Document shows community board that is filled with term-limit violators, once proposed letting some board members keep their board seats for life

By Edwin Crayton/Opinion

The Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF) is currently being sued because some of its board members are either 1 year or 2 years over their term limit. Six members of the board are in violation. This matters to you because NCIF was court ordered to distribute money to citizens of Natchitoches. In other words, you. The six board members refuse to step down. So, on September 7, 2023, at 9am the matter will be decided in court. You may wonder, why would these six people violate term limits by a year or two, or at all. Well, a document from 2014 may provide insight on NCIF’s worldview on term limits, especially when it concerns them.

In 2014, John Winston and Robert Jackson sued the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation for a range of issues. I talked to Winston to get an eyewitness view of how this proposal came about. As I understand it, both sides in the suit were allowed to create their revised version of new bylaws and then present them to a judge, who then decided which worked best. (I need to pause to mention that the money in NCIF’s treasury came from a settlement with Tennessee Gas when that company was sued for spilling pcbs in Sibley Lake in the late 1990s. The judge approved a plan to place the money in a foundation. The foundation was charged with distributing the money to citizens through grants and scholarships. That foundation became NCIF.)

At some point when working on their revisions of the bylaws, the NCIF board proposed allowing the original plaintiffs to hold on to their seats for life. (These original plaintiffs are the most senior NCIF board members). That’s right. They proposed allowing these board members stay in their board seats for a lifetime. In one version of section 3.3, the section concerning elections, the board members from NCIF suggested in these words, “The term of office for the Original Plaintiffs shall be for life. The term of office for all other directors who are not part of the Original Plaintiffs shall be for three (3) years.” Let me clarify that this was just a proposal and that it never reached the judge, because Winston made it clear that he and Jackson killed it before it could be sent to him. Yet, just the fact that it was suggested at all may reveal something about how NCIF views term limits. Especially considering the resistance we’re now seeing as six board members refuse to step down despite being either 1 year or 2 years over their term limit. Although it’s not true of all the board members, I believe it’s hard to deny that some of the board members for some reason, won’t or can’t let go of their seats and that is particularly true of those who’ve been on the board a long time. It’s also important and fair to note that several of the current board members were not on that 2014 board. Some in fact have urged the violators to step down. But on the other hand, other so called “board members” were on that board—Leo Walker, Oswald Taylor and Diane Blake Jones—all three are violating term limits today. Considering all of this, doesn’t it seem reasonable to wonder if they working on a lifetime stay?

Winston said he actually likes the current bylaws. He said, “They’re good, except for the provision on elections. Currently when their term expires, board members have to step off the board for a year. Winston thinks that board members whose terms have expired should have to stay off the board a bit longer. He believes they should have to stay off for three years. I asked why. He reasoned, “If it was three years, you could prevent the board from succeeding itself (voting themselves back into office). And new board members would be able to establish new ideas and directions.” He added that the current bylaws are good–if the board would just follow them”. He also wants all involved to realize, “If board members use that money for their personal use, they can go to jail.” At one point he reflected thoughtfully, “They think it’s their money.” I asked why he felt that. He said, “It’s the way they shepherd it. And then, ex-board members keep coming back to get money.”

These issues and others will be decided on Thursday, September 7, 9am in the morning in a courtroom, at 200 Church Street.

“Let everything be done decently and in order.”—1 Corinthians 14:40