By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
In July when I showed up for the quarterly meeting of the Natchitoches Community Improvement (NCIF), I was greeted by a sign that had been posted on the door saying the meeting was canceled due to Covid concerns. I am glad I photographed that sign because it is a rare artifact: a piece of paper from NCIF. That’s because the foundation rarely documents anything. That unfortunate habit is one reason they cannot account for $19,500 a 2014 auditor’s report said was unaccounted for. To this very day, those funds have yet to be accounted for—the foundation has yet to tell what specifically happened to the money. In fact, Leo Walker, acting chairman admitted as much when he said that they did not know what happened to the money. https://natchitochesparishjournal.com/2018/01/12/foundation-claims-it-has-no-responsibility-to-help-public-learn-what-happened-to-missing-19500/
Even the auditor, Thomas, Cunningham CPA’s said in the firm’s auditor’s report that when they contacted the foundation, they “had few records.” It does not appear that NCIF has learned much from that experience because at every meeting since then, treasurers have given verbal, instead of written financial reports for a treasury that is now over 2 million dollars. For instance, at the April quarterly meeting, Treasurer Oswald Taylor read the figures from the brokerage and bank accounts out loud and people on the board as well as members of the public had to scramble to write down what he said. Is that any way to manage 2 million of money designated for the public? What’s wrong with putting financial data on paper the way other organizations do? The foundation is also supposed to have an audit every three years. But I found no evidence that they have had one since 2014. I asked Secretary Mildred Joseph and she said an audit is in the works. But it’s been in the works before and nothing happened. In fact, I wrote a story in the Natchitoches Parish Journal on January 1,2019 in which the foundation claimed it would have an audit performed and as best I could determine, that has yet to occur. See link:
Violation of rules is a persistent problem at NCIF. All three top officers: Leo Walker, the chairman, Oswald Taylor, treasurer, and Mildred Joseph, the secretary, are holding on to their seats one year past their term limits in clear violation of the foundation’s bylaws. And so is board member Diane Blake Jones. These four should have stepped down no later than January of 2022 as each was on the board in 2015 (seven years) and no board member can serve more than six consecutive years. Not only is their refusal to step down a violation of court-approved bylaws, it also prevents legitimate citizens from being able to serve in seats that should be available right now. These are volunteer positions after all. And any citizen who is 17 or older and lives in the city limits of Natchitoches is eligible to serve and has a right to.
Actually, the term limits violations are based on the board members being on the board since 2015 because that is when the revised bylaws were signed by a district judge. However, three board members—Walker, Taylor, and Jones— have been on the board since 2003. That means each of them have been on the board for a whopping 19 years. Obviously, it is way past time for them to step down and allow other community residents to serve. Especially since they only have to stay off the board for 12 months. And they can’t seem to bring themselves to do that. That fact and the manner in which this organization is run is why I maintain perhaps we need to have state laws regulating nongovernment organizations that handle money that is designated for the public. Anyone who handles money for the public should be accountable to the public. Period. These funds are settlement funds that were awarded to all people who live in the city of Natchitoches in a suit against Tennessee Gas after a spill involving PCBs in Sibley Lake. That means you if you live in the city of Natchitoches.
Experience has taught me that the best option for the people of Natchitoches is to become involved and attend meetings. All democracies require public input in order to keep things in order and fair. The foundation needs to know that the people of this town care and are paying attention. Do you? Are you? Simply attending meetings will make a difference. You do not even need to speak or do anything but sit, listen and become informed about what is happening with your money. Any time members of the public have become involved through filing suits or by making grant requests, things have improved. But more needs to be done. These funds can do a lot of good for Natchitoches, a community with a high poverty rate and many other needs. As I was writing this article, someone told me a heart-wrenching encounter they had with two little boys who obviously needed food but who tried to hide the fact. It will be getting colder soon and when it does, it will not be uncommon to see people begging for help paying to keep the lights and heat on. The irony is, this money we are talking about is their 2 million dollars. When the funds are managed right and the board members play by the rules—stepping down when their terms are up, being transparent, we can actually help these people and many others. Right now, however, the money is basically sitting in accounts somewhere, and very, very little gets to the people of Natchitoches. I was thinking about this one day, it occurred to me it is like someone buying a big chicken dinner with all the trimmings for a hungry person, but then, the cook only gives them a chicken wing. Give them the whole bird, and do it now. The last quarterly meeting of the year should be Tuesday, October 11, at 7 pm, at First Baptist Church, Amulet. It is a meeting that is open to the public. Let’s not fool ourselves. Things will not change unless we the people change them. Hope to see you there.
“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”-James 4:17
“Lamentably, it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.” -Martin Luther King Jr. writing in his book, Why We Can’t Wait.
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