By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
The current president has been removed. Multiple board members have resigned. And a previous leader who left amid accusations of mismanagement has come forward with a rebuke of how the chapter operates.
It is the latest series of conflicts that has long time supporters questioning if the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, a storied organization that has played a critical role in the city’s rich civil rights history, can right itself amid ongoing instability.
“This is a sad, sad time,” former branch president Marvin “Doc” Cheatham told the AFRO. “We can do better than this.”
The chapter’s current president, Ronald Flamer was recently removed by the NAACP’s national leadership. Flamer said he was let go after his membership was suspended.
“I’ve been a life member, I never had a blemish on my record,” Flamer told the AFRO.
He says he has no idea why his membership was terminated; the lack of specifics prompted him to retain noted Baltimore civil rights attorney, and AFRO board member, Billy Murphy as counsel and to request a hearing to challenge the suspension.
“I just want to restore my good name,” he said.
His removal allegedly prompted several board members to resign. One of them, Anthony McCarthy (a former editor at the AFRO), says Flamer’s departure was the final straw for him and many of his colleagues. McCarthy is a former spokesperson for several Baltimore politicians including mayors Catherine Pugh, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Sheila Dixon, as well as Rep. Elijah Cummings.
“I could not serve on board after this,” McCarthy said. “I felt like he (Flamer) was leading us in the right direction.”
Tensions between the state and national administrations and the local leadership have been rising since the departure of Flamer’s predecessor, Tessa Hill-Aston, according to Flamer; particularly as he and other board members have tried to jump start fundraising efforts for the local branch and move forward with other changes.
“The state conference is jealous and envious of what we we’re trying to do,” he said.
Flamer notes that he received an award earlier this year for managing a successful push to sign up new members.
“I’ve never been treated like this before,” he added.
The state and national NAACP intervened last fall after previous president Hill-Aston resigned amid accusations of mismanagement. President for nearly seven years, Hill-Aston’s departure prompted the national NAACP to put an outside administrator in change of the branch.
But in a wide-ranging interview with the AFRO, Hill-Aston said the accusations against her were unfounded.
“If I could get back all the money I spent for the branch I could go to the Bahamas,” she said. “We paid for contractors to fix the broken toilet, we paid contractors out of our own pockets to fix the heat.”
It’s unclear what specific allegations if any were lodged against Alston because national leadership has yet to release details. But, the picture she painted of the branch was of a volunteer operation reliant upon many hours of work and volunteers coming out of their pockets for expenses.
“Nobody can steal money from the NAACP it’s all checks. It goes into the bank and then it goes to national, there is no money to steal,” Hill-Aston said.
“We helped people, we fed people and I was stabbed in the back.”
State leadership says the removal of Flamer was prompted by concern over local adherence to the bylaws and the constitution of the national organization.
“It boiled down to the bylaws,” said NAACP State Conference President Gerald Stansbury. “We wanted to make sure they were being followed.”
He also said there is no ongoing investigation of allegations lodged against Alston.
For now, Stansbury said the state officials are working to determine if a special election to select a new president should be held in September, or November.
Meanwhile, the state leadership has appointed First Vice-President Sandra Allman Cooper as interim president.
“She is doing an excellent job,” Stansbury said.
Flamer says local officials clashed with national leadership over ownership of the chapter’s headquarters on East 26th St, in the Charles Village community. The office building is allegedly owned by the local chapter according to Flamer. But, he believes the national leadership has plans for it.
“That has been point of contention,” Flamer said.
Stansbury contends the Baltimore headquarters and who owns it, has never been discussed.
“That has not been issue at all,” Stansbury said. “We are just trying to get the chapter in shape so it can move forward.”
As for who will run in the special election past candidates were non-committal. The previous election’s second highest vote getter, Revered C.D Witherspoon declined to comment for this story.
Past president Cheatham was also non-committal with regards to a future run. For him, rebuilding the chapter quickly outweighed thoughts of a future candidacy.
“I will consider serving but I am not interested in running,” Cheatham said. ”If people feel I am capable I am willing to help.”