New chairman for NAACP Julian Bond: Difficult job not helped by embrace of controversial board member.

February 24, 1998

SMILES AND good wishes accompanied the election Saturday of Julian Bond as NAACP board chairman. But by making one of his first acts the reinstatement of a tainted executive committee member, Mr. Bond may have set back an organization still trying to restore public confidence.

Many were surprised when Mr. Bond nonchalantly included James E. Ghee on his list of executive committee members. Mr. Ghee, a Farmville, Va., lawyer, was one of four board members with ethics problems asked to resign last year by the departing board chairwoman, Myrlie Evers-Williams. Mr. Ghee was convicted in 1996 of stealing $38,517 from a client's estate.

Mr. Bond's embrace of Mr. Ghee differs from the treatment of New York off-track betting official Hazel Dukes, who admitted stealing $13,000 from a leukemia victim who trusted Ms. Dukes to pay her bills. Ms. Dukes was voted off the board after refusing to resign. Also asked to resign were Rev. Henry Lyons, accused of misspending National Baptist Convention funds, and Bobby Bivens, a California man who owed $20,000 in child support. Mr. Lyons resigned; Mr. Bivens and Mr. Ghee didn't.

The NAACP was praised for requesting the four resignations. It showed that the organization expects integrity. Ms. Williams' predecessor, William F. Gibson, had spent the organization into more than $3 million of debt. And former executive director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. was fired after secretly agreeing to pay a woman $332,400 in NAACP money to stifle sexual harassment claims. Glossing over Mr. Ghee's misdeed raises new integrity questions.

The controversial decision also threatens the internal unity the NAACP has struggled to maintain since Mr. Gibson was voted out three years ago. Mr. Bond was a last-minute entry in the race for board chairman and only narrowly defeated Washington talk radio host Joe Madison. NAACP President Kweisi Mfume praised the election of Mr. Bond. But the new chairman's circumvention of efforts to remove Mr. Ghee from the NAACP leadership puts him at odds with others in the organization.

Pub Date: 2/24/98

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