By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
This is an article I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write. I had hoped the four “board members” on the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF) whose terms have expired would come to their senses and graciously step down as the bylaws require them to. In fact, not only are they not stepping down, but they are now also writing checks—big ones, for thousands of dollars. Why should you care? Well, maybe because it’s your money. Literally. You see, the 2.2 Million in NCIF’s treasury has its roots in a settlement with Tennessee Gas in which citizens living in the city of Natchitoches were awarded money as part of a suit over the spill of dangerous pcbs in Sibley Lake. The Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation was created to distribute those funds in the areas of recreation, housing, education and economic development. So, in other words, that means the money is for all citizens living inside the city of Natchitoches. Although the board has awarded grants and scholarships, it has also been involved in several messy controversies and lawsuits. The current controversy involves four board members holding on to their seats past their term limits, even though this is a clear violation of the foundation’s court-approved bylaws.
As you will see by scrolling through the documents accompanying this article, Leo Walker, Diane Blake Jones, Mildred Joseph and Oswald Taylor are each one year over their terms because each has served seven consecutive years and the bylaws say no board member can serve more than six consecutive years (See bylaws visual and tax document for 2015. There are several pages, so please scroll). Each member came on the board no later than 2015, seven years ago. And yet at the quarterly meeting on April 12, 2022 at First Baptist Amulet, these four members took part in a vote to give $10,000 to LNC, an alumni organization. Nine board members were present, but if four have expired terms, that is almost half the people who voted. This fact is perhaps what inspired one new board member, Helen Obioha to ask if the transactions at the meeting were legal. Good question. She had several other good questions that night. She asked Rev. Walker if he would step down. Walker is sitting in the chairman’s seat in violation of the bylaws. She reminded him that (in October) he had said he would step down this year. Walker’s response was odd. He said, “If I said that then I lied”. Well, I was at that October 2021 meeting too, and he did say he would resign in 2022.
At the last meeting, the four board members with expired terms generally claim that the reason they are not stepping down is because they have no one to replace them and that they are looking for new board members to replace themselves. First of all, that is not a valid reason, as the bylaws do not give them or anyone else permission to stick around past their term limit for any reason at all (See bylaws visual). Secondly, take a look at the agenda from the April meeting which is also attached to this article. Did you notice that there is no mention at all of an election? And they did not discuss it at the meeting either. It is obvious they are not looking for four board members to replace themselves. That says to me, they are not trying to step down at all and will most likely probably have to be removed in order to make those four vacant seats genuinely available to the general public. The point here, is not a complicated one: NCIF needs to do things the way they are supposed to. They need to require that these four board members step down in compliance with the ruling in a district court and before a judge of the law.
What is worse is three of the four expired board members hold very sensitive positions. For instance, one of the expired board members is the treasurer, Oswald Taylor. This is a particular problem because the bylaws say, “The treasurer has custody of corporate funds and securities.” It’s your 2.2 million. Do you really want to give a person who is not supposed to be on the board that kind of control over your money? Then consider Walker, who is “acting” as president, and chairs the meetings. He directs the whole organization. He also has special privileges in terms of control of funds. Mildred Joseph “acting” as secretary keeps records of activities and meetings. She provides key documentation. It’s a big job. And yet, it’s being controlled by a person who isn’t even supposed to be on the board. Sticky. Also consider that allowing them to sit in those seats in violation, is preventing worthy citizens who have a legitimate right to those seats from serving.
By the way, the alumni organization that received the $10,000 is one that some board members have ties to. And although one or two board members recused themselves from the vote, they still participated in the discussion during the voting time. That’s problematic too, because the conflict of interest section of the NCIF bylaws says those with a conflict of interest are not supposed to even participate in the discussion during a vote on the issue in which there may be a conflict of interest.
What can you do? Can I be bluntly honest with you? It’s been my experience that when a community or government organization commits disturbing acts, it is usually hoping the public will look the other way and do nothing. The less you do, the more they do to you. It emboldens them. And that is a fact of life. These articles are meant to keep you informed. I’m grateful God has allowed them to reach a lot of people. I have generally witnessed two kinds of responses: Some people say, they did not know. However, after reading about what is happening that reasoning goes away. Once we have been informed or enlightened, don’t we all bear a responsibility as citizens to do our part to correct something in our community that is unjust? The second response is, some people ask how could this be happening? It happens when the public is out of the loop in some way. Public involvement is what changes things. As I have said several times in this article: it’s your money. In a democracy, the people are in charge. You are the real boss. Not NCIF. But you still have to exercise your rights and protect what is yours. Showing up for a public NCIF meeting is a start—even if all you do is just sit there and observe. That is effective in itself.
NCIF meets quarterly on the second Tuesday of the month. The next public quarterly meeting should be Tuesday, July 12, 2022, at First Baptist Church, Amulet at 7pm. You are allowed to attend. If 100 people will show up it would make a difference. If 50 people will show up it would make a difference. If 10 people will show up, believe it or not it would make a difference. Yes, if one person who reads this shows up it will make a difference.
The most disturbing part of the April quarterly meeting occurred at the end of the meeting, when I asked Walker a question. I pointed out that he began the meeting by praying to God and asking that the business conducted in the meeting would meet God’s approval. I asked Walker if he thought his violating term limits met God’s approval. Walker was silent. He did not answer. Then again, maybe his silence said quite a bit.
Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
-James 4:17 (New Living Version of the Holy Bible)
“The worst form of injustice is pretended justice.” -Plato