Clown Mask,” Amanda Hirsch

February 20, 2020; The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA)

The Advocate in Baton Rouge published a caution today to a local nonprofit that we thought was worth amplifying. It calls out the board of a local mental and behavioral health service provider for a lack of common sense.

The Bridge Center for Hope, which is largely publicly funded, leased a building owned by one of its board members. The board member in question did resign his trusteeship, but as the paper writes, the deal was never made public and was fully disclosed only after the Advocate made repeated requests for documents related to the deal.

The paper opines that this speaks to a level of tone-deafness that is disturbing. The editors go on to say it was a “mistake to treat the check from East Baton Rouge Parish taxpayers—$60 million over ten years—as a blank wall of a purely private transaction. It’s not.”

If nothing else, we’d remind the movers and shakers that the 1.5-mill tax passed in December 2018 is a new venture. While we are confident that the results should persuade voters to renew it 10 years hence, that cannot be taken for granted, even at this early stage.

They remind the Center’s board, after wishing it well in its important work, that its future is dependent on good will from the public.

We’d also argue one thing is critical to the success of the center, and the renewal of its tax: A public-private partnership should not be defined as the public writing a fat check, and private interests dividing up the money behind closed doors.

We certainly agree with this remonstration but would likely go even further. All nonprofits, even those without public money, should make their financials as transparent as possible—particularly when a board member is still among decision-makers even as a large expenditure that would enrich a member is being mulled. That the member in question left the board before the decision was made is something, but not nearly enough without full transparency. We would refer readers to a recent article by Vernetta Walker that explores this issue more deeply.

We laud the Advocate for its caution to the nonprofit, but would up the ante by reminding nonprofits that conflicts require the fullest of disclosures to avoid public loss of faith and trust.—Ruth McCambridge