to fire Dr. Chavis.

Dr. Chavis, who was named executive director in April 1993, was fired almost midway into a three-year contract that paid him $200,000 a year plus expenses and benefits.

He has called his firing a "lynching" and views it as a rejection of the militant direction in which he was taking the NAACP, not as a referendum on his handling of NAACP money.

The ousted NAACP leader continues to maintain that he had executive authority to make the Stansel settlement.

He says liability for the unpaid $250,000 should rest with the NAACP.

The NAACP argues that Dr. Chavis is liable because he made the deal without authorization and had a personal financial stake in the matter.

The civil rights group has moved in District of Columbia Superior Court to be dropped as a defendant in the case.

The Chavis-NAACP settlement being made public today does not bind Dr. Chavis to stay out of NAACP affairs.

Chavis allies are running for the presidencies of two of the largest NAACP branches, in Detroit and Chicago, and Dr. Chavis has told intimates that the NAACP may eventually want him back as executive director.

In Baltimore, Kobi Little, a Chavis supporter and former president of the NAACP's Johns Hopkins University chapter, is expected to challenge NAACP President Rodney Orange, who supported the Chavis firing, in the Nov. 28 branch election.

But Dr. Chavis said yesterday that he does not "intend to agitate the NAACP, but rather I intend to focus now on life-and-death issues affecting the African-American community."

The NAACP board voted Oct. 15 in Baltimore to order an independent audit of the spending of all NAACP officers, including Dr. Chavis, from Jan. 1, 1989, to Aug. 31 of this year.

The NAACP's veteran board chairman, Dr. William F. Gibson, faces allegations that he spent extravagantly and was improperly reimbursed for expenses that he had already charged to an NAACP credit card. He has denied the allegations.

Dr. Gibson, who faces re-election in February, may have to answer for Dr. Chavis' conduct as executive director. The chairman stood by Dr. Chavis until two weeks before the firing. Under Dr. Chavis' contract, the executive director submitted his expense accounts directly to Dr. Gibson.

TERMS OF SETTLEMENT

Under his agreement with the NAACP, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. will:

* Get none of the salary outstanding in his three-year contract.

* Repay a $76,000 NAACP loan, which will be reduced by $17,000 that he is due in unused paid vacation.

* Receive $7,400 to cover two mortgage payments on his Ellicott City home.

* Have his family's medical benefits and his life insurance extended through April.

MA * Be permitted to participate in NAACP affairs in the future.

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