My delight at passage of the millage increase for the New Orleans Public Library has been surpassed by my outrage upon reading David Hammer’s revelation in the May 6 New Orleans Advocate and on WWL television of Irvin Mayfield’s corrupt running of the public library’s foundation.
Having made substantial donations for a number of years to the New Orleans Public Library Foundation with the understanding that the funds were for the sole benefit of the library, I was shocked to learn that musician Irvin Mayfield and foundation board Chairman Ronald Markham have directed hundreds of thousands of foundation dollars to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Market.
Mayfield and Markham, president and CEO of the orchestra, have each been paid salaries in excess of $100,000, as well as to Mayfield’s publishing company. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum also has received foundation funds. Fortunately, Tania Tetlow, Tulane law professor and former chairwoman of the library board and foundation, has spoken out in response to Hammer’s reports, characterizing Mayfield’s and Markham’s activities as “a huge conflict of interest” and a violation of their fiduciary responsibility to the library.
Members of the library board are appointed by the mayor. It was Ray Nagin who replaced Tetlow as chairwoman, appointing Mayfield, who had no previous connection to or experience with libraries. Mayfield then led the board in replacing senior librarians with Rica Trigs, who was not a professional librarian, as director.
Hammer reports that in June 2012, Mayfield, then foundation chairman, and three fellow board members rewrote the organization’s articles of incorporation, expanding its mission beyond support of the library. They granted Mayfield “sole and uncontrolled discretion” to sign all agreements and contracts.
Not only those of us who have contributed to the foundation but all citizens of New Orleans deserve an explanation of why this has been allowed to happen.
Charles Brown, the director of the library, who had served as a consultant for the foundation when Mayfield was chairman, and current library board chairman Bernard Charbonnet Jr. reportedly were surprised to learn of the salaries paid to Mayfield and Markham and other aspects of the payments to the jazz orchestra.
Isn’t it the fiduciary responsibility of the director and all members of the library board to understand how contributions to the foundation are spent?
Interestingly, three positions on the library board are vacant. A thorough investigation is in order. Donors have undoubtedly received federal tax deductions for their contributions to the foundation. It would be a great shame if support for the library would decline because of distrust of the system.
retired director, Law Library of Louisiana
past president, Louisiana Library Association