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Benjamin Chavis Jr. was fired as head of the NAACP on Saturday for what the chairman of the board termed "conduct inimical to the best interests of the association."

"This decision was not easy, nor was it pleasant," Chairman William Gibson said after a meeting of the 64-member board that lasted more than eight hours.Gibson said Earl Shinhoster, who is national field secretary, will begin serving immediately as interim executive director until a permanent replacement for Chavis is found - probably in 30 to 60 days.

He said Chavis had "embarked upon a course of conduct which is inimical to the best interests of the association."

Although the meeting was closed to reporters and other outsiders, sources familiar with the protracted proceedings said the resolution to dismiss Chavis passed by a wide margin.

Earlier, Rodney Orange, president of the Baltimore NAACP chapter, had said the board was concerned that the way Chavis handled the civil rights group's money had damaged the organization.

Initial word of Chavis' ouster came from Orange about six hours after the meeting started. Gibson's formal statement came about two hours later.

The session was closed to reporters. They also were barred from the grounds immediately surrounding the NAACP building.

It was Chavis freewheeling style of managing the NAACP's money and his own venerable reputation that got him into the fight of his activist life with the civil rights group he was hired to revitalize.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's debate behind closed doors came in the wake of disclosure of a $332,400 out-of-court settlement that critics said reflected Chavis' habit of making costly decisions behind the board's back.

The status of Chavis notwithstanding, the NAACP is left with a budget deficit of about $3 million and a taint that has alienated financial supporters and, according to some NAACP chapters, new members.

This is a far cry from the NAACP Chavis inherited, which faced serious questions about its perceived ineffectiveness and irrelevance to younger, angrier black Americans - but had an intact budget.

"I don't know how on God's green earth we got into this situation," lamented Benjamin Hooks, Chavis' predecessor.

Chavis has refused to resign for settling unspecified claims of sexual discrimination by former employee Mary E. Stansel. Stansel has sued Chavis and the NAACP for the $245,000 she contends she is still owed under that settlement because they failed to find her an $80,000-a-year job.

Many board members also want a resignation from Chairman William Gibson who, while considered Chavis' staunchest defender, has said he would not be able to protect Chavis if other board members move to oust him.

Barbara Powell, president of the Hempstead, N.Y., chapter, said the situation is becoming too expensive and distracting.

"I was feeling a little bad for Dr. Chavis, but now I'm getting tired of him," she said before the board meeting. "It's always something popping up. We can't keep fighting for Ben."

According to copy of the meeting agenda, three items were to be discussed: the Stansel lawsuit, any other lawsuits pending or threatened, and "the past performance of the officers and staff of the association with respect to any such lawsuits or threats of lawsuits and disclosure to the board of directors."

Contending he has done nothing wrong, Chavis said he wouldn't resist if the board moved Saturday to take away his ability to make personnel, financial and other day-to-day decisions.

What has incensed board members more than anything is Chavis' handling of money. They noticed that Chavis traveled almost constantly and was driven around in a Lincoln Town Car leased by the NAACP, two perks that Chavis argued he needed to effectively court financial contributions.