By Laura Gunderson
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Audrey Terrell, president of the local NAACP chapter, aims to celebrate its 100th anniversary in Portland this fall with a fund-raiser featuring sponsored tables for $10,000, tickets at $100 a pop and, she hopes, President Barack Obama as the keynote speaker.
An internal battle over how the Portland NAACP’s president is handling the nonprofit’s finances became public this week, just weeks after a similar dispute in Philadelphia with national leaders suspending a longtime chapter president and three board members after they sparred publicly over finances.
NAACP bylaws call for members to follow a detailed internal complaint process to solve differences. Still, a regional leader said he wouldn't dismiss Portland members who spoke out about potential violations of NAACP bylaws.
“There may be some scolding,” said Gerald Hankerson, the NAACP president of the Alaska, Oregon and Washington State Area Conference. “But there will be no retribution (against) anyone who brought this up.”
Yet some of the local nonprofit’s board members say the gala is a financial fiasco in the making and an example of how Terrell’s disregard for the national NAACP’s bylaws undercuts her lofty visions:
• Over the past year, some board members say, Terrell improperly moved the nonprofit’s money into a new account and didn’t give the treasurer access for six months.
• Terrell spent $1,000 of the nonprofit’s money to reserve a ballroom for the gala without a vote, which some board members say was required. The move left less than $2 in the NAACP account,
they said, and used money set aside for bills and a youth program.
• Terrell placed her hand-picked vice president in charge of the fund-raiser, a Portland businessman who owed the state more than $66,000 in fines for violating mortgage lending and workers compensation laws.
Terrell, 61, says her role as president allows the actions she’s taken and that allegations they were improper or violated bylaws of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are false. She acknowledges that she changed bank accounts, didn’t include the treasurer’s name at first and spent $1,000 without a vote of her full executive committee, but says that she’s doing what’s needed to attract more attention -- and money -- to the moribund nonprofit.
“The NAACP here had just been so dormant. … What they’ve done in the past has been really, really junky,” said Terrell, who said she retired as an executive with the United Automobile Workers in 2006
. “I am in authority and I think that authority is bothering people.”
After fielding questions by The Oregonian, a regional NAACP leader said Wednesday he will launch an investigation of the Portland chapter.
Ultimately some board members say they appreciate Terrell’s energy and aspirations. Yet they say they’re concerned that her leadership style and indifference to bylaws will taint the group that’s spent a century helping Portland’s African American community fight discriminatory practices in schools, real estate development and housing.
Taking the helm
Terrell said she moved to Portland from Detroit about two years ago to be closer to her grandchildren.She’d retired from the labor group, where she said she lobbied on behalf of women workers. She completed a master’s in union leadership and administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1999.
A year later in 2000, Terrell began an online doctoral program at the California State Institute of Integral Studies. On various recent NAACP web pages, Terrell includes Dr. or Ph.D in her title; however the institute’s registrar said she hasn’t graduated from the program.
Terrell on Thursday confirmed that she doesn’t yet have a diploma.
Terrell said she receives several “lucrative” pensions from working for auto manufacturers and the union. She also said she owns two Cadillac Escalade sport-utility vehicles, one that once belonged to the president of General Motors.However, when she left Michigan she failed to pay off nearly $34,000 in federal tax liens logged in 2009, 2010 and 2011 with the Wayne County Assessor’s Office.
“That’s my bugaboo, I eventually have to get to that, I just have to focus,” she said adding that she’s been so busy this year she missed the April 15 deadline to file her 2013 taxes.
Board members said that within her first year, Terrell brought in two members to serve as vice presidents on her executive committee, both of whom had criminal histories.
One was Tony Funchess, who was named first vice president. In 2007, Funchess was convicted of second-degree rape and third-degree sodomy and spent nearly three years in the Oregon State Penitentiary. He was released in 2010.
Funchess was removed from his vice president role last year. Terrell said Funchess had joined the national NAACP but hadn’t yet joined the Portland unit -- a move she said was required by national bylaws.
“I can respect folks for having their own opinions,” said Funchess, adding that he could not comment on the NAACP. “I have had challenges in my past but my present and my involvement speaks to how I am a role model.”
Terrell also brought Clayborn Collins into the NAACP as a vice president. Collins serves as chairman of the group’s centennial celebration.
Collins was convicted of theft, forgery and weapons possession charges in 1997 and served three years of probation, ending in 2000. While on probation, Collins failed to provide worker’s compensation coverage to employees of his security business, according to the Oregon Division of Finance and Corporate Securities.Collins had made a few payments on the $49,000 fine when, in 2006 he was accused of breaking state laws by attempting to broker mortgages without a license and, in some cases, using other professionals’ names and information to hide that fact.
Collins agreed to pay $8,750 to settle those accusations, said the agency’s spokeswoman Lisa Morawski. However, Collins failed to pay that amount by the state’s deadline and was assessed the full penalty of $17,500, she said. That debt hasn’t been paid and was sent to collections, Morawski said.
