Mfume slashes staff at NAACP More than a dozen fired in shake-up by group's new president

March 04, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

In the first shake-up of his two-week tenure as NAACP president, Kweisi Mfume has fired about 15 staff members, including the civil rights group's membership director.

Mr. Mfume's chief of staff went from office to office at the organization's Northwest Baltimore headquarters late Friday afternoon, handing employees letters telling them that "regrettably, the position you now occupy will be eliminated."

Although the letter gave the staff members 30 days' notice of their dismissal, fired employees said they were advised to pack up their belongings right away and not to return to work.

Sandra Almond, chairwoman of Local 2202-N of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and one of those fired, said the union would protest not being notified of the dismissals. She said six of those fired were union members.

"I knew there would be reorganization, but I felt as a union representative I would be a part of it," said Ms. Almond, a 15-year NAACP veteran who headed the membership processing unit. "Just to be told to pack up your things and take your personal belongings and not come back, I find it very insulting. I'm a fully paid life member of the NAACP."

Among those fired are Isazetta Spikes, membership director; Janice Washington, a 27-year veteran who was assistant director of branches and field services; and Linda Hursey, public relations director.

"If [Mr. Mfume] wants his own team on the field, I believe he deserves to have that," Ms. Spikes said. "I would have liked obviously to be part of his administration. I like to think I gave more to the NAACP than I took."

Mrs. Hursey said Mr. Mfume told employees at a staff meeting last Monday that there would be a reorganization and some jobs would be eliminated. She said he told them to expect word by March. Friday was March 1.

"We knew that there would be cuts, but we didn't expect that number," said Mrs. Hursey, who worked at the NAACP for nearly a decade.

Mr. Mfume, who had vowed "swift, focused and constructive" change at the NAACP, could not be reached yesterday.

Staff reductions had appeared inevitable since NAACP Treasurer Francisco L. Borges reported last month that the organization planned to reduce its $3.2 million debt to about $800,000 this year. "The only way we can do that is by making pretty significant cuts," he said.

The firings reduced the NAACP national staff by about one-third. Three years ago, before the onset of the group's financial troubles, the staff numbered nearly 150.

"People were in shock, literally in shock," said one staffer, who asked not to be named. "People were really, really hurt. [Today] will be a ghost town over there."

Mr. Mfume apparently was not in the building when the dismissal letters were distributed. Tammy Hawley, the former congressman's chief of staff in Washington and now at the NAACP, delivered the news. It was her first day on the job at NAACP headquarters.

Many of the fired staff members worked as volunteers in late 1994, when they were put on unpaid furlough because the NAACP could not make its payroll. Some said they would remain active as NAACP members.

Last night the message on Ms. Spikes' home answering machine still urged callers: "Remember, the fight for freedom needs freedom fighters. Join the NAACP!"

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