NAACP leaders say CertusBank firings send wrong message

07/30/2014 12:00 AM

07/29/2014 7:52 PM

Two former Greenville NAACP presidents accused CertusBank Tuesday of benefiting from the “black-controlled bank” mantle on its way up and then ignoring the African-American community after the firing of three black executives in April.

In response, CertusBank issued a statement to The Greenville News saying the firings were based on performance, not race, and that the bank has an ongoing dialogue with black leaders.

Ennis Fant and Paul Guy brought up the issue in a news conference in front of the Main Street bank.

“This bank has come into town now and basically shut off the black community — does not talk to the black community, feels no allegiance to the black community, even though it opened on the guise of being a minority-controlled bank,” Fant said.

“It shows no respect for the leadership in the black community nor does it show any respect for the larger (black) community.”

Milton Jones, Walter Davis and Angela Webb were terminated from their respective posts as executive chairman, chief executive officer and president amid allegations of mismanagement. The three have sued the bank, alleging they were unjustly fired and defamed as part of a conspiracy to spread false information.

Fant said, “If a $1.6 billion asset can be wrestled away from three African Americans who founded the asset, in as little as four days, look at the dangerous precedent this sets for any African American that even thinks about joining the business community going forward.”

CertusBank responded by saying, “The decision to remove Mr. Davis, Mr. Jones and Ms. Webb from their positions at CertusBank was made by the independent members of the Board of Directors after a thorough review of the executives’ performance while leading the bank.

“The action was based on a number of factors, including loss of confidence in the three executives’ ability to effectively manage the bank’s operations, and had nothing to do with race. The five Independent Board Members include three African-Americans.”

In regard to its relationship with the black community, the bank said, “CertusBank is in ongoing contact with leaders of the Upstate’s African-American community. Specific to the concerns raised (Tuesday) by Mr. Guy and Mr. Fant, we have engaged with leaders of the local NAACP and facilitated meetings with our executives and board members as requested.

“CertusBank continues to employ African-Americans in executive and other senior leadership positions.”

Fant said he and Guy will set up a task force “to look into the conditions leading up to the firing of the bank’s former leadership team.”

The group is “not here to question the internal operations of a private business,” he said. “That matter will be resolved in the proper court in due season.

“However, the greater message that the actions of the bank sends to the larger community has to be addressed for the sake of our children and their future.”

CertusBank has lost $84.1 million in the last two years, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. records, and has been dealing with questions about a number of the privately held company’s expenses.

On March 29, The Greenville News reported that Certus was looking into issues raised in an article by trade publication American Banker that cited sources alleging “gross mismanagement by senior executives.”

American Banker reported some investors questioned several expenses by Certus.

Those expenses, the publication reported, include “nearly $10 million paid to a consulting firm owned by Certus’ top officers; $146,000 for three months of work by an executive’s son fresh out of college; $2.5 million for three executive apartments and high-end upgrades; $347,000 for private plane trips; $131,000 for Carolina Panthers games; several hundred thousand dollars for sponsorships and charitable gifts; and more than $500,000 for American Express bills.”

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