Collins said he is making payments on the fines.
Terrell said she hadn’t completed background checks on either member and isn’t concerned about their criminal histories.
“I don’t know whatever these people have done in the past,” she said. “I do know their commitment to this work and that’s what I want from people.”
Problems between Terrell and some of her fellow executive committee members began almost immediately after she took office in January 2013.
Within those first three months, Terrell removed treasurer Keith Dalton and secretary Doris Muhammad from their posts, according to the group’s meeting notes. Eventually, the national NAACP denied Terrell’s request to make the move permanent, Terrell said.
Gerald Hankerson, the Seattle-based president of the Alaska, Oregon and Washington State Area Conference of the NAACP, said he ordered Terrell to return the two to their unpaid positions
Yet relationships among some board members remained strained.
Some board members said Terrell ignored their requests for information needed to complete reports due to the national organization. Treasurer Dalton said Terrell made withdrawals and deposits without his signature – as he says is required by national bylaws – and without keeping necessary documentation.
In a complaint to the national organization dated April 11, Dalton alleged Terrell closed the nonprofit’s accounts and opened another without including his name. She then began “withdrawing money without the knowledge of the treasurer nor members of the Executive Committee,” Dalton’s complaint alleges.“I can only guess where the money is going,” Dalton said. “I don’t think she’s stealing a dime, it’s just the NAACP’s finances are not being handled properly.”
Terrell said she removed Dalton’s name from the accounts because she was concerned about the job he was doing. She said she put his name back on the accounts six months later. She said she has taken money from accounts when necessary to pay NAACP bills and has always called other members of her executive committee before doing so.
National bylaws require NAACP checks be signed by both executive committee members: “No money shall be withdrawn from any account except by check signed by the Treasurer and countersigned by the President.”
Further, national bylaws require that the executive committee vote on any “requisition exceeding one hundred dollars.”
NAACP members said Hankerson, the regional leader, was called in late last year to help the group address members’ concerns about financial issues.
Yet Dalton said Terrell continues to withdraw money without his knowledge and uses money orders. That runs afoul of bylaws, Dalton said, that require members to pay only with NAACP checks numbered to correspond with requisition forms.
Earlier this month, Terrell said she called Portland police to report that the nonprofit’s secretary had stolen items from the NAACP mailbox.
Some board members say NAACP bylaws require secretaries to collect the mail and deliver payments and blank checks from the national organization to the treasurer.
Muhammad, the secretary, said she collected both a payment check and a box of blank checks from the mailbox. She said she held on to both after hearing in mid-March from Dalton, the treasurer, that the NAACP checking account had been drained to 83 cents and the savings account to $1.
Muhammad and Dalton soon discovered Terrell had used the $1,000 that had been in the accounts to reserve a ballroom at the Oregon Convention Center for the centennial dinner.
Again, national bylaws call for a vote on expenditures exceeding $100. Terrell said she individually called six of the 13 executive committee members and they approved spending the money. Hankerson said last-minute bills can be handled that way, however, he added that national bylaws require a full vote at the next meeting.
Executive committee members Dalton and Muhammad said no such vote happened, which Terrell confirmed on Thursday.
Jo Ann Hardesty, a former state legislator and past NAACP leader, said she joined the group again in December and hasn’t witnessed any discussion or vote on the issue at general membership meetings, which are held on different dates than the board.The convention center contract binds the nonprofit to pay at least $8,000, whether the event happens or not.Some board members said that of the $1,000 that had been in the NAACP accounts, $300 was donated specifically for a youth program. Terrell said she spent the money because her group doesn’t currently have a youth program.
Hankerson, the regional leader, said money designated for youth programs cannot be spent on anything else. He said he hadn’t been made aware of all the issues and will investigate.
Other money that had been in the account was set aside to pay the treasurer’s insurance bond, Dalton said. That bond, which Hankerson confirmed is required by the national nonprofit, wasn’t paid and lapsed March 31, according to an email from the insurance company.
Terrell stands by her decision to use the money to secure a major venue.
“People I’m working with here in Portland are in a Portland box. I bring a different mindset,” Terrell said. “You can’t go to the Holiday Inn and have the President speak.”
Dalton said he loves the idea of celebrating the NAACP’s anniversary with a gala. He just doesn’t think the nonprofit can afford it right now. The group held a fund-raiser in 2012, he said, paying $4,000 for space at the Red Lion and selling tickets at $55 a piece.
“About 100 people came,” said Dalton, adding that the group had more active members in 2012. “We barely broke even.”
Some board members are unsure what the centennial fund-raiser has made so far. In fact, they said they were only made aware invitations had been mailed when one came back marked “return to sender” to the nonprofit’s post-office box.
-- Laura Gunderson