NAACP Board Chairman Margaret Bush Wilson says she suspended executive director Benjamin L. Hooks last month because she felt that he would not cooperate with an audit of the organization, whose accounting system, she contends, is in serious disarray.
In interviews Tuesday and yesterday that constitute her lengthiest public statements since the controversial suspension May 18, Wilson said that, at an executive committee meeting four days before the suspension, Hooks threatened her and vowed to give the board only information he felt it needed.
He later leaked the story of his dismissal to the media, she said.
Recently, Wilson said, she has been denied access to results of the audit, completed between May 18 and May 26, when she reinstated Hooks amid a sizable public protest about the suspension.
Wilson said it is important that she obtain the audit report before a board meeting scheduled Saturday when she is to explain the suspension that prompted 50 of the board's 64 members to ask for her resignation May 28, despite Hooks' reinstatement.
"Among other things," Wilson said, "I feel that the accounting system has for all practical purposes been dismantled and put under . . . the office of the executive director . . . . My problem, and one which has led to the forthright action which I took, is that I have found difficulty in finding out what is in fact going on."
Wilson said she believes that the board is not always given accurate information about bills the organization owes and that disbursements are being handled, without review, by those who authorize checks.
"The main concern of the chairman of the board is what's in the best interest of the association," Wilson said. "I wish I could say that for Mr. Hooks. I am not the problem. The lack of good management and administration is."
Wilson's statements signaled a resumption of the bitter infighting that immediately followed suspension of Hooks, who has feuded with her for six years over management of the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.
Hooks was traveling in Alaska and unavailable for comment yesterday, and several other board members refused to discuss the events or declined to return telephone calls.
Board member Nathaniel S. Colley Sr., a Sacramento attorney, disputed Wilson's account of events involving Hooks at the meeting before his suspension. "I never saw it happen," Colley said of the alleged stormy confrontation.
Told of Colley's remark, Wilson called Colley a liar and said he and others are supporters of Hooks and trying to protect him. She said she thinks board members will listen to her account of the suspension. She did not consult them on it because it had to be done immediately, she said.
Colley disagreed with that, too. "I thoroughly believe the board did what it wanted to do in calling for Wilson's resignation , and on Saturday, the board will repeat what it did," he said.
In the interviews, Wilson offered a more detailed account of events leading to the suspension, in some instances quoting from notes she said she took to clarify her memory. Other new details were provided by Hooks aides who asked not to be named.
The May 14 meeting was attended by executive committee members and top staffers at the site of this Saturday's meeting, the O'Hare Hilton Hotel near Chicago.
Early in the meeting, Hooks, reading a prepared report, complained of having to prepare too many reports for the board and executive committee and said he could not continue doing so without additional expenditures or staff.
He told the meeting: "The chairman and the executive director are on a collision course as it relates to the quantity and type of information which is necessary for you to make informed decisions. I call upon the executive committee and will ask the board to take steps to resolve this situation."
Then Wilson, pressing her case for more board involvement in managerial decisions, introduced two business executives who said such involvement is important if nonprofit organizations are to maintain their integrity and raise funds.
At that point, according to Wilson's account, Hooks complained about not knowing the executives were coming or who would pay their expenses and said he was "sick and tired" of such arguments for added board involvement.
Wilson said yesterday that she then complained of receiving unreliable cash-balance statements from Hooks' staff and that he "became even more enraged, began shouting, hurried over to where the chairman sat at the table, stood over her, waving his hand close to her face, shaking his finger in her face and yelling that he was not going to let the chairman intimidate him anymore."
On Tuesday, she had said: "I just about thought he was going to strike me. It was the first time that I've ever had any man threaten me."
Shortly afterward, the meeting was abruptly adjourned.
Wilson said she knew at the time of that meeting that the audit, done routinely each year, was almost finished and suspended Hooks four days later. As chairman, she said, "there was not time to consult. It was a question of acting with speed and with promptness, and I did that."
She said she lifted the suspension because a cooling-off period had passed and because field work on the audit had been completed.