Head of Associated Black Charities quits

Memos show directors unhappy with Officer's management, leadership


The president and chief executive officer of Associated Black Charities has quit after being threatened with firing, just 18 months since he took over the leadership at the Baltimore-based social services agency, according to internal memos.

Gary Officer resigned July 13, said board Chairman Nathaniel E. Jones Jr., who insisted yesterday that Officer "was not asked to resign" and that the departure was voluntary.

But documents obtained by The Sun reveal that Jones demanded Officer either quit or face a termination vote by the full board of directors.

The management shake-up comes at a critical moment for the 21-year-old charity and advocacy organization, as it attempts to make a transition from an administrator of government grant programs to a financially independent philanthropic force in the black community statewide.

In recent years, the group's annual budget has ranged from about $20 million to $25 million.

Despite a lackluster fundraising record, Associated Black Charities is a major player in the region's health and human services sector, most notably for holding the exclusive city contract to distribute tens of millions of federal dollars targeted at poor AIDS and HIV patients.

Its annual fundraising gala and election-year candidate forums are also important events in the African-American community.

The internal documents do not detail the reasons for the executive committee's dissatisfaction with Officer's leadership, and Jones declined to answer specific questions.

Jones said the organization expects to record an operational deficit for the recently concluded fiscal year, but he contended the deficit was not related to Officer's resignation.

Officer did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Most board members referred media inquiries yesterday to Jones, but Emelda P. Johnson, a member of the executive committee, said her misgivings about Officer's leadership had to do with Officer's "management style."

Johnson, a former Maryland secretary of human resources, would not elaborate or discuss Jones' handling of the matter. "I can't be in mutiny now," she said. "Our agreement is Nat [Jones] speaks for the board."

Jones said Chief Operating Officer Barbara Blount Armstrong has been appointed interim president and CEO while the board searches for a new president.

The decision to remove Officer came on the eve of his first comprehensive employment review at the organization, according to a July 13 memo by Jones, a Baltimore attorney, to the full board.

In preparation for the job evaluation, Jones wrote that he decided to abort the review after learning from executive committee members that "each of us was of the same opinion," namely that "Gary [Officer] has help [sic] ABC accomplish several significant things but, unfortunately, has demonstrated several significant deficiencies in management and leadership."

Officer's resignation was not anticipated inside the agency's Mount Vernon office, according to Armstrong. "I was surprised," she said. "I had not expected it."

This month, Baltimore magazine published a lengthy profile of Officer in which Jones praised his "excellent strategic business mind" and "big-picture thinking."

"[M]ore important than those two things," Jones is quoted as adding, "is that his heart and soul [are] consistent with the mission and values of Associated Black Charities."

Officer was named president of the nonprofit in December 2004 after a yearlong nationwide search to replace Donna Jones Stanley.

Stanley had led the group since 1989 as it grew from a four-employee office with a $700,000 budget to a nearly 40-employee agency responsible for handing out $20.6 million in government and private grant money in 2004.

Despite the agency's expansion, the board was concerned in 2004 about its overwhelming reliance on grant money restricted to predetermined uses.

The organization's primary activity in recent years has been to hand out millions of dollars annually in so-called federal Ryan White grants allocated to Baltimore for care of poor and uninsured people infected with the AIDS virus, which in the Baltimore area disproportionately affects the African-American community.

In the fiscal year just ended, the charity received $17.6 million in Ryan White funds to distribute, according to city Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, of which it kept about 5 percent for administrative costs.

The agency wants more money without strings attached. According to Armstrong, it currently receives only about $300,000 a year in funds for discretionary spending.

"ABC's donor and funding base is woefully limited for an organization of the scope and stature of ABC," said an internal analysis prepared for the 2004 CEO search.

Officer was hired to change that.

As executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation -- the philanthropic division of the credit union industry -- Officer increased its investment fund from $38 million to $350 million within two years, according to his resume.

Associated Black Charities officials asked Jones to spearhead a similar fundraising effort in Baltimore, giving him the goal of raising a $50 million investment fund within five years.

Jones said the investment fund, named the Legacy Fund, remains in the "initial discussion stage" but the group intends to move forward with it.

"I will have to be retooled to carry that on," said interim president Armstrong, whose primary focus will still be overseeing the distribution of the agency's restricted funds.

She said she hopes her title will also change, removing the "interim" from it.

"The board is going to be meeting in two weeks, and they will make the decision as to how they will move forward with the search process," said Armstrong, who has been with the charity for almost eight years.

"I am going to throw my hat in the ring."


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