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'You're in between': Cantrell accuses WWL-TV of stopping city program

But an attorney representing FTNO’s original board said accounts were frozen because of the Inspector General's subpoena.

NEW ORLEANS — Mayor LaToya Cantrell responded Tuesday to a WWL-TV investigation of Forward Together New Orleans, a nonprofit she created, by blaming the TV station for the FTNO’s inability now to pay for a city youth workforce training program.

But Dana Henry, an attorney representing FTNO’s original board of directors, said it was a subpoena issued by the New Orleans Inspector General on Sept. 9 seeking FTNO’s financial records that caused the nonprofit to freeze its own bank account, preventing it from paying bills to run city programs.

One program is Earn and Learn, a workforce development program that will use $505,310.40 in city money to pay 125 young people a stipend while using a U.S. Labor Department grant to retrain them for new jobs.

At a news conference Tuesday, WWL-TV asked Cantrell if the participants will get their stipends.

“Absolutely they will,” Cantrell said. “But you know what? You're in between. You're in between that young person and that stipend that they deserve and they're putting in the work to receive.”

Henry said WWL-TV’s investigation did not cause FTNO’s accounts to be frozen. He said FTNO’s original board chair and treasurer, Kathleen Kennedy and Eric Griggs, decided to freeze the organization’s account until after the inspector general’s investigation.

But Cantrell argued it was WWL-TV’s investigation that needed to be completed before Earn and Learn participants could receive stipends.

Here’s the exchange between me and Cantrell after she said I was “getting in between that young person and that stipend”:

DH: Were you accusing me of causing this to stop? I mean, the IG gave that subpoena, not me.

Cantrell: I did not. I did not accuse you, sir, of anything. What I did say is that you are investigating it, are you not?

DH: Yes.

Cantrell: Exactly. That's what I see. So as soon as your investigation -- because you know how this works, when things are investigated, things stop, right? -- but when we're able to clear that path after the investigation is over, that's when we will get back to the business at hand, meeting our young people where they are, because the needs are great.

The mayor did credit WWL-TV with explaining the city’s social welfare programs FTNO supported by raising millions of dollars in private donations. Those programs included aid for immigrants, gun-violence prevention and pandemic relief.

But the City Council voted unanimously in April to ask the IG to investigate FTNO after Cantrell signed agreements with FTNO Executive Director Shaun Randolph to send more than $1 million in city funds to FTNO – about half a million for Earn and Learn and about $560,000 for a violence prevention program where counselors meet with shooting victims at hospitals to try to prevent conflicts from escalating.

The battle over who is in charge at FTNO has also escalated. Kennedy, the original board chair, sent Randolph a separation agreement in August, but Randolph said it’s illegitimate because Kennedy and another board member, Silas Lee, had already approved a resolution in July to end their expired terms and seat two new board members.

Henry said the July resolution seating the new board members was not done properly under the organization’s bylaws and, therefore, never took effect.

Last week, Randolph filed official business records with the Secretary of State proclaiming himself to still be the rightful executive director of FTNO and replacing Kennedy and Griggs as corporate officers of FTNO. He also set up a new website for the nonprofit under forwardtogetherneworleans.org, separate from the FTNO.org address the organization had been using.

Henry alleged Randolph is a “rogue executive director … acting without legal authority.” He said Kennedy and Griggs are preparing to take legal action to stop Randolph from taking any actions on FTNO’s behalf or from accessing its bank accounts.

“Litigation is forthcoming to determine this guy’s legal status as executive director,” Henry said. “Whatever the judge says at the end of the day is fine. We’re tired of it.”

“I have all the paperwork, so they can go for it,” Randolph said.

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