NAACP branch draws criticism

National leaders to decide future of Balto. Co. group

July 09, 1999|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

The national board of the NAACP will debate whether to disband the Baltimore County branch of the organization next week after learning that the branch held irregular, unpublicized meetings, kept sloppy financial records and failed to report new memberships to the national office, according to members and NAACP documents.

Though the practices violated the organization's constitution, they were apparently not illegal. Members of the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People complained that the shoddy leadership has undermined civil rights work in the county.

"The internal squabbling [in the branch] didn't leave time or room enough to carry on the mission, the civil rights mission," said Sally G. Carroll, a national board member from New Jersey and chairwoman of a three-member panel of the national board that last month held a hearing on the branch.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in The Sun about the new president of the Baltimore County branch of the NAACP incorrectly stated how former branch President Patricia Cook-Ferguson left office. While in office, she was banned from running for re-election after national officials ruled that she had not been a dues-paying member since 1997. The Sun regrets the errors.

"To the extent that the branch was not doing much of anything, things needed to be looked into," she said.

Problems in the Baltimore County branch came to light in recent months after members contested elections held in November, charging that the president, Patricia Cook-Ferguson, was not a dues-paying member.

Cook-Ferguson could not be reached to comment.

In March, an NAACP attorney ordered Cook-Ferguson removed from office and the elections held again. She contested the decision in Baltimore County Circuit Court, but a judge said in May that she had broken NAACP rules and could not hold office in the branch.

Amid the discussions between branch and national officials, it became evident to national NAACP officials that the branch had been mismanaged, Carroll said.

In a letter dated June 11, Nelson B. Rivers III, who oversees the branches, notified Baltimore County NAACP members of a hearing to "investigate whether it is in the best interest of the NAACP to reconsider the Charter of the Baltimore County" branch.

Carroll and two board members -- Richard Burton of Allentown, Pa., and the Rev. Morris L. Shearin of Washington -- held an evening meeting in Catonsville June 24 with more than 40 members of the branch.

At issue is whether the branch should be taken over by the national office or shut down. A committee of the national board will rule on the issue at the organization's annual convention that begins today in New York.

NAACP spokesman John C. White said such intervention is allowed by the NAACP constitution but is unusual. No similar hearings are scheduled in the near future, he said.

According to several members who attended the meeting, the panel in June heard hours of testimony that the branch was run more like a cliquish, disorganized social club than a civil rights organization.

Some testified that Cook-Ferguson's finances had been commingled with the branch's, a practice that was apparently not illegal but violated NAACP policy, according to members.

Membership applications, which are supposed to be filed with the national office on Mount Hope Drive in Baltimore within 15 days, were not processed by the county branch officers for several weeks -- even months, they said. Membership dues checks, however, were cashed, according to members who wrote checks.

Darlene Tuck, a county activist, testified that branch volunteers often were rude to members and disengaged from the community. Branch and committee meetings, she said, were not regularly scheduled or publicized, and members who did attend often were not allowed to speak at meetings.

"When I went [to the branch meetings], it seemed like I was locked out -- they had their own things to discuss, and they kept saying, `You just hold on. We'll get around to you.' But they never did," Tuck said.

She added, "They run that branch according to their liking and not according to members. Our suggestions were constantly turned away."

Despite charges that the branch's elected leaders, including the president and vice president, are conspicuously silent on many of the racial issues in Baltimore County, many at the meeting insisted that the NAACP is sorely needed there and the branch should remain open.

"My testimony was not so much about how the branch is working but on the need for the branch," said Floyd Marshall, a physician's assistant and member who lives in Randallstown. "There absolutely is a need. I'd like to see the branch involved in the community much more."

The national board's Committee on Branches, which meets Monday in New York, will decide whether to suspend or remove the branch's charter, or put a national official in charge, said Carroll. She added that the subcommittee has not decided what they will recommend to the larger board committee regarding the branch's fate.

Many who attended the hearing are anxious to know the results.

"Leaving there, I didn't know whether it would be disbanded or not -- I didn't know whether our statements would help," Tuck said. "We'll be watching and waiting to see what happens at the convention."

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