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Martinsburg-Berkeley NAACP chief under fire

Journal photo Hubert Smith
Journal photo
Hubert Smith

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Members of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County branch of the NAACP have written a letter to the national office requesting its current president be removed.

Members met earlier this week to unanimously approve the letter, which was then sent to the national office in Baltimore, Maryland.

Hubert Smith, who members present at a May 9 meeting voted to remove as president of the Martinsburg chapter, however, said there has been no change in leadership and he is continuing to act as president until notified otherwise.

“It takes a decision from the national office. Until that is done, I am still the elected president, and that’s not going to end until the president’s term ends,” Smith said. “I haven’t signed anything. These are just allegations.”

Smith’s term will end in November.

Taylor Perry, a member of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County NAACP’s executive board, said he and others feel that Smith has been over-stepping his boundaries as president by holding meetings with city representatives including the mayor and chief of police without the approval from the local NAACP chapter.

Perry added that he and other members are planning meetings with city officials to notify them of their decision.

Owens Brown, the West Virginia State NAACP president, said the national office has to technically approve Smith’s removal, but Smith can’t act independently and still represent the branch without the rest of the members’ approval.

“When the body doesn’t approve of an individual’s actions, then it’s a question of whether he is protected,” Brown said in a telephone interview. “He (also) doesn’t have veto power over the body. Every decision they make must go through proper rules of order that must be followed. It also depends on what the situation may be. If he does something that seems to be detrimental to the association, then it’s a question of the association choosing whether to defend or support him.”

Perry said the committee has sent Smith letters on three separate occasions, and that he signed the first letter. Two more letters were sent subsequently, but Perry said Smith has refused to accept them.

Regarding these allegations, Smith said he has not received nor has he signed any letters from the executive committee of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County NAACP.

Richard Anderson, chairman of the Berkeley County NAACP legal redress committee, reiterated that members don’t have the authority to remove Smith without getting approval from the national office.

“They are whistling in the dark, so to speak. Just by writing a letter, that doesn’t mean anything if the charges (against Smith) have no merit,” Anderson said in a telephone interview. “(Smith) isn’t doing anything unconstitutional, that’s what it boils down to. Hubert Smith and I have been trained on conflict resolutions and civil rights. (The members unsatisfied with Smith’s leadership) know about as much about running (an NAACP chapter) as a baboon knows how to play the ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ on a violin.”

Perry and other dissatisfied members said one of the main reasons they voted to call for Smith’s ouster arose after Smith gave a public veto statement to the Martinsburg City Council of the executive committee’s decision to support the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.

“We had voted to go along with the city ordinance, and then (Smith) himself came to the (Martinsburg City Council) meeting to say he did not vote for it himself, which he didn’t,” Perry said. “We made the decision to approve it, so that was a main issue.”

Smith said his opposition to supporting the ordinance was also a reason he thinks the committee wants him removed as president.

“One night, they wanted to run a motion that we back the LGBTQ, and I put out a letter to veto (that decision) because it’s too controversial,” Smith said. “Ever since I have taken that stance, they have taken the stance to remove me. This is just a way of trying to get some internal fighting done. It’s a case of the tail wagging the dog.”

In a letter from the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Executive Committee of the NAACP addressed to Smith dated May 11, the committee requested that Smith “cease and desist from all actions where (Smith) represents (himself) as president of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County NAACP. This means radio interviews, meetings with the city, state and federal officials, scheduling NAACP meetings-any and all actions in which (Smith is) using the name of the NAACP or representing (himself) as president.”

Anderson said the process of removing leadership from local branches is more of a long, drawn-out process.

“Those disgruntled members can’t just wave a magic wand and remove (Smith),” Anderson said. “My gut feeling is they’ll wind up shooting themselves in the foot.”

Perry said an election for the position of the local chapter president will be held in November regardless, and the letter will have to go through review at the national NAACP office.

Staff writer Emily Daniels can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or twitter.com/emilykdaniels.

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