BROOKSVILLE — By the turn of this century, the Hernando County NAACP chapter had lost its way and would eventually lose its charter.
Membership had dwindled, and the chapter was not holding meetings in accordance with its bylaws.
In 2004, members encouraged Wayman Boggs to serve as president to revive the chapter. Boggs achieved that goal, and within a year or so had helped the group earn back its charter.
Now 68, Boggs is recently married, still working a demanding job as a mental health counselor for the Pasco County Detention Center — and ready to step down.
He wants to pass the mantle to a familiar figure in Hernando County: Brooksville resident Paul Douglas, a 66-year-old retired environmental consultant.
"I wouldn't be bowing out if I didn't think that a more than adequate replacement was stepping into that position, and I think Paul will be more than adequate," Boggs said. "He seems to have a lot of energy and ideas."
The election is scheduled for Monday evening at Silverthorn Country Club and is closed to the public. The chapter will also elect other officers.
Boggs spoke in such certain terms about Douglas stepping in because he is expected to win by default. Only one other potential candidate had filed to run for the volunteer position: Paul Boston, 53, a community activist from Brooksville.
But candidates for office must be members in good standing by April 1 of the year of the election, and officials say there is no record that Boston had paid his dues by then. Boston insists he did, but has been unable to produce proof.
"From what I understand, Mr. Douglas has no competition," said Pat Spencer, an area director for NAACP Florida.
Douglas has taken an active role in some headline-making issues in recent years.
In 2008, he helped form Trillion Development Group to submit to the county a proposal for a new judicial complex.
In 2007, he served on the Brooksville Housing Authority board, helping to lead the charge to oust executive director Ronnie McLean for what Douglas called McLean's lack of credibility. Douglas was among board members who resigned at the request of then-Mayor David Pugh, who cited infighting on the board and a lack of progress to improve the troubled agency. That same year, Douglas completed the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Hernando program.
And in 2006, he was among protestors who tried to stop the county from demolishing buildings on its former Department of Public Works site in south Brooksville because they feared the demolition would release asbestos.
He is currently serving as a liaison for the NAACP on the Community Initiatives Team, a group working with the county and city to redevelop the predominately African-American south Brooksville community.
Douglas said his main goals for the Hernando NAACP chapter are to grow membership and do on a local level what the national group was founded to do: take a stand for civil rights and social and economic justice, no matter the skin color of those the group would defend.
The two goals are inextricably linked, he said.
"The more active we become, the more membership will grow," Douglas said.
There are as many as 120 members on the rolls, but only about 15 to 20 are active. Many are older, so it's critical to infuse some energy with younger members, Douglas said.
The group will have to strike a tricky balance between working whenever possible in partnership with governments and other agencies and holding those same entities accountable when necessary.
"I want people to know exactly what this chapter is about," Douglas said. "Why we're here, why we want to talk, and that every time we come to see you it's not because we have an issue."
Douglas cited the long-delayed redevelopment efforts in south Brooksville and the botched cleanup of the county's old public works site as two examples where the NAACP should have had a more prominent voice, though he emphasized the chapter under his leadership would take a countywide view.
In such a brutal economy, it's critical that the group work with governments and agencies to secure grant dollars for economic development, Douglas said.
"There is no reason why the NAACP can't be a partner to bring government money for jobs here," he said.
Another priority is to establish a permanent base of operations, he said. The chapter opened an office in south Brooksville in 2000, but it closed a few years later.
On these issues, Douglas and Boston generally agree. But Boston says Douglas is not the man for the job. By Boston's measure, Douglas is too connected with the county's powerful elite. He said Douglas' status as a Republican is also worrisome.
"Paul Douglas has a long history of making himself look good and advancing his interests while I have been in the trenches," Boston said.
Boston, who is disabled and has lived in Brooksville since 1999, has been a vocal critic of city and county government for what he calls a woeful lack of attention to the needs of south Brooksville residents. He frequently attends City Council and County Commission meetings and since 2001 has published a local newsletter.
Douglas dismissed Boston's criticism as uninformed.
"Paul Boston does not know me, he doesn't know what I stand for, nor does he understand in any way my motivations for running for president of the NAACP," he said.
Douglas said he took part in the Freedom Rides in the early 1960s that aimed to desegregate public transportation. He gathered on the capitol steps in Montgomery, Ala., ahead of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech there in the mid '60s. And he met his wife while working on a get-out-the-vote effort in Macon County, Ala. The booth she was working in was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan, he said.
Douglas said the local NAACP chapter's structure makes it impossible for him to hijack the group for his own agenda, even if he wanted to.
"Anything that I do I have to present to the executive board and the membership in order to get plurality of the vote," he said. "I cannot in any way dictate the polices, procedures or actions of the NAACP."
Boggs laughed off Boston's comments.
"I can say categorically that (Boston) lacks diplomacy and would (give) the impression that he's representing a black militant group," Boggs said of Boston.
As for Douglas' role in the community, Boggs said: "Paul does have extensive contacts, and I think he could of course turn those contacts into a positive and not a negative for the organization."
The chapter will need to rally around whoever is elected, said Richard Howell, 66, another Brooksville activist and Hernando chapter member who is running for vice president.
"Once the election is over, everybody rolls up their sleeves and gets to the task at hand and does what's best for the organization," Howell said. "It's not about Paul Douglas; it's not about me. It's all about representing the organization."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.