City left red-faced by fired NCBM executive
A conference hosted by the Corporation of Hamilton that promised to bring hundreds of overseas dignitaries to the Island may be scrapped after questions were raised about the credibility of one of the organisers.
Last year the Corporation revealed it had secured a deal to bring the World Conference of Black Mayors’ annual conference to Bermuda this October. The scheme was hatched after Deputy Mayor Donal Smith flew to Atlanta to negotiate with officials from the National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM) — an organisation that represents more than 650 mayors across the US.
NCBM Executive Director Vanessa Williams spent five days in Bermuda earlier this month on a fact-finding mission to ensure that the Island had suitable facilities to host the conference. The trip was paid for by the Corporation, which held a reception at City Hall in Ms Williams’ honour.
But news reports reveal that Ms Williams was fired from the NCBM last September over allegations that she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of the organisation’s funds on her own personal expenses — including lavish shopping trips at exclusive Manhattan stores.
A spokesman for the NCBM has since confirmed to The Royal Gazette that Ms Williams was dismissed by the NCBM Board last year, and that she no longer has any association with the NCBM. The spokesman added that the NCBM had no knowledge of any conference being held in Bermuda.
And last night Hamilton Mayor Graeme Outerbridge acknowledged that the success of the conference hinged on the participation of the NCBM — and that, with Ms Williams’ credibility now under question, the future of the conference was in doubt.
According to the NCBM website, Ms Williams “assists more than 650 African American Mayors across the United States and the 48 million citizens that they collectively represent”.
The website adds that “the humility and grace of Vanessa R. Williams covers her presence with an unassuming posture”.
“It is a closer look at her vision and work that will reveal the global influence of the 35-year-old Executive Director of the National Conference of Black Mayors,” the site adds.
But media reports show that Ms Williams was fired from the organisation last autumn — just weeks after she met with Deputy Mayor Smith.
A September 9, 2013 story on the Cleveland Akron Colombus City News website reads: “On September 6, 2013 the board of directors of the National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM) voted to terminate the employment of its executive director, Vanessa Williams. In a letter, Williams was notified she was terminated effective immediately ‘due to your failure over a sustained period of several years to fulfil core duties and responsibilities of the Executive Director of NCBM and your recent admissions regarding your use of the bank accounts of NCBM and The NCBM Title Company for personal expenditures totaling at least $623,000 without board approval’.”
And a subsequent commentary article by Michael Cottmanon on the blackamericaweb.com site reads: “Two weeks ago, the board of directors of the National Conference of Black Mayors voted to fire its executive director, Vanessa Williams, who was accused of spending $623,000 for her personal use without board approval.
“In short, Williams allegedly stole the organisation’s money and bought expensive items for herself at Tiffany’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Juicy Couture, Louis Vuitton, ticket broker StubHub, Toys ‘R’ Us, private Christian school tuition and cash payments to Vanessa Williams and her husband.”
Asked to confirm that Ms Williams was no longer a representative of the NCBM, a spokesman for the group yesterday told The Royal Gazette: “Ms. Williams was terminated as executive director by the Board of Directors of the National Conference of Black Mayors in September 2013.
“While we have heard that Ms. Williams had some discussions with a representative of Bermuda, the current board has made no plans to host a conference there. Since she has been terminated as executive director, any plans by her on behalf of NCBM are unauthorised.”
Confronted with the news last night, Mayor Outerbridge said he had been unaware of Ms Williams’ dismissal but, if true, the scandal could undermine the Corporation’s plans to host the NCBM conference. He confirmed that he had met with Ms Williams during her visit to the Island two weeks ago, assumed that she was here as the representative of the NCBM, and that the Corporation had footed the bill for the trip.
“What you’re telling me is totally new,” Mr Outerbridge said.
“When someone hands you their business card and it says that they’re the head of an organisation, you don’t necessarily question it.
“To be honest, I’ve not had much involvement in organising the conference — my deputy, Donal Smith has been the driving force. We were made aware of some concerns about Ms Williams and some internal problems with the NCBM but I understood that they had been resolved. But if Ms Williams is no longer with the NCBM then of course this calls the future of the conference into question and we will do everything we can to contact the organisation and find out what’s going on.”
Mr Outerbridge provided The Royal Gazette with the phone number and e-mail address of Ms Williams listed on her business card. Repeated calls to the number were met with the message: “No routes found”, while no response was received to e-mail inquiries.
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