By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
It is not surprising that the Natchitoches Community Improvement (NCIF) often finds itself criticized for many of its controversial actions. After all, the foundation has given and continues to give critics much irresistible material with work with. For instance, it has never accounted for $19,500 which a 2014 audit revealed was unaccounted for. It currently has a “chairman” (Leo Walker) who sits in violation of the foundation’s court approved bylaws. The foundation’s own term limit rule says no one can serve more than six years in a row. Yet Walker has been in that seat seven years in a row. What is surprising however is that some of NCIF’s strongest critics were once board members of NCIF. Some of these were founding members of the group. Vincent Cofield, once an officer of the foundation recently filed a suit alleging that NCIF did not fairly handle a grant request for his current foundation Henry O Flipper Foundation (HOFF). HOFF also accused NCIF of practicing several improper procedures.
Another former board member, Billye Johnson was part of that HOFF suit and in court papers, gave testimony that was used to support HOFF’s suit against NCIF.
At the last quarterly meeting in July, Ex-Board Member Sylvia Morrow (now deceased), criticized the fact that NCIF Secretary Mildred Joseph left the meeting before it was over. Morrow asked the board how the secretary could possibly take notes when she left before the meeting was over. Later Morrow spoke to me and agreed to be quoted. She also criticized a comment by Leo Walker (the chair who is in violation of term limits). Walker had said that new members would be trained first, then asked if they wanted to be on the board. Morrow questioned that procedure and communicated to me that she had never heard of such a procedure at NCIF and that it was not that way when she was a board member (See my last article for her comments).
While ex-board member critics may not always prevail in suits or other legal actions, it seems they still tend to win their point and bring change to NCIF anyway. For instance, Cofield did not win his case, but as part of his suit he mentioned that NCIF did not print minutes in the local paper. Now they are doing that. Criticism is actually the tool that has been most effective in bringing reform to NCIF. When John Winston and Robert Jackson sued the foundation, they did not prevail technically either, but in reality, their suit sparked lots of positive changes. NCIF had to become more transparent. Elections were held in ways that opened up the doors to the public. New faces began to show up on the board. However, the foundation is obviously still not there yet, when it allows board members to cling to seats in violation of term limits and elections are not very well advertised. Neither are quarterly meetings widely promoted. After public criticism of the low grant awards, NCIF raised the total amount of annual grants from $28,000 to $51,000 (but I still believe it is much too small when you have over 2 million and that money is designated specifically for the citizens of Natchitoches).
These critics demonstrate that strong, consistent public criticism has merit and can bring positive change in ways that government officials often cannot or will not—although from time to time, judges and some government agencies have penalized or corrected NCIF. In the end, it is when NCIF hears an assertive “No” from the public, that it tends to be forced to say “Yes” to the public more often. So, stay involved and don’t be afraid to speak out. It is working.
The next quarterly NCIF meeting is scheduled for Tuesday October 12, 2021, 7pm at First Baptist Church, 1116 Amulet Street, Natchitoches.
“You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:32
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