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West End TIF leader backs bill that could remove Louisville NAACP from board

Homes along a sidewalk.
J. Tyler Franklin
Homes line Louisville's Russell neighborhood in 2017, one of several communities that the West End Opportunity Partnership is looking to revitalize.

A Kentucky Senate bill aims to create new procedures for the West End Opportunity Partnership. The interim leader of the Louisville organization said it would help enforce rules that the city’s NAACP branch isn’t following, with the ability to expel members from the board.

In 2021, Kentucky lawmakers approved the creation of the West End Opportunity Partnership. The organization oversees a tax-increment financing, or TIF, district in an area of Louisville mostly made up of historically Black neighborhoods.

As WEOP hosts public feedback meetings through April, a group with longstanding ties to civil rights issues could soon leave the partnership’s board, which directs how to use millions in funding.

Senate Bill 259, filed last week, would amend a statute regulating the WEOP board, giving it the power to change how board members are chosen. Organizations that don’t comply with new rules would lose their spot on the board.

Gov. Andy Beshear initially appointed the board members from seven local organizations, including the Louisville branch of the NAACP.

The new bill would require each of those organizations to submit at least two people for WEOP leadership to choose from when their current term expires. Board members are allowed to serve two consecutive terms.

Laura Douglas, WEOP’s interim president and CEO, said Monday that she advocated for the bill’s creation to enforce a bylaw that the board approved in September of last year. She described the bill as a way to codify the board’s new nomination rule, which she said the Louisville NAACP has refused to follow because they’ve only submitted one nominee.

“Anyone who serves on our board, just like anyone who serves on any other board, has a fiduciary responsibility to put the interests of our organization first,” said Douglas, asserting that the bylaw would better help the partnership succeed.

WEOP interim executive administrator Rita Phillips said in an email Monday that only two board member organizations have had terms expire since the bylaw was adopted: Republic Bank and the Louisville NAACP.

Sen. Denise Harper Angel, a Louisville Democrat sponsoring SB 259, said in a text Monday that Douglas asked her to file the bill. She’s a member of the Senate’s state and local government committee, which the bill was assigned to on Monday.

Jeana Dunlap is the Louisville NAACP’s current representative on the WEOP board. She said Monday that she’s been heavily involved during her first term and helped set procedures for recruiting West End residents to the board.

She said neither WEOP staff nor other board members have approached her about any issues they have with her, and that she doesn’t know why the bylaw was introduced.

Dunlap and a few other board members said they were not consulted about the bill before it was filed.

“I think it would be very unfortunate if the NAACP was removed from the board for something as minor as, I guess, not following a procedure [whose] origins [are] somewhat questionable,” Dunlap said.

Louisville NAACP president Raoul Cunningham said Monday that he thinks the bylaw and bill were made to specifically remove Dunlap from her spot on the board, over questions she’s raised about the board’s procedures and responsibilities.

He said Douglas, of WEOP, asked him not to reappoint Dunlap because she was disruptive.

Douglas did not respond to emailed questions Tuesday about conversations she’s had with Cunningham.

Cunningham said Monday that Dunlap was his organization’s most qualified representative for the board, and they won’t submit a second option. He added that he would recommend to Louisville NAACP leadership that they withdraw from WEOP, rather than forfeit their membership, if the bill becomes law.

“If… the majority of the [WEOP] board disagrees, they’ve got a right to disagree and vote against… whatever that person says. But I do not think that they have a right to appoint who represents the various organizations,” Cunningham said.

Douglas said Monday that having more representatives for WEOP to choose from would help its mission, even if the options weren’t dramatically different.

“It just gives the board better opportunity to select someone who is going to be the best fit,” she said.

Under a current statute, the board would be required to replace the Louisville NAACP with another organization that works with the West End.

In 2021, two members resigned from WEOP board positions representing the Louisville Urban League and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Louisville Branch.

Phillips, with WEOP, said in an email Monday that three of the board’s 21 seats are currently vacant, including a spot for a financial institution previously meant for the Federal Reserve Bank.

This story has been updated.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.

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