ABOVE PHOTO: Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) chairman Raleigh Trammell
AP Photo/John Bazemore
By Rhonda Cook
A Fulton County judge has reinstated the former Southern Christian Leadership Conference chairman and treasurer who were removed last month after allegations of financial improprieties.
Judge Alford Dempsey said chairman Raleigh Trammell and treasurer Spiver Gordon would remain in those posts unless the board voted to remove them in the ways prescribed in the SCLC’s constitution and by-laws. Trammell and Gordon were removed during a Dec. 21 board meeting, conducted over the telephone, to discuss allegations the two men diverted at least $569,000 to bank accounts they controlled.
Trammell’s and Gordon’s supporters claimed in a court document filed Dec. 28 that the action violated the SCLC’s constitution. They noted that a meeting conducted over the phone was not legitimate and that not all the board members participated in the conference call.
Dempsey’s order restored the leadership that was in place on Oct. 29. However, he said the board could hold a meeting and vote on leadership changes, as long as there was a quorum. SCLC by-laws require at least 14 out of 44 board members be in attendance to make a quorum.
Despite the judge’s order on Wednesday, the two sides gave conflicting views over the outcome of a SCLC board meeting later in the day.
Thelma Wyatt Cumming Moore, a former judge who represents the faction that wants Trammell and Gordon reinstated, told the AJC Thursday that a quorum met and voted to keep Trammell and Gordon in place.
But board member Randal Gaines said he understood there were not enough members at the Wednesday meeting to form a quorum.
Neither Moore nor Gaines attended the meeting.
SCLC national board members are appointed by the chairman and the president, and the board in turn chooses the chairman and president. A new president – Bernice King, one of the children of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. – will take over later this year.
The turmoil is the latest is a series of scandals, legal struggles and internal dysfunction the historic civil rights organization, founded in 1957 by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others, has endured in recent years.
“I’ve never encountered anything like this,” said board member Gaines, a New Orleans attorney. “An injunction was filed to put the structure back in place that was in place the last four years that … allowed things to develop as they have. It tends to be frustrating.”
The attorney for the faction trying to remove Trammell, of Dayton, Ohio, and Gordon, of Eutaw, Ala., did not respond to voicemail messages seeking comment. Neither did Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Tucker, who was acting chair for several weeks, SCLC President Byron Clay nor Trammell.
“I think ultimately we’re going to be able to find out [what happened to the money] and we’ll be able to straighten out the problem,” said Gaines, who was tasked with trying to sort out Trammell’s and Gordon’s spending.
“I think the investigation is going to ultimately come to a head and any improper behavior…. will be discovered and corrected.”
Questions about their spending was raised last summer when a former board member alleged $1.4 million was missing. So far, that group has identified $569,000 that may have been diverted to bank accounts the two controlled
Gaines asked Trammell and Gordon in a Jan. 5 letter to detail the questionable spending, according to memos and transcripts obtained by the AJC.
According to the records produced by several SCLC officials, the men wrote checks to themselves, paid for funeral expenses and credit card and insurance bills, and sent money to their individual chapters and their special projects. None of those expenditures had board approval, Rocker said.
Records show, for example, that between March 2006 and last November, Gordon claimed reimbursements totaling $236,739 for a prison ministry that is run out of the SCLC’s Eutaw, Ala., office, which Gordon heads. Another $162,927 was paid directly to the Eutaw chapter.
Gaines also questioned checks totaling $24,450 endorsed over to Trammell.
Gaines said the men did not respond, but “I didn’t expect a response.
“I’m going to continue to work to move the organization forward and to try to fix this and at least revitalize or restructure the finances of the organization,” Gaines said.