It was a common question full of trepidation among supporters of the California Black Chamber of Commerce for years: “What is going to happen to the Chamber of Commerce if something happens to Aubry Stone?”
The concern was since the CBCC had not publicly announced a successor to Stone — who served as the organization’s CEO since becoming one of its founders in 1995 — the passionate leadership that Stone possessed for supporting Black businesses — and leading the organization — would be lost once he stopped working.
Since Stone passed away Nov. 28 2018, it has not been an easy transition for the staff and board of directors of the California Black Chamber of Commerce. There has been somewhat of a turmoil and a bit of a power struggle within and outside of the nonprofit entity Stone strategically started almost three decades ago on his kitchen table.
Vice President Delores Thompson, who had worked with Stone for much of the journey, and former board member Edwin Lombard, who alleges that Stone bestowed the reigns of the organization to him before his death, have both been in a bitter battle over CBCC’s direction.
Ms. Thompson, currently serving as interim President of CBCC, recently released a written statement that she and the board filed a complaint of “fraud” and conspiracy against Lombard and attorney Timothy Simon in Sacramento County Superior Court — a claim that Lombard denies.
Ms. Thompson has admitted that the CBCC is under a “stressful” moment of time. She wants Lombard and Simon to “cease and desist” from using CBCC’s name to further their ambitions. Simon, a former member of the California Public Utilities Commission, is currently under the yet-to-be confirmed assumption title of Chairman of the Board of Directors.
“Yes, it’s stressful,” Ms. Thompson told The OBSERVER in a telephone interview. “It got a little hairy there for a little bit because they (Lombard and Simon) were so determined that they were going to have their way. And they still are determined to have their way. It’s just not the way to go.”
Ms. Thompson was more direct in her written statement.
“Shortly before, Nov. 28, 2018, Lombard acquired the Chamber’s letterhead without authority. Lombard used the letterhead. He prepared a fraudulent letter and signed Stone’s name on it to mislead others that it was Stone’s signature,” Ms. Thompson stated in the press release.
Lombard said he would not comment on the alleged charges by Ms. Thompson and the current administration of CBCC, other than he denies them. He said that he will respect the legal process as he fights to “clear his name” of the matter.
“First of all, I have to tell you that I have been sued by Ms. Delores Thompson and her attorney George H. Jones. Therefore there is not a lot of details that I can discussed because of the legal proceedings,” Lombard said. “I am going to do what’s necessary to clear my name and help put the Chamber back on the proper perspective that Aubry Stone would have wanted it to be on. I want to do what is best for the Chamber of Commerce.”
Lombard, who served as the emcee at Stone’s funeral, alleges that Stone wanted him to assume the leadership position of President and CEO of the CBCC upon board approval before Stone’s passing.
Lombard said he was “totally prepared” upon board’s wishes, as Stone requested, to step up to become the President of CBCC. He explained that the agreement was made while Stone was in the hospital. Lombard is an expert strategist in governmental relations, public affairs, and community engagement. He is also a business owner, Edwin Lombard Management Inc., who advocates for Black small businesses.
Lombard shared a letter with The OBSERVER that was allegedly dated Nov. 27, 2018 (the day before Stone’s passing) and signed by Stone announcing Lombard as the new incoming CEO of the CBCC.
When asked to discuss the authenticity of the letter, Lombard kindly
denied the gesture. “Like I said, right now, with the legal proceedings and the lawsuit Ms. Thompson filed against me and Timothy Simon, it would probably be best if I don’t get into details about this,” Lombard said.
As Ms. Thompson and Lombard sort the matter out, separately, what’s at stake are the members, supporters and relationships Stone had professionally built up on behalf of the CBCC for nearly a quarter of a century. Stone’s leadership and networking skills were the backbone of CBCC’s success.
Ms. Thompson and CBCC’s active board of directors still have the responsibility of ensuring members and supporters that the organization is “stable,” she told The OBSERVER.
At the moment, some of the sponsors are sticking with CBCC while others will wait it out to see what direction the nonprofit is going and until it settles the legal dispute with Lombard, Ms. Thompson said.
“Some people get apprehensive when lots of money is involved. But there are also many who believe in the Chamber and the California Black Chamber of Commerce Foundation,” Ms. Thompson said. “The sponsors believe in the foundation and they believe in what we are trying to do. Some of our sponsors will stay and some will take a wait-and-see attitude. Some are just not happy about the confusion.”