The Northshore Community Foundation is recently in the news with regard to a controversial “Bike-Share” program supported by St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister. The Foundation wants each municipality to pay $25,000 for a feasibility study costing $170,000, paid to a firm in Baton Rouge (Bantam Strategy Group). The mayors of Abita Springs and Mandeville are enthusiastic, and Covington Mayor Mike Cooper referred to the idea having merit. According to Bob Warren of nola.com, “Bantam Strategy Group will eventually do the feasibility study”, so it’s not a question of if, but when. And, even if the $170,000 study is conducted, there is no guarantee that the program will even be implemented.
The controversy, as reported in The Advocate, is that there are three businesses in the parish that rent bikes, and municipalities are being asked to contribute to an out of town firm that will not only be in direct competition to existing businesses, but also appears to have an existing relationship to the Northshore Community Foundation. The St. Tammany Parish Tourist Commission refused to provide any funding for the study, citing state law with regard to the commission: “The commission shall not exercise any function which results in competition with local retail businesses or enterprises.”
Considering a role of municipalities is to encourage, support and represent local business, this law should also apply to municipalities: “the (city) shall not exercise any function which results in competition with local retail business or enterprises.” If this sentiment is not already on the books for the City of Covington, then here is the suggestion, for whatever it’s worth.
Where is the CBA in all of this? Considering that the Covington Business Association states on their website that they “represent and advance the interest of local businesses”, there is an obligation on the part of the organization to prepare a statement in support of Patrick Brooks, who is a current CBA board member, and Brooks’ Bike Shop, a business which rents bicycles on the trace. With regard to the Parish Government, rather than presume that something is going to happen, the correct approach is to talk to the existing businesses before hand. Brooks presented a similar idea (to be funded by him) several months prior, and was told “no” by the Parish.
So what exactly is the Northshore Community Foundation? In the spirit of transparency as a public charitable trust, the NCF posts financial reports and IRS returns on their website. As usual, the disclosure of this information just leads to more questions. The NCF’s 990, 990T and 926 Redacted Federal Tax Return Form may be found at their website (northshorefoundation.org).
According to Grantspace.org, organizations considered public charities are not required to publicly disclose names and addresses of contributors. From the start, if Bantam Strategy Group contributed anything to NCF, the public would never know because the information is redacted. The document shows that NCF held net assets of $16,372,556 in 2014. Why do they need money to conduct a study for the tiny sum of $170,000?
Listed as “Supported Organizations” is the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. According to IRS.gov, “A supporting organization is a charity that carries out its exempt purposes by supporting other exempt organizations, usually other public charities. This classification is important because it is one means by which a charity can avoid classification as a private foundation, a status that is subject to a more restrictive regulatory regime.”
The NCF owns 1,000 Shares Hornbeck Offshore Services, Inc, 1,534 Shares Hancock Horizon, and 169.1891 Shares Walt Disney Co. BRAF Investment Pool is listed under “Investments – Other Securities” – $13,561,270, which would seem to indicate “Baton Rouge Area Foundation”. The section “Statement of Activities Outside of the United States” lists Central America/Caribbean Investments totalling $3,954,540. The section “Grants and Other Assistance” lists the City of Covington awarding a $95,300 grant to the foundation, along with a non-cash award of $141,00 in Land. And another $25k?
What is unsettling is that all this suggests that financially, an organization named the “Northshore Community Foundation” seems to be more involved in Baton Rouge (which is where Bantam is located) and outside of the United States, rather than in St. Tammany Parish.
The concept of Local Control isn’t going away. If you support the continuation of local business, please call or email your Covington City Council representative to voice your opinion about separating corporate influence from our local government, or at the very least, supporting the local businesses in our community.
Contact Timothy Achan Gates: firstname.lastname@example.org