The new director of AIDS programs under the auspices of the troubled Metropolitan Urban League has resigned after less than a month on the job. Her departure raises concerns among activists and even the state department of health about the Urban League's commitment to AIDS services in the black community and its control over AIDS funding.
The Reverend Barbara G. Franklin resigned December 19 as outreach coordinator of the Black AIDS Project At Large (B-A-PAL)/Care program. Her decision was sudden and unexpected. Only a few days earlier, Franklin had talked to Westword for a story about her predecessor, Steve Arrington, and gave no indication that she was dissatisfied.
In fact, Franklin was excited about discussing her plans, which included strengthening the program's relationship with the Colorado AIDS Project, the largest AIDS services and education organization in the state. She also spoke about the need to step up AIDS education in the black community, which, she said, remains in denial about the danger of AIDS. And she was busy mailing out invitations to B-A-PAL clients for a Christmas party.
The party was scheduled for December 22, but shortly before then, Franklin told Arrington--who is now a client of the program--that she was having difficulty getting the Urban League to write a check to cover expenses, even though federal grant money the group administers does not actually belong to the league.
Apparently, the Christmas-party expense check was the last straw, Arrington says, although Franklin mentioned other difficulties in obtaining checks from the league to cover emergency expenses of AIDS clients, as well as similar bureaucratic hassles.
"She said she couldn't deal with it anymore," Arrington says. "She said she could get more done out of her home with a computer and a telephone than through the Urban League. So she resigned."
Franklin could not be reached for comment. However, Urban League officials confirm that she has resigned.
"Frankly, Dr. Franklin did not turn out to be the person we were looking for for this assignment," says Art Varnado, acting president and chief executive officer of the group. Varnado declines to be specific, noting, "This is a litigious society." He does say that he intended the group's AIDS program to be "more educationally focused on the community at large and not just the inner city."
Franklin's resignation is the second for an Urban League official in the past few months. This past fall, league president Thomas Jenkins, who had been with the organization for twelve years, three of them as president, was forced to resign.
Jenkins ran into trouble with the league's board of directors for allowing a $10,000 check from United Way to a teen media center for minorities to be channeled through the league because of its tax-exempt status.
Boardmembers also were reportedly upset with Jenkins for allegedly mishandling an equal-employment complaint from a white male who contended he unfairly lost his job to a black woman. And they accused Jenkins of swearing at Donna Good, the director of Denver mayor Wellington Webb's HIV Resources Council, which handles a large part of the millions of dollars of federal AIDS funding in the state.
The board voted September 21 to fire Jenkins and used that vote to force his resignation in early October. An agreement between the two sides prohibited them from discussing the reasons. Boardmembers contended that the United Way check and the other complaints were not the major issues behind Jenkins's termination but said that he was not suspected of any wrongdoing. On the day he left, boardmembers escorted Jenkins to his office to remove his personal items and then ordered him off the premises.
Since then, the board has been criticized for its handling of the matter by black community leaders, some of whom even demanded that the board resign and Jenkins be reinstated.
From Steve Arrington's perspective, the black AIDS and HIV-positive community lost a friend in Jenkins.
"It took us years to get Tom up to speed on AIDS in the black community," Arrington says. "But at least he would attend the Governor's AIDS Council and understood what was going on. Now that he's gone and I'm gone and Franklin's gone, there ain't nobody down there in a leadership capacity who understands AIDS as it affects the African-American community--or cares."
In 1993 Arrington merged Care, a group he and several other HIV-infected friends started for gay blacks, with the B-A-PAL program in order to use the league's tax-exempt status and for funding accountability necessary to obtain grants. The group raises all of its own money through fundraisers and grants. But the Urban League takes about 13 percent off the top for administrative costs, according to Arrington.
"The league never gave us a cent from their own fundraisers, and we paid our own bills," Arrington says. "But now they want to take over and call it their own program. They're even going to rename it the `Urban League AIDS Outreach' program, which is a slap in the face to the people who started the program and died from AIDS."
Varnado says he has no intention of renaming the program. "I am still in the process of conceptualizing where I want to go with this program," he says, adding that he has not yet chosen a successor for Franklin at this time.
Arrington says he now believes that B-A-PAL/Care is financially stable enough to use the money paid to the Urban League to move out on its own and hire its own administrator.
In the meantime, the state health department, which gives B-A-PAL/Care $25,000 a year for AIDS education under a grant obtained by Arrington, wants to address concerns about leadership of the Urban League's AIDS program.
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"I plan to call interested parties together in January to talk about it," says Jean Finn of the epidemiology division, which administers the grant. "We try to help the community-based organizations solve their problems. I've heard from Steve Arrington about his concerns. Now I want to talk to everyone else."
Franklin was hired in early December after working for the military for 26 years as a counselor and instructor. She has a bachelor's degree in social work, a master's in human behavioral psychology and a doctorate in theology.
The week before she resigned, Franklin said she planned to "hit the ground running." Apparently, that was in the opposite direction of the Urban League.