King dinner finances to be tightened Complete disclosure will made for money raised in Jan. event

Snowden institutes change

Sponsors formed committee to run 10th annual affair

December 12, 1997|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

Former Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden has instituted tighter controls over the money raised at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner in response to articles in The Sun raising questions about the handling of the dinner's proceeds.

Snowden announced this week that the 10th annual dinner will be held Jan. 13. Awards will be given to seven local human rights leaders. Ilyasah Shabazz, one of the six daughters of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, will be the keynote speaker at the dinner.

In an interview yesterday, Snowden said significant changes have been made this year based on recommendations from an accounting firm hired to regulate the dinner's finances.

Those changes include disclosure of all funds raised at the dinner and a more formal process for donating the money. A bank account has been established for the funds, under a new organizational name, the 10th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner Committee. Also next month, the dinner will be run by six co-sponsors, including the Community Action Agency and the NAACP.

In years past, the dinner had been run by an ad-hoc committee consisting of Snowden's friends, including some campaign donors.

"This year, it's a little more formal," Snowden said.

Snowden said the new organization -- which he chairs -- and the tighter financial controls should remove any questions about the legitimacy of the dinner, which draws about 400 people in commemoration of the birthday of the slain civil rights leader.

"We have put it behind us," he said of the controversy, which he blamed on efforts by political opponents to harm his candidacy for the mayor's office. "If I had not been running for mayor, there wouldn't have been an issue," he said.

Snowden had been considered a leading candidate for mayor last year but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Dennis M. Callahan.

Snowden also blamed The Sun for investigating an event that supports community leaders and had never been questioned or criticized by the public.

"There really wasn't any inquiry by anyone in the public or any complaints about the handling of the money. It was really just an inquiry by The Sun," he said.

Articles in May and June detailed how Snowden's dinner committee had not registered as a charitable organization and had never disclosed how much money was raised at the dinner, where the money was kept and how much was donated.

The secretary of state's office found that Snowden had not violated any law and was not required to register as a charitable organization because the dinner was not promoted as a charity event.

In June, Snowden announced the hiring of the accounting firm -- Abrams, Foster, Nole and Williams of Cross Keys -- that now handles the dinner's finances, and released 31 pages of financial statements that showed for the first time how much money had been involved.

Those statements showed that of $47,674 raised between 1994 and this year, $14,981 was donated to more than a dozen Annapolis-area organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Youth Chapter, the Annapolis Boys and Girls Club and the Black Political Forum. More than $10,000 had not been spent, the statements showed, and was being kept in an unspecified bank account.

Snowden said yesterday that all funds from all dinners would be expended and the bank account would be closed. Leftover money would be used to pay expenses for next month's dinner and for donations made to the award winners.

Another significant change this year is how those donations are made.

In the past, Snowden and other dinner organizers would informally decide how to distribute profits to local organizations. That process often would take place months after the dinner. This year, money will be given to recipients of the night's humanitarian awards, who will donate it to organizations of their choice.

Six community leaders will be given a Dr. Martin Luther King Drum Major Award (a reference to King's speech about being a drum major for justice and peace). Cynthia Carter, the first African-American woman to be elected to the Annapolis city council, will receive a Morris H. Blum Humanitarian Award (named for the founder of WANN, the first radio station in Maryland to put African-Americans on the air).

"All [seven] recipients will be named in advance. They, in turn, will be able to announce the name of the organization that will receive the grant," Snowden said.

"This way, it's all pretty clear where the money is going and it's all out front."

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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