By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
In the last article, I wrote that a local children’s group that helps children with learning disabilities had applied to the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF) for a grant for $50,000, but the foundation gave them only $10,000 (See this column for Natchitoches Parish Journal dated July 1, 2021). That organization is called Children Overcoming Learning Disabilities (COLD). At the July 13th quarterly meeting, COLD appealed the grant, explaining their plans and why they needed more funds to make an impact in the Natchitoches Community. After their presentation, NCIF Treasurer Oswald Taylor suggested giving them the full $50,000. But due to technical issues, the board decided instead to revise the grant from $10,000 to $23,000. However, getting there took quite a debate. Leo Walker, who acts as chair (despite being 1 year over his term limit), suggested other options such as having COLD link up with the Boys and Girls Club. But Board Members Taylor and Rene Porter disagreed with Walker and reminded the board that it is important to help local groups. Mr. Porter mentioned the importance of helping “our” children. He did not specify who the “our” is, but both board members pushed the idea of doing more to help organizations that improve Natchitoches. Board Member Brenda Milner also supported giving more funds. Walker seemed the least interested in increasing funds, but the momentum to give more money simply won the day. It was kind of a breakthrough moment as it was the first time I have seen so many board members push back against the very-much in control Mr. Walker.
The whole incident was both interesting and instructive. Seems to me, that it showed that consistent public involvement will make a big difference in curing the various ills afflicting NCIF. In the last article, I mentioned that the grant offered to COLD was much too small and that in general NCIF is giving away not nearly enough money to the Natchitoches Community considering the fact that this money was designated for people living in the town of Natchitoches in the first place. And also, the fact that the foundation has over 2 million dollars to give away and in a community with many needs. All that money has been designated to go to citizens living in Natchitoches. So, it was good to see a grant recipient push back on the stingy, low funding and then manage to successfully get more money. The incident revealed that the board can make better decisions when there is real debate. It also showed, quite honestly, that NCIF can operate without allowing the chairman to violate the bylaws in order to remain on the board. In other words, they can operate well without the strong-willed Mr. Walker. Stepping down as he is supposed to according to NCIF bylaws, would actually be in the best interest of the group and the citizens of Natchitoches as well. The board is changing as older members leave and new people come on board with fresh thinking, not bound to the past. The newer members tend to be more independent, open minded and usually more in favor of giving larger, healthier grants (but not always). One thing is crystal clear: It’s past time for Walker to let go and step down from the chairman’s seat which he is clinging to in violation of NCIF bylaws. But beyond violating term limits, Walker often makes odd decisions. For instance, in the meeting, he said that the new members just voted on to the board will be trained and then asked if they want to be on the board. Usually, at most organizations, it’s the other way around— you vote people on to the board first and then train them. Ex-board member Sylvia Morrow was present and also thought that was a strange process. “When I was on the board we did not do it that way.” Morrow mentioned she had not heard of the process Walker mentioned. She also did not like the fact that in the meeting, Secretary Mildred Joseph got up and left the meeting before it was finished– while members of the public were speaking during the public comment section. In the meeting and afterwards, Morrow asked how Joseph could take minutes when she left before the meeting was done? She said this to the board, but got no response.
The turnout was better than usual. Public input and your prayers are paying off. But much needs to still be changed. The two main issues are: 1) The foundation needs to remove the senseless cap it has placed on annual grants and scholarships and give much larger grants based on merit of the applicant. That increased funding will help Natchitoches improve much faster. For instance, instead of giving the Boys and Girls Club just $10,000 a year for 3 years ($30,000 total), why not give them $30,000 a year for three years? Aren’t our kids worth at least that? 2) As I have said a few times in this article and don’t mind saying again: Board members need to respect the bylaws and term limits and do things decently and in order. The public deserves transparency. How is it not hypocritical that they can deny grants based on technicalities then turn around and allow Walker to violate court approved bylaws by remaining chairman one year past his term limit—serving seven years in a six-year term? Following the rules selectively sets a bad precedent. If you are going to run a fair, professional foundation, should anyone be allowed to be above the rules? Walker or anyone else? The successful appeal by COLD shows that getting more money into the hands of citizens in Natchitoches requires public involvement. It simply works. Maybe that is why the first words in the U.S. Constitution are “We the People”. Attend the next quarterly meeting in October. The October quarterly meeting should be Tuesday, October 12, 2021. 7pm, at First Baptist, 1116 Amulet, Natchitoches (verify in local paper).
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Let everything be done decently and in order.” –1 Corinthians 14:40
The Natchitoches Community Improvement Board Members are: Oswald Taylor, Mildred Joseph, Gwen Antee-Hardison-Davis, Shaniqua Hoover (by phone), Gwendolyn Williams, Rene Porter, Edwin Deon Powe, De Marquis Hamilton, New members: Helen Obioha, Elton Wade, (The following are sitting on the board in violation of term limits of NCIF bylaws: Leo Walker Sr., Diane Blake Jones).
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