By Edwin Crayton
At the January 10th quarterly meeting of the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF), Leo Walker, chairman, tried to adjourn the meeting before the public had an opportunity to comment or ask questions. In past meetings the public comment segment has been at the end. But when I asked Mr. Walker why the public would not be able to comment, he claimed it was because the facility (Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center) wanted them out in an hour. I asked him if that is the case, why didn’t he just tell the public that upfront and set at least a few minutes aside for public comment since it is supposed to be a public meeting and you can’t really call it a public meeting if the public can’t ask questions or give input. Walker seemed irritated by that suggestion but said he would allow me to ask one question.
I told him that allowing one question wasn’t really adequate as I had come with few questions which I took the effort to send him in advance. But nonetheless I asked the one question. I asked him why he had not responded to my certified letter asking questions about the missing $19,500 in public money that the foundation says it can’t find. Walker refused to answer the question saying he would answer it at another time, but didn’t say when that later time would occur. So really, in fact, he didn’t answer any questions at all. One woman sitting behind me gasped in disbelief at his refusal. She said, “How rude!” Later she made it clear she agreed the public should have been allowed to ask questions at the meeting.
I informed Mr. Walker that Louisiana Public Information law, Statue 44; 31-33 says that NCIF as custodian of public information is required to answer requests for information from the public. In fact the law says the public service organization that is being asked to provide information, should respond in five days after getting the letter. I wrote Mr. Walker a certified letter a solid two months prior to the meeting. The letter is dated October 29, 2015–well beyond five days. I know he received the letter because the Post Office mailed me a confirmation card. Still Walker would not respond and ignored me. Some of the other board members seemed to sheepishly acknowledge that not allowing questions was not the way it should be, but no one challenged Walker and they all went along with ending the meeting. They said they’d do better next meeting and parroted Walker by saying that the reason they could not allow questions had to do with the fact that they had to leave because the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center wanted them to go after an hour. Again, I mentioned that reasoning seemed odd to me, because even if that is so, they could have simply figured public comments into their agenda or at least warned citizens about the time issue upfront and allotted at least 10 minutes for public comments and questions. Seems reasonable. It was after all advertised In the area newspaper as a public meeting. So therefore, the public should always be allowed to have input and ask questions. And besides all that, it also doesn’t excuse Walker not answering the letter.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had problems or faced roadblocks with NCIF when I’ve asked questions about the missing public money. At one meeting last year, I was actually given bad file numbers by the secretary, Mildred Joseph that turned out not to be real. Walker apologized for that and admitted in a meeting that the file numbers /documents I was referred to were not real.
Re-printed with permission from The Real Views