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NAACP withdraws from Louisville's West End TIF board

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.

The Louisville chapter of the NAACP announced its withdrawal from the West End Opportunity Partnership board Tuesday.

Leaders of the historied civil rights organization said they felt they had no other option than to end their involvement with the Partnership, which manages some of the tax revenue generated by the nine neighborhoods that make up west Louisville. The Partnership is supposed to use the money to incentivize development in the West End. It was created by the General Assembly in 2021.

In a letter announcing the withdrawal Tuesday, NAACP of Louisville President Raoul Cunningham said the group could not comply with the new process for selecting board members the General Assembly approved during its most recent session. The law requires organizations to put up multiple candidates to fill their seats, ultimately letting the Partnership decide who represents them.

“The commitment to our independence is as strong today as it was in 1909,” Cunningham wrote. “That means we determine our representation which is reflective of our policies.”

Cunningham told LPM News the conflict stems from the NAACP’s decision to choose Jeana Dunlap to represent their interests on the board in 2021.

He said Dunlap was their most qualified member, holding master’s degrees in economics and public policy and administration. But Cunningham said Partnership leaders had labeled Dunlap as “disruptive” because she’s been critical of their procedures and responsibilities. He thinks WEOP leadership pushed lawmakers to change the rules around appointments specifically to push Dunlap off the board.

“She is an outspoken person,” he said.

Laura Douglas, president of the West End Opportunity Partnership, issued a statement Wednesday saying the Partnership respected the NAACP’s decision.

Douglas lobbied the General Assembly to codify the new appointment rules. She did not respond directly to detailed questions sent by email Tuesday, including Cunningham’s allegations.

In February, Douglas told LPM News that the process ensures the Partnership gets the best people on the board.

“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,” Douglas said.

This isn’t the first time the West End Opportunity Partnership has courted controversy.

Two members representing the Louisville Urban League and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Louisville Branch resigned from the Partnership’s board in 2021. And west Louisville residents filed a lawsuit against the Partnership earlier this year, alleging their structure for receiving and spending residents’ property taxes is unconstitutional.

Cunningham said he thinks the NAACP’s decision to withdraw from the board will further harm the relationship between the Partnership and residents.

“I think the NAACP represents an organization that is trusted and respected,” he said. “I think the absence of the NAACP heightens the community's distrust.”

Under state law, the Partnership’s board is now required to replace the NAACP of Louisville with another organization that works with the West End.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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