By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
When people hear that the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF) still has not accounted for what happened to $19,500 in public funds they tend to shake their heads. When they further learn that percentage wise, NCIF has given very little of the 1.8 million that it is court ordered to give to citizens of Natchitoches, people are equally discouraged. Some may even be tempted to wonder if anything will ever change. But they need not be so discouraged, because the facts and documents show that NCIF has been forced to change some of its practices. Yes, it is still mired in controversy. Recently it was sued twice. Also recently Leo Walker and Diane Blake Jones whose terms expired in 2018 did not give up their seats in violation of term limits of the bylaws. Walker even chaired a meeting as late as January of this year. Still change has come to NCIF and will keep coming. Here is a quick review of what the foundation has been forced to change. The word forced is appropriate because the changes came only after protests, suits and spotlights cast light on their actions. Look at what happened before and after some form of public pressure and yes, prayers:
- Before public pressure: Founded in 2003, NCIF was court ordered to distribute funds from a settlement resulting from a pcb spill in Sibley Lake in the late 1990s. But few people in Natchitoches knew much about how it all. Few knew how to get grants or how to get elected to the NCIF board. After public pressure: A 2014 suit by John Winston and Robert Jackson sought to open up the elections and bring the public into the process. Although they lost the suit, they won their point and NCIF held elections in 2014 to let new members on the board and is required to continue doing so.
- Before public pressure: Few citizens knew what was happening to the settlement money. After public pressure: A 2014 audit supervised by the court revealed that $19,500 in funds were unaccounted for. Although the funds are still unaccounted for, before the audit, such information was hard to obtain if you were a member of the public. Most people seemed to have no idea about these funds until The Real Views and later NPJ reported on this and showed actual documents from that audit.
- Before public pressure and prayers: By 2016 NCIF had 1.8 million of funds that were designated to be given to the citizens of Natchitoches in the areas of education, recreation, housing and economic development. Yet it typically gave only $28,000 a year to citizens yearly and decided to only fund two areas a year. But things changed after public pressure and prayers: I know I prayed, they would open the purse strings and be more generous. God heard those prayers. Even some of the board members commented on the need to give more. This year the foundation said it would give over $50,000 this year. But it remains to be seen if that will actually happen. I have at this writing no knowledge that is has happened.
- Before public pressure: The auditor who did the audit in 2014 said NCIF kept “few records”. Transparency is very low at NCIF. Treasurer reports are verbally read. Oddly, no paper with figures is given to the public at meetings. People noticed. After its suit. NCIF was trained in 2014. Now it has become a 501 c3 organization. That means they will be required by the IRS to report their finances each year on form 990. Failure to do so will cost them their tax exempt status. That is a form of accountability. But obviously even more needs to occur.
The point is it matters when you the public get involved. Apply for grants. Attend meetings. Give feedback. It pays off. Remember, it is your money. Not theirs. But only public pressure, prayers and your involvement can force them to remember that the money really is yours. To apply for grants or for information write NCIF, P.O. Box 606, Natcitoches, LA 71458. Meetings are quarterly. (Next one according to their bylaws should be scheduled for July 14, on second Tuesday of that month usually at 7pm. Place is to be determined. Please check local papers. Write them for more information or to give comments and input.
Anyone who sees the good he should do and does not do it sins. –Book of James, 4:17, the Holy Bible