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Monday, August 15, 2022

Election Of Kevin Johnson To Head Black Mayors Group ‘Invalid’

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson

WASHINGTON – After accepting a determination by the attorney for the National  Conference of Blacks Mayors (NCBM) that the organization’s May 30 election in Atlanta  was invalid, more than half of the board members in good standing have written  to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson directing him to “table all matters” until the  board meets again, according to documents obtained by the National Newspaper  Publishers Association News Service.

Johnson was elected president of the NCBM at that election, but since the  election was declared invalid, the board of directors in place at the time of  the election has resumed control of the organization until a new election can be  held, probably in September.

Efforts to reach Johnson for comment via telephone, text and email were  unsuccessful.

A board meeting is scheduled for this Friday in Atlanta. At the meeting, it  is expected that the board of directors will set a date for the new  elections.

The internal documents obtained by the NNPA, whose authenticity was verified  by several board members, detail an election that violated at least four  provisions of the group’s bylaws and an ongoing clash between Ballard Spahr, a  Philadelphia-based law firm brought in by Johnson, and General Counsel Susan  “Sue” Winchester of Beverly Hills, Calif. and Atlanta-based Executive Director  Vanessa R. Williams.

Moreover, interviews with more than a half-dozen board members revealed a  deep split between the board and Johnson, who has used Ballard Spahr and a  special task force appointed by him –  he serves as its chairman – to carry  out many of the duties normally undertaken by the board of directors.

In a memorandum to the National Conference of Black Mayors, dated June 13,  Attorney Winchester wrote, “Mayor Otis Wallace, Esq., Parliamentarian of the  National Conference of Black Mayors, Inc. (“NCBM”), has indicated to me that he  has received complaints from several Mayors about the election process during  the 39th annual convention in Atlanta, GA. Mayor Wallace has  requested me to review this matter. Accordingly, as General Counsel of NCBM, I  am writing this memo pursuant to Mayor Wallace’s request and set forth below I  address the specific issues that Mayor Wallace has identified.”

Among the complaints listed:

1)     Several mayors voted who were not qualified to  vote because they did not pay dues in a timely manner or didn’t pay them at all.  (Section 2.6 of the NCBM bylaws states only mayors who were current at least 10  days prior to the opening plenary session of the annual convention are eligible  to vote).

2)     The Nominating Committee consisted of only one  mayor (Section 5.3 (a) provides for five mayors serving on the Nominating  Committee.)

3)     Voting by voice vote and by hand were used  (Section 5.3 (d) states that the election of officers shall be by secret  ballot).

4)     The election was not properly supervised (Section  5.3 (d) also states that a supervisor be appointed for the elections).

“Please note, the above does not constitute a complete list of all  violations,” Winchester wrote. On the first page of her memo, the board attorney  wrote in all capital letters: THE BOARD AND OFFICERS OF NCBM UNDER THE  LEADERSHIP OF PRESIDENT MAYOR BOWSER IS STILL EFFECTIVE AND VALID.”

In a telephone interview with the NNPA, Mayor Robert Bowser of East Orange,  N.J. said he contacted Mayor Kevin Johnson to discuss Attorney Winchester’s  memo, but Johnson had an aide return his call. Bowser said he declined to  discuss NCBM business with any of Johnson’s subordinates.

In a June 14 letter to board members, Bowser said, “As members of the board,  please be advised that you are not to recognize in any way, shape or form the  purported election that occurred on May 30th as it was not in  compliance with the bylaws. As members of the board we are not to recognize any  calls and or meetings generated by individuals that were not properly  elected.”

According to minutes of the May 31 Special Business meeting, supplied by one  of Johnson’s supporters on the board, “President Johnson said that given the  duties of the Board and in light of the many legal, financial and ethical  challenges that NCBM has faced in recent years, it is incumbent on the new Board  of Directors to undertake a serious forensic audit of the organization’s  operations, finances and management in order to put the NCBM on the right  footing.”

The minutes noted, “Upon a motion by Mayor Johnny Ford, which was seconded by  Mayor Oliver Gilbert, the Board of Directors voted to delegate to the Special  Task Force, the power of the Board for the following purposes: (1) to  comprehensively investigate facts concerning NCBM’s 501 ( c ) (3) status, any  litigation involving NCBM, and the financial and business affairs, obligations  and duties of NCBM; (2) to supervise the management of the ordinary affairs of  NCBM; and (3) to engage Ballard Spahr LLP, as its counsel, and such other  professionals, and to take such other actions as the Special Task Force deems  necessary and appropriate to accomplish these purposes. The motion passed  unanimously.”

However, Miami Gardens, Fla. Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert, III, who seconded the  motion to confer certain powers on the special task force, is not a board  member, according to NCBM records.

The 16 board members – more than half of the 25 currently in good standing   – who wrote to Johnson said, “Both the report and the minutes that were  provided to the members of the board are not consistent with the discussion that  was held regarding NCBM receiving assistance from Ballard Spahr during the  membership meeting.”

In addition to the 16 members who signed the letter, at least four other  board members are also supportive of the move to void the election, Bowser  said.

According to emails obtained by the NNPA News Service, Valerie Allen, a  partner in Ballard Spahr, first contacted Attorney Winchester by voicemail and  email on June 5. The next day, Allen sent another email to Winchester demanding  the immediate collection of NCBM “documents and information.” In what could be  interpreted as a threat to Winchester’s ability to practice law in California,  Allen wrote, “If you do not respond, as requested, we will be forced to pursue  other avenues, including without limitation, seeking the assistance of the  California Bar.”

The law firm filed for a temporary restraining order in Atlanta to obtain  more than 30 NCBM records, but the judge did not issue an order and the matter  was scheduled to be addressed in court this Wednesday.

According to Bowser, Kevin Johnson has attempted to micro manage Executive  Director Williams, demanding that she not have any contact with any member of  the news media, not pay any contract for more than $1,000 and not make any staff  changes without prior authorization of the special task force.

However, in her memo to the board, Attorney Winchester stated, “…the invalid  election provides additional reasons why the special task force is not valid and  why Ballard Spahr has no authority to act on behalf of or represent NCBM in any  capacity.”

In its letter to Kevin Johnson on June 20, the 16 board members said, “As  members of the board we are very concerned about the recent activities of the  Special Task Force and Ballard Spahr. We object to the recent tactics used by  the law firm and do not approve of the way it is now handling the NCBM  leadership and staff. Demands and actions are being taken that we as a board  have not approved. The board of directors did not approve of Ballard Spahr  filing papers in the Superior Court of Fulton County. If such filings have been  made we ask that they be removed immediately; we did not approve of  investigation of NCBM staff; we did not approve of any attempts to micro manage  and/or limit the duties of the NCBM staff, nor did we approve of the removal of  NCBM property nor were we made aware of or approve at any time the authority of  the board of directors being given to a committee or third party. As a board we  would not nor have we given to Ballard Spahr the authority to discipline and or  terminate the contracts of NCBM staff. These measures are extreme and we  certainly do not approve.”

The mayors also took issue with assertions made by Mayor Johnson in an op-ed  he circulated to the board in advance of publication.

“The statement has been made that the Board of Directors just recently became  aware of recent lawsuits against the organization and debt. This is not an  entirely true statement,” the letter stated. “Under the leadership of both the  immediate and past presidents, the boards of directors have been informed of the  liabilities of the organization.”


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