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NAACP Elections To Be Held on Saturday

National organization will administer the vote after suspending members for speaking out

Nov. 17, 2010
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The highly contentious campaign for the leadership of the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP will end on Saturday, when the national organization will hold the election for the local branch.

The election comes after months of controversy about current and potential leaders of the local NAACP. Anonymous e-mails about the leaders’ actions have circulated around town. Lawsuits were initiated. Complaints were filed. Its September meeting to nominate candidates was abruptly shut down and the police were summoned. Longtime members were suspended by the national organization for speaking out about their concerns.

On Saturday, however, members will vote for a new president and a slate of candidates to head the organization’s standing committees. Thirty-two positions must be filled during the three-hour meeting, to be held at the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, 1345 W. Burleigh St., at 10 a.m. Members are advised to arrive early and bring their membership cards.

The national NAACP—which has suspended eight members who have criticized the local branch’s leaders—will run the elections.

The Candidates

The election is pitting two sets of members against each other. One group, which includes civil rights leader Vel Phillips, is seen as a reform group that supports attorney James Hall for president and another backs First Vice President Wendell Harris for leadership of the organization.

Hall said he decided to run for the presidency because the organization has lost its focus on promoting civil rights and equal opportunity for community members.

“The local organization has been broken for the last 10 years,” Hall said. “It has mostly been embroiled in inner conflict and turmoil. There’s an isolated group on King Drive that is not working with the community.”

A fully functioning NAACP with competently staffed standing committees could do much to help city residents, from assisting in flood relief efforts to helping to ease unemployment and providing legal advice to embattled day care operators, Hall said.

“This is potentially a very significant organization that could play an important role in the community,” Hall said.

But even Hall’s rival Wendell Harris, who was handpicked by local branch President Jerry Ann Hamilton to run, said that he would like to reform the branch. Harris said that he would institute best management practices, as well as hire an executive director to provide professional management. He would also direct the organization to apply for grants, which it has failed to do during Hamilton’s tenure, instead of being solely dependent on corporate and private donations and membership dues. He said the local branch would be audited if he takes over. The group’s finances haven’t been professionally audited for 10 years.

“There was an audit by the national office two years ago, which exonerated the president and the branch,” Harris said. “That may have satisfied the national organization, but not the community.”

Harris said he found the group’s infighting to be “disheartening” and “unfortunate” and highly personal.

“It’s two groups of people who, for whatever reason, have come to dislike each other and are fighting over leadership of the organization,” Harris said.

The Suspensions and Suits

Eight members of the local NAACP—all critical of the current leadership—have been suspended during the past year by the national organization.

According to Wallace White, a Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District commissioner and a longtime NAACP member, his suspension letter says he has intentionally violated NAACP policies and rules in six ways, including improperly talking to the media and disrupting the September meeting.

The letter was signed by NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.

“It’s pretty sad,” White said. “It’s a sad state of affairs considering all of the problems that we have in Milwaukee. The high unemployment, being the fourth-poorest city in the country, the school system is severely challenged—instead of working on that, we’re doing this kind of stuff.”

Last month, a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge dismissed Henry Hamilton III’s suit against an NAACP member who had been sending anonymous e-mails criticizing Hamilton, a member of an executive committee of the local NAACP and the son of the branch president. The e-mails contended that NAACP leaders hadn’t properly reported donations, misused funds, used the NAACP for personal gain and had multiple conflicts of interest. Hamilton had alleged that he had been defamed in the e-mails, but the judge found that he failed to meet the burden of proof.

Earlier this year, more than 20 members filed a complaint with the national NAACP asking for an investigation into alleged bylaw violations committed by Jerry Ann Hamilton.


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