Sunday, May 14, 2000

Fired leader argues buyout


Chamber chair says it's too late

By Allen Howard
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Staff disagreements led James Clingman, former president of the African American Chamber of Commerce, to ask for a buyout of his one-year contract.

        A buyout was offered, but he said before he had a chance to answer it, he was fired.

        Mr. Clingman, one of the founding members of the chamber, was terminated May 5. The board paid him $65,000 a year to run the chamber.

        He said he received the buyout proposal May 3. He received another letter May 5 saying he had been terminated.

        “They never gave me a chance to respond to the buyout proposal,” Mr. Clingman said. “I was asked if I could attend a meetinglast Thursday (May 4), but I informed them that I had some personal family problems and could not attend. I don't know which letter to believe — the buyout offer or the termination.”

        According to Kathye Lewis, chairman of the chamber board, the termination letter supersedes the buyout offer.

        “We sent him a buyout proposal with a deadline for him to answer by May 5. He didn't answer it,” she said.

        She said Mr. Clingman had never formally requested a buyout. “He commented about it, but never submitted a request,” she said.

        Ms. Lewis said eight of the nine board members voted on the termination, but would not reveal the outcome of the vote. She would say only that it was a majority, but not unanimous.

        “This is a personnel matter that was handled in executive session and we have been advised not to discuss it in public,” she said.

        At least one board member is not satisfied with the termination and is worried about the future of the chamber.

        “If I had voted I would have voted no,” said the Rev. Craig Edwards. “I never received a notice of this meeting. I only know that a buyout had been offered, and I was against that. I wanted to see the board work out the differences with Mr. Clingman.”

        The Rev. Mr. Edwards, pastor of Consolation Baptist Church in Mount Auburn, is one of the 16 founding members of the chamber.

        “I am worried about the future of the chamber. I think we need the vision and the dedication Mr. Clingman gave.”

        The chamber was organized in 1996 to be an advocate for African American businesses. Mr. Clingman worked for free as the group's president for two years before he was put on salary.

        Ms. Lewis is on an 18-month loan from Procter & Gamble to work as a loan executive. Mr. Clingman said he did not think she should work as a staff person and serve on the board.

        “She acted as if she was my boss. She cannot come into the office and run it as a loan executive,” Mr. Clingman said. “I let the board know I didn't work for her.”

        Ms. Lewis said she understood that she reported to whichever staff person she worked with on different projects.

       



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