The national office of the NAACP will review as early as this week allegations that the president of the local chapter is harming the organization and should step aside, officials said.
Some of the most prominent civil rights leaders in the county - among them Carl O. Snowden, director of the state attorney general's Office for Civil Rights; Gerald Stansbury, immediate past president of the county National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and longtime activist George Phelps - called last week for the impeachment of the Wayne Jearld.
They called his leadership style "inimical" to the aims of the group.
In all, 44 members signed the petition calling for Jearld's removal, and the national office received a packet with the petition Thursday.
Jearld, in office since January, did not respond to several calls this week. He previously vowed to serve out his two-year term.
The local branch's executive committee, however, has closed ranks against him, voting last week to cut off his expense payments and outlining, in a letter, instances where the NAACP has stalled under his tenure.
Although leadership transitions have sometimes been difficult for the local chapter - for example, the results in the 1994 election were tossed out amid claims of fraud - never in the county organization's history has a president been impeached. The chapter was founded in 1944.
Within the last decade, the chapter has been one of the strongest in the state.
In recent years, the organization has been the driving force behind anagreement with county schools to move toward cross-racial student parity.
Yet members said much of the coalition-building surrounding that effort has evaporated under Jearld's term.
And the turmoil at the top could hamper fundraising efforts, specifically the Freedom Fund dinner, a banner event for the group, members said.
"We have to deal with who is running this organization. When we look for support, that's going to be uppermost in people's minds," NAACP member John Wilson, also executive director of the RESPECT Foundation Inc. said last week.
"I think that given the resolution of the issue, people will come out of the woodwork to support that effort," he said.
A resolution will take weeks, said Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the NAACP's national office.
He said such internal struggles happen "from time to time," especially after election season.
"This organization is made up of individuals of various personalities and opinions and people will feel very passionately about their positions and stand for them and that's all these individuals are doing on both sides and there is nothing wrong with that," he said. "We will launch our investigation and move forward."
Jearld, a marketing and branding consultant, pledged to burnish the NAACP brand, boost membership and continue building relationships with nonprofits.
In March, he announced that the group would establish an office in a historic Masonic lodge in the Clay Street community in Annapolis, by early fall. The group did not have a freestanding office.
But that effort has seemingly derailed, as have membership drives and fundraising efforts, members said.
And, members said, Jearld has alienated civil rights stalwarts and publicly questioned the role of similar organizations, including RESPECT.
The local chapter has about 350 members, down from 3,000 two decades ago. Nationally, the civil rights organization has struggled for relevancy in a post-civil rights era. The Baltimore-based national organization recently announced a 40 percent staff reduction and regional office closures to cover three years of budget shortfalls.
a lifetime member of the NAACP and once a strong supporter of Jearld, said the embattled leader must go.
"For the good of the organization, we have to remove Wayne Jearld," Phelps said. "We have to get a cleansing."