NEW ORLEANS -- Exactly one year after the board of a jazz orchestra run by Grammy-winner Irvin Mayfield said it would quickly pay back more than $1 million to the city’s public library support foundation, sources close to the negotiations say the two entities finally have an agreement-in-principle for the money to be returned.
Two sources tell WWL-TV that about $483,000 of the $1.03 million would be paid back in installments over five years, and the balance – about $547,000 -- would be in-kind contributions, such as fundraising concerts the Jazz Orchestra could do to raise money for the city library charity. Any balance after five years would have to be paid in cash.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office said it would be reviewing the proposed agreement in the coming weeks.
The proposed agreement appears to end a tortured review and negotiation process that began with WWL-TV’s report on May 5, 2015, exposing payments Mayfield and his business partner, Ronald Markham, directed from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation, where they were two of five board members, to NOJO, where they each make six-figure salaries.
Landrieu quickly weighed in to say the money should be returned if it wasn’t used for public libraries. Markham argued that the money was used to help build the $10 million New Orleans Jazz Market in Central City, a sleek concert venue, jazz club and bar that includes some library-related services, such as free wi-fi access, jazz records and books.
And on May 12, 2015, the Jazz Orchestra board of directors met and “unanimously chose to aggressively move forward today, return the dollars from the library foundation and immediately refocus on our mission to put jazz musicians to work, celebrate our culture, and travel the world promoting New Orleans and performing jazz music."
Audubon Nature Institute CEO Ron Forman, the NOJO board chairman, told WWL-TV that the whole amount would be paid back and quickly.
But the two organizations took most of the rest of 2015 conducting internal audits to determine how much was owed. The NOJO emerged from that process saying that none of the money was spent improperly and the two nonprofits struggled to agree on how much should be paid.
In March, Forman told WWL-TV: “There’s no doubt that we’re working on a resolution. This is a very complicated issue. It’s about whether the money was spent properly or not. The documents say the money was spent properly. The project’s a good project. We’re moving forward and trying to protect that neighborhood and the project. And we’re trying to protect two people’s reputations. At the same time, we want to resolve this issue fairly for everyone.”
Meanwhile, many library donors grew frustrated. Miles and Cal McGuire, two teenagers who raised more than $1,000 for the library foundation with a lemonade stand when they were 8 and 6 years old, said they were disappointed that at least some of the money hadn’t been paid back yet after a full year.
“It should have been set out initially, of this is what we have to do and this is when we have to do it,” said Cal, now 16. “It's just not right.”
Added Miles, 18: “Yeah. Does it take that long to get something that simple done? Really?”