By Edwin Crayton
In a pretty significant breakthrough, a participant in an audit conference call has come forward to help pinpoint actual dates and transactions involving $19,500 in funds that have been unaccounted for by the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation, the community organization which managed that public money.
In 2014 as part of a court-ordered audit of the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF), Auditor Mark Thomas wrote a letter to Judge Eric Harrington, revealing that $19,500 was unaccounted for. Although NCIF has also admitted the funds are indeed unaccounted for, it has never given any kind of explanation to the public.
In the letter and documents accompanying this article, (see paragraphs 4 and 5 of letter) the auditor says he set up a conference to discuss that audit. A participant in that meeting has stepped forward to comment on that conference call: Robert Jackson Sr. who was involved in the suit against NCIF is listed on the letter (see paragraph 5 of letter visual). I spoke to Mr. Jackson. He says, “The auditor said there was no paperwork to account for the money. He pointed out that two transactions on 12/26/03 (transferring $16,000) and 1/15/04 (transferring $3,500) were the unaccounted for $19,500 in funds he was referring to in the letter.” (See document showing transactions from December 19, 2003- December 31, 2013)
This is very important and really moves the story a step forward because it shows dates and amounts of transactions involving the missing funds. Jackson’s statements hold weight and credibility for two key reasons. First, he was a major figure involved in legal action at the time and is listed in the letter document itself as being involved in the conference call with the auditor. And secondly, his comments match and apparently are backed up by what the documents show and even how the letter describes the funds in paragraph five. The letter says, “They were transferred prior to March 31, 2004” and sure enough, the two transactions meet that timeframe and total $19,500. They are also the only figures in the financial data sheets that fit his description in terms of dates and amounts. The documents also show that both transactions were wired (see spread sheet).
Based on Mr. Jackson’s statement and the letter and spread sheets, we now know, that apparently, the money was transferred within a few weeks really in 2003 and 2004. According to the bylaws of NCIF, only two of the following foundation officers have authority to conduct financial transactions: the president, secretary or treasurer. Naturally, I’ve tried to find out who was president, secretary and treasurer during that time period, but NCIF claims not to know who was in those positions for that period. Indeed, even the auditor commented that the foundation had few records.
It seems the senior members of the board are suffering from a kind of financial memory loss. Only one former NCIF official has admitted to being involved at vice president or higher level at that time period: Vincent Cofield was vice president and has told me so. But according to the bylaws he would have had no authority to handle money, nor is there any evidence that he ever did. The only longtime member of NCIF on record for once having held the president’s office is Edward Ward Jr. who resigned in 2014. However it is unclear when he began his term as the foundation went through a very loose period when there were no regular elections—at least none recorded, hence, one reason Jackson and John Winston took them to court. Regular elections are being held now.
Taking a step back, it’s true that no one will probably go to jail over any of this, bothersome as that is. In fact, it’s not clear to me if it’s criminal. But it is clear that it is wrong. And so, it’s very important to sort out what happened to these funds or to start getting explanations of some kind for several very important reasons. First, not doing so sets a dangerous precedent for the Natchitoches Community. Second, we do live in a democracy and so in a democracy, the public has a right to know (and be informed in writing), what is happening to any public funds, particularly when money is unaccounted for—particularly for as much as $19,500 at that. Again, keep in mind that the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation has never once issued a statement to the public to explain anything. Neither has any authority or public official made any attempt to explain to the pubic why it’s alright for $19,500 to go unaccounted for. I wish they would, because I would like to know officially why it’s okay for $19,500 to disappear or go unaccounted for with no questions asked and we, the public, are somehow supposed to be good with that. What law or rule allows that? Remember that when you vote for public officials by the way.
Doesn’t this erode public confidence in public service bodies when money is mishandled and there is zero accountability? Such erosion of public trust makes people hesitant to spend money investing in needs such as community roads or schools and even weakens their willingness to pay taxes when there is no assurance money will be handled in the right way. And also, shouldn’t we wonder if lack of accountability in this situation will embolden the wrong people and send the wrong message? If it does, you can expect more situations like this in the future.
Thank God for this breakthrough. But God willing, the questions need to continue, because there is no statute of limitations on the truth.
The Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation Board members are: Leo Walker Jr., Oswald Taylor, Kelvin Porter, Brenda Milner, Ed Ward Jr., Gwen Hardison, Mildred Joseph, Shaniqua Hoover, Billye Sue Johnson, Gwendolyn Williams, Catherine Hoover, Diane Blake Jones, James Below Jr., and Estelle Braxton (Note: Treasurer Sylvia Morrow resigned, so there is a vacancy to be voted on at the next board meeting which is the second Tuesday in April at 7pm at Martin Luther King Recreation Center.)
“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed,”
State Senator Gerald Long 318-628-6120, firstname.lastname@example.org