By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
If you are one of those people who wonders if public pressure, complaints, lawsuits or prayers actually work, then read this article. It has evidence that they all do. For some time now, a growing number of people in this town have been trying to get the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF) to make several changes to benefit the people of Natchitoches, which would probably be routine for most community organizations. This frustration has led to complaints and even lawsuits from members of the public. One longtime complaint is that the organization has not published its minutes in the paper. That complaint was even included in a 2019 lawsuit Henry O Flipper Foundation filed against NCIF. Well, in this article you will see that the minutes of the last quarterly meeting have been published in the local paper.
Another complaint which has been around awhile is that NCIF does not give away enough money of the 1.8 million it has been court ordered to distribute to the citizens of Natchitoches. It is supposed to give grants and scholarships to citizens in areas of education, recreation, economic development and housing. Yet, on average it has given out just $28, 000 per year total. However, this year it has almost doubled that amount, to $51,000.
Although $51,000 is an improvement, it still seems like a small amount of money considering the fact that the foundation has 1.8 million, and the $51,000 will only fund two of the four categories for the year as I understand it. Also considering the needs in poverty-stricken Natchitoches a minimum of $100,000 in each category would seem more realistic. And why not fund all four categories a year? Remember, after all, this money is designated for the citizens of Natchitoches. It is therefore, money for the people. Why not just give it to them? Start by making those grants large enough to be both meaningful and impactful? With the economic stress being caused by Covid 19, these funds matter more than ever.
Another persistent complaint has been that NCIF has not had an audit since 2014, when it was revealed by CPA firm Johnson, Thomas and Cunningham that $19,500 was not accounted for. A recent lawsuit also made the point about the need for the required audit. At its last quarterly meeting on October 13, at First Baptist Amulet Street, NCIF announced that it will have that audit this year. That meeting was sparsely attended. The board barely had enough members to get a quorum. It needs 8 of its15 member to show up in order to make quorum. Only seven showed up and one attended by phone. Which highlights yet another issue: They need board members due to resignations and the passing of their vice president. Well, two members of the public showed up to “apply”. They are Helen Obidio and Elton Wade. Both are community leaders and both are interested. The response? The board told them they would contact them later. I hope so. I say that because of the additional fact that two board members of the seven present that night are holding on to seats in violation of term limits.
These latest changes show what happens when the public gets involved—even a little. In fact, think about this: I reviewed my notes and they reveal that basically every public action has led to some positive change. Even failed lawsuits against NCIF have led to the organization changing its practices. Indeed, we only know about the $19,500 because that information came out due to a suit filed by John Winston and Robert Jackson.
But more needs to be done. To be both honest and blunt, this foundation is still simply not open enough or transparent enough to give the public the wide access it deserves to these funds. The public is just not included enough in the plans and processes. For instance, look at those minutes in the visual. Notice that at the end it says, “Public comments”. But where are the actual comments from the public? They are not recorded in the minutes. That means, it is hard for the reader to hear public concerns or input and ideas. Also notice that those two citizens who showed up to try to get on the board are not even mentioned at all. Is that any way to show the public that they matter? Well, the public does matter and it is their involvement, comments, and prayers that are causing changes. Keep doing all three because, thank God, it’s working.
The Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation Board members are: Oswald Taylor, Mildred Joseph, Gwen Antee Hardison-Davis, Shaniqua Hoover, Brenda Milner, Gwendolyn Williams, Edwin Deon Powe, Renee Porter, DeMarquis Hamiliton, (the following are sitting on the board although according to NCIF bylaws, their term limits are up: Leo Walker, Diane Blake Jones).