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US judge rules controversial director is out at Black Mayors group — no response from City Hall

Plans by an organisation of US mayors to hold a conference on the Island later this year could be sidelined following a court ruling.

For allegations that former National Conference of Black Mayors executive director Vanessa Williams was not authorised to represent the group when she met with Corporation of Hamilton officials have been backed by an Atlanta judge.

The Corporation of Hamilton had agreed to host the NCBM annual convention after meeting with Ms Williams last year — even though the group was embroiled in a divisive leadership battle before the courts at that time, and was also massively in debt.

Fulton County Superior Court judge Christopher Brasher has now issued his ruling on the case — and rejected a slew of claims by Ms Williams and her supporters.

Instead, Judge Brasher ruled that Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson is the rightful head of the group.

Mayor Johnson claims to know nothing about a Bermuda conference and has insisted that, under his leadership, an NCBM convention will not be held here.

Representatives for Mayor Johnson also insisted that Ms Williams did not have the authority to represent the NCBM in any negotiations.

City Hall insiders say the decision — which effectively means that Ms Williams no longer represents the NCBM — has put the conference in jeopardy.

“The ruling of Judge Brasher, has now caused the Corporation of Hamilton management team to pause,” the source, who asked not to be named said. “The cat is among the pigeons again, and the question is, who is the Corporation dealing with?”

Deputy Mayor Donal Smith put forward Hamilton as the host venue after meeting with Ms Williams in Atlanta last summer.

Ms Williams has since visited Bermuda on two occasions this year, once as the guest of the Corporation, to discuss convention arrangements — even though she had been fired by the NCBM last September.

The rift developed after Mayor Johnson called for an internal audit of the NCBM shortly after taking over the presidency in May, 2013.

Ms Williams refused to cooperate with the audit and was supported by Mr Johnson's immediate predecessor, Robert Bowser.

Mr Johnson eventually filed a writ against Ms Williams in order to obtain financial records and she was eventually sacked after NCBM bank statements revealed that she had spent $600,000 of NCBM funds on personal expenses.

Ms Williams contested her dismissal and also a demand to comply with the financial audit, claiming that Mr Johnson's election to the presidency was invalid and he therefore had no authority to fire her.

But in his ruling. Judge Brasher decided that the Sacramento mayor's election was legitimate — and that any decisions he made subsequently were valid.

Informed in January of Ms Williams' dismissal and the subsequent legal action, Hamilton Mayor Graeme Outerbridge told The Royal Gazette: “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.”

Despite those assurances, the Corporation agreed to pay the NCBM a host fee of $100,000.

A draft conference agreement listing Ms Williams as a signatory suggests that the fee may have risen to $150,000 and lists a number of costly expenses that the Corporation is obliged to meet.

This newspaper understand that an initial instalment of $50,000 was paid out to Ms Williams last week, before Judge Brasher had issued his ruling.

Judge Brasher also dismissed claims by Ms Williams that another mayor — Michael Blunt — was now the head of the organisation after being appointed by the NCBM Board in December.

Mayor Blunt, from Chesilhurst, New Jersey, attended a press conference at City Hall in February organised by Deputy Mayor Smith to confirm the conference was going ahead.

In his ruling, Judge Brasher said: “[Ms]Williams is allegedly claiming that Mayor Michael Blunt is now President of the NCBM.

“The Court does not know who Mayor Michael Blunt is, except that the Court was notified of Executive Director Williams' claim from Plaintiffs' counsel, which notification was filed into the record.

“Neither party has provided any explanation for how Mayor Blunt might have become President of the NCBM.”

The Royal Gazette attempted to contact Mayor Outerbridge, Deputy Mayor Smith, Ms Williams and Mayor Blunt but calls were not returned by press time last night.

Photo by Glenn Tucker Out: The mayor of Chislehurst, New Jersey, Michael Blunt, has been ruled by an Atlanta judge as being ineligible as president of the US National Conference of Black Mayors. Here Mayor Blunt is shown with Hamilton Deputy Mayor Donal Smith - acting on behalf of Mayor Greame Outerbridge - in 2013 at a press conference in the Mayor's Parlour to announce the decision to hold the group's 40th annual confrence in October.

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Published March 31, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 31, 2014 at 12:59 am)

US judge rules controversial director is out at Black Mayors group — no response from City Hall

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