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Confusion, communication gaps adding to Henrico Branch NAACP problems

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 1/11/2019, 6 a.m.
Even as it imposed sanctions on the president of the Henrico Branch NAACP, the national office of the civil rights ...
Frank J. Thornton

Even as it imposed sanctions on the president of the Henrico Branch NAACP, the national office of the civil rights group has allowed other officers who complained about Frank J. Thornton to flout its rules, the Free Press has learned.

One result is that at least 21 people who joined the Henrico Branch in October have not received national membership cards, even though they paid their dues and are listed as members of the branch.

The situation has created confusion among the dues payers about whether their membership is recognized by the national office and points out procedural and communication gaps within the Henrico Branch.

“Any member who paid for membership in the branch and has a receipt is eligible to participate fully in the branch, whether or not they have yet to receive their actual membership cards,” said Malik Russell, national NAACP spokesman.

Mr. Russell did not respond to questions on why the branch members have not received their membership cards.

The snafu has emerged as Mr. Thornton appeals his yearlong suspension as an NAACP member that was imposed in late December by NAACP National President Derrick Johnson for Mr. Thornton’s alleged violations of national bylaws.

“I am aware of the membership card issue, but at this point I have no comment,” said Mr. Thornton, an adjunct professor at Virginia Union University and the son of Frank Thornton, a member of the Henrico County Board of Supervisors.

It turns out the registration of the 21 people at the national level has been held up because the branch secretary, Tracey Johnston, violated a bylaw by failing to file a required membership report listing the new members, according to the national office.

Under an NAACP bylaw, the branch secretary has a duty to submit that report and the national office’s share of the dues payments within 15 days of receipt.

Emails show that Ms. Johnston received notice of the memberships and dues payments on Oct. 12, along with copies of receipts provided to people who paid.

Other emails obtained by the Free Press show that Jonathan McKinney, the national NAACP’s regional field officer whose area includes Henrico County, was notified about the problem on Oct. 31.

However, according to the emails, he blamed Mr. Thornton for the secretary’s inaction.

The paperwork also shows that Mr. Thornton deposited the dues payments into the Henrico Branch’s bank account.

There is no evidence Mr. McKinney counseled, reproached or addressed the bylaw violation with Ms. Johnston, who joined in the complaints lodged against Mr. Thornton.

There is also no evidence that Mr. McKinney addressed a similar bylaw violation involving the branch’s treasurer, Gale Jones, who also complained about Mr. Thornton.

Under the bylaws, the branch treasurer has a duty to record dues payments and provide the national office’s share of the dues to the branch secretary to accompany the membership report, the national office said.

According to the national office, the established process requires the secretary and treasurer to work together to ensure the national NAACP receives its share within two weeks along with the report on new memberships. That obligation is specific to those offices, the national office said.

Ms. Jones did not report submission of the national’s share of the dues until the December meeting of the Henrico Branch’s executive committee. However, the national office said that the money was not accompanied by a list of those who paid, preventing those people from being registered.

Neither Mr. McKinney, Ms. Jones nor Ms. Johnston responded to a Free Press request for comment.