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By Edwin Crayton
In a startling admission, Leo Walker, chairman of The Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF) has finally admitted that the foundation doesn’t know what actually happened to $19,500 in public monies. The admission, made at the July 12thquarterly NCIF board meeting is the second disturbing revelation by the foundation that contradicts earlier statements regarding these funds.
For those unfamiliar with the situation involving this money, here’s a recap. In 2014, the NCIF was audited by the CPA firm Johnson, Thomas & Cunningham CPAs. In a letter dated February 28, 2014, written to Judge Eric Harrington to summarize that audit the firm wrote, “We were able to determine that $19,500 had been transferred from the broker account to the account at First Federal prior to March 31, 2004. We had no records to show how this $19,500 was spent. We contacted Ed Ward Jr., Arthur Welch, Eliza Jones, Andrew Vallien, and Sylvia Morrow, all present or former Board Members to see if any records could be re-established through memory. We conferred with you on February 19, 2014, and it was agreed that a conference call would be set up with the above persons and their legal representatives and John Winston, Robert Jackson and their legal representative to see if an agreeable solution could be afforded. This conference call was held on February 27, 2014, with most of the parties and estimated disbursement amounts were agreed upon in lieu of actual disbursement records.”
After reading that I was curious about two things. First, I could hardly believe I was reading that people were actually allowed to sit around and verbally recall what happened to as much as $19,500— “in lieu of receipts” as the letter says. And I was equally curious to know whether anyone had created a written document at that meeting detailing what they claim the money was used for. So I began to attend NCIF meetings and put that simple question to them. I asked several times whether there was a written document showing where the $19,500 went. I was told by the secretary Mildred Joseph that yes, such a document did exist and she gave me a file number which supposedly would give me that document. But no such document was on file at the Clerk of Court. In April of this year, I returned to the quarterly NCIF meeting and told the foundation this. At last, Chairman Walker stood up and admitted that such a document did not in fact exist. After months of trying to get my hands on a document I was told was on file, that was for me an eye opener.
Now NCIF had dropped another bomb. At the July 12 quarterly meeting I asked Mr. Walker when we the public could expect to have this information put in document form. He then admitted that the foundation didn’t know what actually happened to the money and added that the bank is searching for records. Walker said when they find out what happened to the funds, he’ll let me know. But here’s the problem. First, this new statement seems to totally contradict the information in the auditor’s letter. In that letter I quoted, remember it says that they agreed on most of the disbursement amounts “in lieu of actual disbursement records.” The letter gives the impression they verbally decided on where the money went. Yet, now the foundation is saying it doesn’t know where the money is. Which is correct?
This poses several other troubling questions as well. In the first place, why was the foundation allowed to recall “through memory” where $19,500 was spent? Did Judge Harrington agree to this or not? Does that mean that now organizations that handle public money can lose track or mishandle funds and then just sit around and recall what they did with the money and somehow that’s good? What kind of precedent does that set? Is that right? Is that legal?
Next question: why did NCIF tell me there was a written document showing where the $19,500 was spent when in fact apparently that was not the case by their own admission? And how do you spend almost $20,000 of the public’s money in the first place and not have receipts, finding yourself in the position of having to ask the bank to tell you what you did with the funds? Weird? Outrageous? Seems that the foundation should know what it did with those funds regardless of what the bank says or finds through its research. I’m not sure what the rules are for banks keeping records in the first place, but it’s odd and concerning that this merry go round is happening and there is zero accountability from so many parties involved and again, for a quite large amount of public money which seems to have disappeared Houdini style—POOF! What indeed is going on here?
NCIF is in the midst of reforming its practices and is doing a good job in some areas. At the July meeting they announced they gave out more scholarships and aided the Natchitoches Council on Aging. But their consultant pointed out to the board, their responsibility for keeping financial records on file too. That got my attention. They were told about the laws regarding keeping accurate records. Yet, to comply with that directive, they’ve to deal with the 900 pound gorilla in the room: the mishandled $19,500 which they have not adequately accounted for.
Again after months and months of asking, I ask again, what happened to $19,500 in public funds? And when will we the people, the public at long last see written documentation verifying where specifically that money went?
“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Jesus Christ speaking in The Book of John 8:32