May 3, 2016 at 11:36 am EST | by Judith Billings
The real story behind NAPWA’s collapse
Frank Oldham, NAPWA, National Association of People With AIDS, National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, gay news, Washington Blade

Frank Oldham (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Having bitten my tongue at the advice of Frank Oldham’s attorneys as we waited for “justice” to prevail, I, as one of NAPWA’s longest serving board members, am finally able to set the story straight regarding how we concluded we had no choice but to close the doors on the first national AIDS organization, whose genesis was the Denver Principles.

I joined the NAPWA board in 1999, invited by Teri Anderson, interim executive director, and served until 2012. I am a married, heterosexual white woman, living with AIDS, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. I chaired the committee in 2005 that hired Frank, served as board chair for his first two years and on the executive committee for the remainder of his tenure.

Frank and I worked closely together to bring NAPWA out of a $250,000 deficit and into a financially positive position. Frank was a passionate, relentless fundraiser for NAPWA, using  many deep relationships he had developed over his long and distinguished career, on behalf of those living with AIDS. He is a warm, gentle, consummate professional. Under his leadership NAPWA was able to struggle through the crushing downturns of 2008-2010 and maintain clean audits throughout his tenure.

Frank is a trusting soul who tries to see the best in all people, and in the last couple years recommended to the board the membership of several people who, in retrospect, did not have the best interests of NAPWA and its constituency at heart. It didn’t help that the three chairs who followed me all resigned during their tenures, leaving us the last few months with a new chair who was unable to control some members who consistently disrupted board meetings, shouted, yelled obscenities at other board members, and made it impossible to conduct meaningful business.

In the spring of 2012, Frank told members of the executive committee he would like to resign from his position, effective Dec. 31, 2012, staying with NAPWA as its fundraiser. He suggested young leadership would be a plus, ideally a gay, African-American male representing one of the populations hardest hit by the epidemic. Our board chair, who was just such a person, agreed he was willing to fill that role.

In the fall, the executive committee proposed the plan to the full board during a conference call, believing it provided for a smooth leadership transition with a known quantity. The call exploded into invective, screeching obscenities from the several disruptive members who disagreed. As a result, the board had no opportunity to discuss the advantages of the plan, and was thrown into its final chaotic months with a deeply divided board and dwindling resources.

Upon receiving an unexpected dismissal letter, Frank asked to talk with the board, but was denied that chance. Not only was Frank barred from speaking with the board, he was denied access to his office to take his personal belongings. To this day, he does not know what happened to the years of mementos he cherished—pictures of him with friends, political figures; items he had collected during his travels; his own personal records.

Being summarily dismissed and denied a board hearing, Frank—unfortunately—reacted by availing himself of what he believed he was owed in salary, vacation and sick leave. His action was not preplanned, an “embezzlement scheme,” or any intent to take other than what he felt he had a right to.

The matter could have been quickly settled by asking Frank to repay the approximately $11,000 in question—which he has done—and moving on. Instead, several of the disruptive board members, led by one in particular, continually pressured the Maryland State’s attorney to indict Frank. And contrary to the pre-sentencing investigator’s recommendation that Frank be given only supervised probation, at least one former board member petitioned the judge to add jail time, saying it would be in the best interests of the HIV community. Poppycock! The sentence has been decried by many in the community.

The former board member who appeared at the sentencing hearing, reading the “victim impact statement,” had been on the board less than a year, never served on the executive committee, and did not represent beliefs or views of we who suffered through the obstructionist tactics that characterized NAPWA’s final year. The person was shaking as he read the statement — as he should have been, knowing how disingenuous and self-serving it was.

Justice was not served by impugning the integrity of Frank Oldham, Jr. — a true warrior in the continuing battle against HIV/AIDS. We who love and respect him will continue to work for a reconsideration of his sentence with the hope we can quickly return him to continue his tireless efforts on behalf of the HIV/AIDS community.

A petition has begun urging reconsideration of Oldham’s sentence; you can sign it here.

Judith Billings is an attorney and educator who served for eight years as the elected Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction. She served on President Clinton’s HIV/AIDS Advisory Council and has served on the board of Planned Parenthood, chaired the Council of Chief State School Officers and co-chairs the Washington Council on Public Legal Education.

2 Comments
  • The quiet one, till now.

    With respect to Judith, I do recall you too saw what the rest of the board saw and voted to refer the matter over to the District Attorney. Lets not forget this matter was brought before a grand jury (independent to any board members) presented the facts and the evidence including withdraw slips which paid rent, his personal attorney (just to name a few) and many many many months of charges for alcohol at Number Nine all of these which are all now public record (some of which has been made public including those withdraw slips credit card transactions and such) With all the evidence the grand jury handed down a six count indictment many having to do with his NAPWA credit card. Frank may be a ‘warm, gentle, consummate professional’ however that does bar him from consequences of his illegal acts. Put whatever you think of him personally aside (which I know is hard to do as personally Frank is warm and gentle) and look through the evidence not as a friend however as an independent board member and you’ll still see what you saw, enough to refer the matter to the authorities. That was done and then out of the hands of the board and now left to the authorities to handle.

    Simply put relationships with Frank and the board were way to close. Frank misled the board on numerous occasions, he was asked to meet certain expectations and deadlines and failed. Frank saw his demise finally when Tyler put pressure on him to perform certain tasks, meet certain deadlines and report back to the board with specific tasks and reports. When he was finally held accountable for his lack of meeting those expectations from Tyler he knew his time had come and Tyler had to act. Frank clearly showed he was a great advocate yet not the right executive. Franks years of service to the HIV/AIDS community should not be forgotten however, this ‘trusting soul’ broke the law, was indicted by a Grand Jury and plead guilty to a charge which resulted in a difficult and very surprising sentencing.

    When speaking of the board in general, you’re right there were some very heated conversations especially around how Tyler the board President nearly was hired by the board without a search of eligible candidates – that there is a story for another day. This matter has to do with a Board President who finally held Frank accountable, gave specific tasks to meet and not only did Frank ignore some of the directives he simply didn’t meet what was asked of him as the organizations top executive. Lets not overlook this and how his executive tasks constantly were never met. How many times was he coached and never held to the board expectations often because many board members were close personal friends. It seems you drew the lines those who were not friends yet colleagues of Franks and those who were close personal friends. Good thing the Grand Jury was independent looks like they saw what the colleagues and not friends saw a clear lens that lead Frank to see consequences and accountability to his actions.

    Submitted evidence to the court by NAPWA: https://www.docdroid.net/2cSm3Ue/objection-to-allowance-of-oldham-claim.pdf.html

  • horseshit. Tom Kujawski, your ex-director of fundraising, told me the whole story. Wish I could repeat it.

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