Urban League board bolsters director Accounting practices blamed in dispute

November 28, 1995|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Urban League's board of directors has issued a vote of confidence in President Roger I. Lyons, who had been accused of using his league credit card for personal transactions.

Meldon Hollis, the board's chairman, expressed hope yesterday that the vote, which came at a meeting Wednesday, would bring the controversy surrounding Mr. Lyons' spending habits to an end.

In letters to the board last month, two league financial employees alleged that Mr. Lyons owed about $1,800 in charges and cash dating to November 1993. But Mr. Hollis said the board concluded that the problems with Mr. Lyons' credit card resulted from deficiencies in league accounting procedures.

"The board voted overwhelmingly in support" of Mr. Lyons, Mr. Hollis said. "In the end, there were one or two people who were upset there was no one looking for his resignation."

Board members -- who were told not to speak to the press and xTC were interviewed only on condition of anonymity -- called the vote "overwhelming," though no official count was released. Mr. Hollis would say only that 15 of the board's 23 members attended the meeting, and three members handed in proxy ballots.

Contacted yesterday, Mr. Lyons said: "The board made their decision, and it was favorable." He referred all questions to Mr. Hollis.

In early 1994, Mr. Lyons survived an attempt to fire him after he charged a family vacation and his son's school fees -- about $4,000 -- to the league, which is the Baltimore affiliate of the New York-based National Urban League. Board members said the late Alice G. Pinderhughes, then chairwoman, had wanted Mr. Lyons to resign.

But this time, the league president enjoyed strong support from Mr. Hollis, a close friend. Mr. Hollis has been critical of the two employees who made the allegations -- Roscoe Johnson III and Patricia Horsey -- as well as board member Regina Smith, who supported the employees' charges in her own letter to the board.

Board members said the most damaging allegation involved $648 in food and hotel expenses Mr. Lyons charged to the league in March while he attended a conference as a trustee of Baltimore City Community College.

Mr. Lyons, who now is chairman of the board of trustees for the college, was reimbursed for those expenses by BCCC, but he did not return that money to the league at the time, the employees charged. Urban League Treasurer Wilkens McNair Jr. said last month that Mr. Lyons' wife had brought him $700 Oct. 12 to pay the debt.

At a special board meeting Oct. 13, several members expressed reservations about Mr. Lyons' integrity. But in a written response that was well-received by the board, Mr. Lyons said that all the money had been accounted for and that the allegations were the result of confusing accounting procedures, sources said.

"I think what the board concluded is that our accounting systems have not kept up with the Urban League's growth," Mr. Hollis said yesterday. He said that the league is looking for more "sophisticated" financial management.

Mr. Hollis has declined to discuss the employment status of Mr. Johnson and Mrs. Horsey. Mrs. Horsey said last week that she is on leave from the league. Mr. Johnson's Laurel-based lawyer, Claudia Barber, said yesterday that he has returned to work after a paid leave.

Even those board members with doubts about Mr. Lyons said that removing him from the presidency would be counterproductive. During his seven years on the job, Mr. Lyons had helped increase the league's budget to more than $2 million. And board members said he was the force behind the relocation of league headquarters to the historic Orchard Street Church.

The board chairman said Mr. Lyons is well-suited to achieve Mr. Hollis' goals of professionalizing the league's fund raising and making the organization less dependent on government funds.

Mr. Hollis said the controversy over Mr. Lyons has helped the league achieve those goals. Mr. Hollis said he had been approached by unspecified donors during the past month who want to help the league with its mortgage (board members say the league is behind on payments) and launch programs.

Details of the new programs will be released "in the next several days," he said.

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