By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
If you wonder how in the world an organization can have $19, 500 missing and not feel compelled to account for what happened to the money, it may help to take a look at what happened not many days ago at the January 8, 2019 meeting of the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF). As I have written previously, the foundation has admitted to not knowing what it did with $19,500 in money it manages, which is designated for the public. Yet, its current board members have also denied any responsibility for having to account for the funds. That little bit of information or insight may prove essential in helping you understand what happened when on Monday, January 8, 2019 the board gathered at First Baptist Amulet Street to fill five vacant board seats.
That night, according to the organization’s court-approved bylaws, the following board members were supposed to go off the board because their terms have expired: Chairman Leo Walker, Vice President Kelvin Porter, Board Members Diane Blake Jones, Billy Sue Johnson and Ed Ward Jr. Section 3.3 of the organization’s bylaws which talks about term limits says, “A director may succeed himself, but for only two consecutive terms, a director must vacate his position for at least one (1) year before seeking re-election to another term.”
But vacating positions is not what actually happened. Chairman Walker and Vice President Porter told the board that most of the citizens who applied to fill those five vacant seats on the board did not meet the criteria to be a board member. Although Porter mentioned that one or two did not live in Natchitoches, neither he or Walker went into real details about all the applicants. For one thing I don’t’ remember them going over each application with the members. However, two new people were approved to sit on the board: Dionte Powe and DeMarquis Hamilton. It was also reported that two long time board members had decided to resign from the board: Estelle McGill and Catherine Hoover. Then, Porter nominated one of the new members: DeMarquis Hamilton to succeed Walker as chairman. But Chairman Walker objected, saying that because Hamilton was new it would be unfair to put him in the chairman’s position. Board Member James Below seemed interested in the chairman’s role, but nothing came of that. So the board decided that with the exception of Powe and Hamilton, they had no other qualified applicants for the board in general and in their logic, this meant they could as a result, allow the five members whose terms had expired to “temporarily” remain in their positions until replacements can be found. Expired Board Member Diane Jones claimed that their training from the Rapides Foundation advised that I was alright to do so. I don’t remember anyone citing or referring to the bylaws on this issue. The board claimed they needed to allow the board members with expired terms to remain because no qualified applicants were available and that if they didn’t allow the expired members to stay “temporarily”, they would not have enough members to conduct business. The word “temporary” is in quotation marks because the board meets quarterly, only four times a year and that means these expired members will be in their positions for at least three months. Not very temporary is it?
I did have a copy of the bylaws with me and I pointed out to the board that it appears the bylaws don’t actually give them permission to do what they did. In other words, the bylaws do not specifically say that the board can let board members with expired terms remain on the board at all. And as best I could determine in reading, it also doesn’t give permission to allow expired members to serve until they find a successor for a vacating board member.
There are several practical reasons for concern over “temporarily” allowing these expired board members to continue. One main reason is that NCIF does not widely advertise their meetings or openings on the board. Actually, think about it. When was the last time you saw an advertisement or announcement in the media about a NCIF meeting or openings? So will they really do a good job of letting the public know about the openings and do so in an efficient, timely manner? Or will it drag out for months, allowing these expired members to possibly even stay on the board basically another year unofficially? Secondly, there seems to be a lack of transparency when the people voting for the officers and the people running for the office are the same people. It’s like being in charge of the election for your city or state and also running for office—all at the same time. In fact, it’s exactly that. Thirdly, why didn’t the board present documents introducing each applicant and why he or she was rejected? At an election such detail isn’t tedious, indeed, it is essential to ensure fair play and transparency. But truth is, much of what doesn’t work at NCIF is the result of faulty bylaws and a lack of good oversight and supervision which has resulted in NCIF board members having too much control without adequate checks and balances on what they do– in order to protect the public. And that includes the error of the current process that lets the board members choose their successors. In other words, to put it bluntly, human nature being what it is, it just does not work to allow people to choose their successors and then to advertise and run the election too. And it doesn’t work to allow any organization to operate without consequences, corrections or penalties when they do odd things like allow members to remain on the board even after their term expires, or for that matter it also doesn’t work to allow that organization to end up not having to account for what they did with $19,500.
But on the upside, despite the tendency of senior board members to cling to their positions (most of the expired members have been on the board for much of its 15 years), the good news is that new blood is still getting on the board and that can bring new ideas and hopefully better service for the public. Two new members coming on and two long time members going off has potential to give birth to fresh thinking. Like the New Year, t’s time to ring in the new. And yet, I’m not too hopeful as NCIF has shown a reluctance to follow rules or change and it has taken lawsuits, complaints, prayers and court orders to force the changes we have now. But thanks to God change is still happening.
At any rate, five seats are still in need of filling. If you are interested or would like to nominate someone, here are the qualifications. According to the bylaws, Section 3.2 says, “The Board of Directors of the Corporation shall be composed of 15 individuals. In order to be eligible to serve as a member of the Board of Directors, the individual must be 21 years of age and a domiciliary and full time resident of the City of Natchitoches, Louisiana. No person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of any state shall be eligible to serve as a member of the Board of Directors.”
The Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation Board of Directors are: James Below, Gwen Ante Hardison Davis, Brenda Milner, Shaniqua Hoover, Oswald Taylor, Gwendolyn Williams, Mildred Joseph, Renee Porter, Dionte Powe, and DeMarquis Hamilton, These members are still on even though their terms have expired: Leo Walker, Ed Ward Jr., Diane Blake Jones, Kelvin Porter, and Billy Sue Johnson.
You cannot serve both God and money. –Matthew 6:24.