The phone rang all day Wednesday at the NAACP branch office in Hollywood. And callers seemed surprised when it was answered.
"Everybody thinks we're closed," office manager Veronica McCreary said. "We're not the ones. It's the national headquarters that's closed."
Word that the venerable civil rights organization was broke and laying off employees at its main office in Baltimore was creating unexpected confusion at some of the 1,800 local chapters across the country.
National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People officials said Tuesday they hope the unpaid furloughs last only a week or two.
Although the layoffs are affecting about 80 headquarters workers, along with employees at regional offices, they were not hindering work at local chapter offices. The regional office in Los Angeles, where three people work, could not be reached for comment.
"We're all volunteers, anyway, at the branch level," explained Robert Winn, a vice president of the 900-member San Fernando Valley NAACP office in Pacoima. "We send them money--the national office doesn't send us any."
But fallout from the reported $3.5-million headquarters deficit and a national leadership scandal are distracting to local operations, Los Angeles-area leaders acknowledged.
Some members have quit because of accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination leveled against former Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. He was fired after it was disclosed that he promised to settle a former employee's claims with $332,000 in association money.
Some longtime San Fernando Valley donors have warned that they will not contribute until the national headquarters "cleans up its act," Winn said. "It hurts my heart to see what's happening at the national level. It's bad PR--it makes people wonder whether they should get involved."
People should "look at the 85-year history we have and give us the boost we need to get through these times," said Frank Berry, branch executive assistant of the 8,000-member Los Angeles chapter.