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The president of the Maryland State Conference of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People has filed a complaint with the governor about what the NAACP regards as racist emails sent by Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Duane Svites, of the Southern Regional Office, according to the Calvert County branch of the civil rights organization.

In a letter sent to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), NAACP State Conference President Gerald Stansbury complains of a 2010 email with an altered picture of Vice President Joe Biden with cornrows in his hair. Svites allegedly sent the email from his work email to co-workers and added the caption, “It was just a matter of time.” Minority employees were offended by the suggestion that association with them, like Biden’s association with President Barack Obama, would cause one’s appearance to change, a statement from the Calvert County branch of the NAACP states.

In his letter Stansbury said the email created a hostile racial climate and that “taxpayers should not subsidize bigotry, racism, sexism or homophobia.” The NAACP complaint calls on O’Malley to enforce executive orders and state and federal laws that prohibit discriminatory conduct, according to the statement.

Michael Kent, vice president of the Calvert County NAACP branch, said that the original complaint was forwarded locally last year, but the group had not heard anything back about what was done, so the local chapter forwarded the complaint to the state NAACP.

In addition to the governor’s office, the complaint letter was also sent to the Maryland State Police since the Office of the State Fire Marshals falls under its jurisdiction, and to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, Kent said. The director of the civil rights division of the attorney general’s office, Carl Snowden, has requested a response as to how the complaint was handled and what was done, Kent said.

A message left for Svites at his office was not returned by press time Tuesday.

Maryland Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Joseph C. Flanagan said this week that he learned of the email in June 2010 and “it was addressed within days.” He said he was only aware of just that one email. The email was addressed internally and “there was appropriate action taken within a day or two,” Flanagan said. He said he could not give details on the action taken because it is a personnel issue.

The governor has responded to NAACP complaints in the past, Kent said, but Kent said he does not know if the NAACP is looking for any particular response from the governor.

According to the press release, the Calvert County branch also received a complaint that Svites was allegedly targeting African-American businesses and churches. In at least two cases Svites allegedly failed to notify African-American business owners that they had the right by law to appeal adverse decisions of the fire marshal, according to the Calvert NAACP. The complaint was filed in July, and the local branch of the NAACP is currently waiting for documents in the cases, Kent said.

The appeals process is on the back of the inspection form, Flanagan said, adding that there is no written procedure to say fire marshals have to verbally inform someone who has been given a citation about the appeals process.

State Fire Marshal William Barnard, the head of the Office of the State Fire Marshals, came to Calvert and met with the business owner and went through the building showing the owner what needed to be done to comply with fire codes, Flanagan said.

“It seemed like everybody was in agreement,” he said. At the end Barnard asked if anyone had a complaint and no one spoke up, Flanagan said. The fire marshals thought that the business was working to comply with the fire codes, but instead it is appealing the case, he added.

The Calvert branch of the NAACP contacted both Charles and St. Mary’s counties’ NAACP branches to see if they have had any complaints against the fire marshals of the Southern Regional Office, but Kent said he was told, “They never had any complaints.”

An appeal hearing on the Calvert County African-American businesses’ cases are scheduled in October before the State Fire Prevention Commission, the release states.

charvat@somdnews.com