By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
Seven simply does not go into six. That’s a lesson most of us learned in elementary school math class. Apparently, it is a lesson that is not clear to all of the board members of the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF). I say that because according to their bylaws, section 3.3 clearly says that no member can serve more than six years consecutively (see visual). Yet, as you can see from the tax document accompanying this article, when the bylaws were approved by the judge in 2014, Leo Walker was chairman (see visuals). When they filed tax papers the following year, 2015, he was still the chairman (see visual). In 2022, he is still sitting in the chairman’s seat. That means he’s been on the board no less than seven years consecutively. A clear violation of the bylaws.
At the October 2021 quarterly meeting, Walker said he would step down in 2022. But he did not keep that promise. He chaired the January 11, 2022 meeting and when I pointed out that simply by doing so, he was in violation of the organization’s bylaws it was clear that he does not intend on resigning. However new board member Helen Obioha reminded Walker that he did in fact say he would resign. She asked, “Mr. Walker, why don’t you set a date for your resignation so we do not have to revisit this every meeting?” Walker had no reply.
Why does this matter to you? It matters because the money NCIF manages is not their money. It is yours, the public—all 2.4 million dollars. You see, the money exists because it is money from a settlement resulting from a pcb spill in the late 1990s. The court ordered that the funds be given to people living in the city of Natchitoches and distributed in the areas of education, housing, recreation and economic development. So, in other words, what we have here is an unauthorized chairman overseeing 2. 4 million dollars of your money. That seems to me to suggest that when someone is denied a grant or scholarship, they may have a legitimate gripe because the chairman who denied the grant applicant is sitting in violation of bylaws approved by the court. Could this lead to suits?
More vitally important, from a purely human and spiritual perspective, it just isn’t fair or spiritually healthy. By allowing Walker or any board member to overstay their terms, NCIF is also denying the Democratic process to work and in fact, denying legitimate members of the community an opportunity to serve their community by joining the board. I do not think you would be wrong to say a board seat is being held hostage. I put the moral question to Mr. Walker who is a pastor of a church. I pointed out to him that he was wearing a baseball cap that said “Jesus Christ”. I reminded him that Jesus taught us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. I asked if as a minister he thought holding on to his seat and denying others a chance to serve was something he would want done to him. He did not answer.
When anyone managing funds that belong to the public is allowed to place themselves above the law, the public suffers. Allowing two sets of rules: one for the powerful and another for the rest of us, means there are no rules. All night, NCIF members referenced their rules to make decisions on who gets money and who does not. But when it came to themselves, they relied on a different standard—a double standard—and conveniently disregarded their own rules when those rules required something of them that they did not chose to do. The truth is, it is hard to believe Walker was serious about resigning or that NCIF in general is really trying to hold elections to allow citizens to have a fair shot at serving. I say that because that night I glanced down at the agenda and I observed that it did not even mention elections, resignations or ways to get more members from the general public to join the board. Also, that night, Walker and the board made plans to have new photos taken of themselves. Such photos usually end up in new grant brochures for the upcoming year. If Mr. Walker really planned to step down, why take such a photo? How can this foundation ever seriously fulfill the court’s mandate that they give all of this money to the people of Natchitoches when they consistently commit acts that freeze citizens out of the process. And why do they not even respect something as basic to good governance as term limits? It’s about transparency.
I’ll say it again. The bottom line is, this money is for the public and can do a lot of good in an area that has no shortage of people suffering from illness, lack of opportunity and real poverty, Add to that: Covid, financial distress, unemployment and other issues. But in order for this money to be used in the most effective ways possible, it has to be handled fairly. To be frank, the way NCIF often handles these funds is precisely why the money trickles down to the public, when it should be flowing to them, strongly impacting the lives of the citizens of Natchitoches.
Sadly, some NCIF board members have bought into an odd kind of logic or excuse that they should allow term limit violations because they can’t find people to fill the seats. The truth is there are many people in Natchitoches who are capable of filling their seats. And when those violating term limits step down, those people will appear and fill the seats. Then the legitimate members on the board will be able to run a clean, open-minded recruitment and election process that will open up the board to all the people in town and the public will step forward once the path is clear and they know they have a fair shot and a good team on the board that does things decently and in order. But the current leaders have to realize that they are not the only ones who can do the job. To understand that will require humility and the ability to let go. It also takes a “servant’s” heart. These qualities are also known as “good leadership”. At long last, for fairness, for the good name of Jesus, and for the sake of the people of Natchitoches, Mr. Walker, step down.
“Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
-Lord Acton. A 19th Century British politician
“Let everything be done decently and in order.”
-1 Corinthians 14:40
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Letter from a Birmingham jail, April of 1963)