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Emails suggest Irvin Mayfield sought more library money

Both Mayfield and Markham resigned from the Library Foundation board after WWL-TV's first story on the controversy.

NEW ORLEANS — With allegations of self-dealing still swirling around trumpeter Irvin Mayfield's redirection of money intended for the city's public libraries, newly unearthed emails from 2008 suggest that the trumpeter has tried multiple times in the past to use his public service work to make extra money.

Mayfield has kept a low profile since WWL-TV broke the news that the New Orleans Public Library Foundation — when either Mayfield or his business partner, Ronald Markham, was president — steered at least $863,000 in donations into the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, which pays both men six-figure salaries.

Mayfield recently postponed portions of an expensive promotional tour for his new coffee-table book, and the Grammy winner has cancelled several musical performances, including one that had been scheduled for Wednesday at a black-tie, invitation-only event to kick off New Orleans' 300th anniversary celebration.

That event, hosted by Chevron, was held at the New Orleans Jazz Market, a new $10 million jazz club in Central City that Mayfield described to Offbeat Magazine as "my vision." The money that Mayfield redirected from the Library Foundation paid for part of the club's cost; taxpayers kicked in another $2 million.

Both Mayfield and Markham resigned from the Library Foundation board after WWL-TV's first story on the controversy. More recently, the Jazz Orchestra's nonprofit board decided to raise private donations to reimburse the Library Foundation for all of the money it gave for the Jazz Market.

Mayfield pushed for extra money?

Mayfield has not responded to multiple email and in-person requests for interviews from WWL-TV.

But the station did interview Mayfield's predecessor as Library Foundation president, Craig Mitchell, who said that on several occasions, he had to block Mayfield from using his position on the Library Foundation to collect extra money for himself.

"It wasn't like we were getting beaten over the head with these proposals that appeared to benefit Irvin directly," Mitchell said. "But over the span of time, as I began to look at things a little harder, I began to say, 'Well, is this necessary? Is this proper? Does this make sense?'"

He said Mayfield tried to use his charm and celebrity to push questionable deals past the other library board members, and emails from March, April and May 2008 show two apparent examples.

In March, Mayfield presented the city library board with a contract to establish a New Orleans Public Library book publishing label. The proposed deal was with Better World Books, a company that had helped tremendously after Hurricane Katrina by taking thousands of donated books off the city's hands and selling them for the money the libraries desperately needed to reopen.

Emails show that the library system was eager to announce a deal, but Mitchell had questions — including about a contract provision that would establish compensation for the "New Orleans Cultural Ambassador."

Mitchell said he knew that Mayfield had been named the city's official cultural ambassador by then-Mayor Ray Nagin in 2003. Mitchell interpreted the language as an effort by Mayfield to get paid under the book label deal.

"That was the inference," Mitchell said. "Once I brought it to light it was pretty much dead. Because you could see on the surface and see that it didn't make sense."

A little more than a month later, Mayfield emailed Mitchell asking for a $4,500 advance to cover expenses for Mayfield and his Jazz Orchestra assistant, Kelly McHenry, to travel to Miami to meet with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and library officials there.

Mitchell and the New Orleans Public Library Foundation's executive director at the time, Ron Biava, balked at the high price. Mayfield responded by saying that every time he traveled "for the city as the cultural spokesperson the WTC (World Trade Center) paid for it, and the budget then was $25,000, but that was for 5 days in (F)lorence," Italy. We will be there in Miami for 5 days."

Mayfield's assistant submitted a budget for $3,175, but Biava said that was too high. In the end, Mitchell and Biava made sure Mayfield only got $2,000, the emails show.

"I'm sensitive to this as we want to make our first audited year as squeaky clean and transparent as possible," Biava wrote to Mitchell.

"At what point do you kind of draw the line and say, 'OK, we understand that you need to be resourced to do what you need to do, but at some point it gets to a point where it's a little, you know, obscene'?" Mitchell said in an interview.

Mitchell also recalled that the Library Foundation paid for Mayfield and members of his orchestra to travel to Minnesota in March 2008 and play fundraising gigs during a national library convention. Press coverage at the time praised Mayfield for his energy and dedication to raising money for the city libraries.

But Mitchell said that when Mayfield returned, he had collected a new title for himself, jazz director for the Minnesota Orchestra, and did not turn over any proceeds from the performances.

Mitchell resigned from the board in June 2008, more than two months later. Biava resigned — with Mayfield accusing him of failing to meet fundraising goals — in the fall of 2008. Both men told WWL-TV that they never saw the money from Mayfield's performances at Minneapolis' Dakota Club; Mayfield has declined to answer questions from WWL-TV about the fundraiser.

Mitchell called it "volunteer entrepreneurism," and said he got tired of always having to question the popular musician.

"Irvin's a charming guy. He's an impressive guy," Mitchell said. "So it got to a point where I got tired of butting heads, and trying to be the guy raising the flags saying, 'Hey, we got to sit down and look at this a little harder.'"

Identifying a pattern

Rafael Goyeneche, head of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said Mayfield's activities show a pattern.

"These documents seem to indicate that for Mr. Mayfield, public service comes at a price. A pretty steep price," Goyeneche said.

On top of the money Mayfield makes playing shows at the Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, touring with his bands and orchestra and running his own music production company, he makes regular salaries of $100,000 a year from his nonprofit Jazz Orchestra and $63,000 a year from the University of New Orleans to serve as artistic director of the New Orleans Jazz Institute and as a professor of professional practice.

He taught a humanities course and a music course this spring on Wednesdays, with a total of 16 students. The humanities course is called "New Orleans as Discourse," for which Mayfield brings in guest speakers to talk about the city. That class and the music class are good for 4 or 5 credit-hours a week, according to UNO's interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Kevin Graves.

Mayfield was scheduled to teach a second music course the last two semesters, but the head of the music department, Charles Taylor, said nobody enrolled in the fall class and the only student enrolled in the spring semester withdrew.

Graves said Mayfield's $63,000 salary is half for teaching and half for running the Jazz Institute, which offers the Irvin Mayfield School of Music for youth music education and teams with Mayfield's Jazz Orchestra to commission jazz pieces, run a high school jazz band festival and offer lectures.

Goyeneche said that UNO, amid serious budget constraints, should re-examine Mayfield's taxpayer-paid salary and determine whether it's cost-effective.

Mayfield's private business deals have also raised questions. Most prominently, he was a partner in a development project for the Municipal Auditorium in 2009 that was selected by then-Mayor Ray Nagin, but scuttled after city Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux found what he described as favoritism in the process toward Mayfield's group. "The terms lacked definition and appeared tailored for one bidder," Quatrevaux said.

After that, Mayfield expanded his work in the nonprofit sector. At one point last year, he was the chairman of the New Orleans African American Museum of Art, History and Culture and of TV journalist Soledad O'Brien's charitable foundation and a member of 10 other boards. O'Brien, meanwhile, sits on the board of the Jazz Orchestra.

But Mayfield stepped down as president of the New Orleans African American Museum earlier this month. Board Vice President Geoffrey Snodgrass stands by Mayfield, saying he was invaluable in helping the Treme museum — which has been closed since Hurricane Isaac damaged it — get back on the road to reopening in September 2015.

"He's just a tremendous person who's done a hell of a lot of good," Snodgrass said of Mayfield. "I don't believe that he's a dishonest individual, and his record with the community should speak for itself."

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