NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Board members of the 9th Ward Field of Dreams tried to explain to alumni how nearly a million dollars was spent by the group with no field to show for it. However, the claims made by the board don’t line up with responses by the National Football League and Orleans Parish School Board.
The board refused to allow FOX 8 cameras into the meeting where board members were confronted with questions on how the money disappeared and there is still no field of dreams for the community and students at George Washington Carver High School in New Orleans.
While our cameras were blocked from the meeting, our crew could hear pieces of the meeting and alumni who attended the meeting spoke about what they were told.
A joint investigation by FOX 8 and The Athletic found nearly a million dollars was raised and after ten years the field sits empty – filled with weeds. Our stories showed the nonprofit appointed convicted felon Betty Washington as executive director and paid her $5,000 a month. All totaled, she received $200,000 in salary.
At the meeting, Carver alumni told us that the board repeatedly brought up that Washington was paid as a condition of a grant with the National Football League.
In 2009, the 9th Ward Field of Dreams received a pledge of $200,000 from the NFL, the same amount the non-profit paid Betty Washington.
“That makes no sense,” Yolanda White, a 1980 Carver graduate, said. “If you’re going to get a grant from the NFL for $200,000 and then you’re going to pay someone $200,000? Why did you go after the grant?
“[Alvin Jones] said that the NFL said they are required to have somebody on the payroll,” White said.
The Athletic’s Jeff Duncan reached out to the NFL and asked if Betty Washington was required to receive a salary in order for the funding to be obligated.
The NFL responded that “The NFL nor LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) required or stipulated that Betty Washington receive a salary.”
“I am really upset,” White said when FOX 8’s Lee Zurik presented her with the NFL’s explanation. “Because then y’all [The board] stood in front of us in a meeting and told us another lie. So when [are] the lies going to stop? When is somebody going to be accountable for their actions?”
The NFL also told FOX 8 and The Athletic that the 9th Ward Field of Dreams was never paid because “[Betty Washington] never provided the required documentation and/or invoices necessary for disbursement and because we did not see any progress being made on the project.”
At the heated meeting of the board and Carver alumni, board leaders also said the Orleans Parish School Board promised the group $1.5 Million.
“They told us that was promised to them and the school board backed out,” White said.
OPSB officials said they discussed with the Field of Dreams to fund a portion of the project and that the 9th Ward Field of Dreams would raise their portion of the money before the school board would contribute their share.
“At the meeting, they did not tell us any stipulation,” White said.
The school board told FOX 8 the 9th Ward Field of Dreams never provided documents on project funding and management structure. The board said a vote to allocate the funds “was never considered by the board.”
The non-profit’s leaders also told alumni that the State of Louisiana promised funding for the project. In 2014, lawmakers allocated $1.4 Million to the 9th Ward Field of Dreams. But that did not mean the money was guaranteed for the organization.
“That means you’re at the beginning of a very long process,” FOX 8 Political Analyst Mike Sherman said. “The legislature has the power to appropriate funds, but it takes a list of the Governor, the state treasurer, the bond commission and many more steps to actually get those funds in hand.”
The $1.4 Million was listed as a ‘Priority Five’ item. Sherman said non-profit leaders should have never expected to receive that money right away.
“Priority Five becomes a political tool,” he said.
When Yolanda White reflects on her time at Carver High School she is filled with the joy of the school she considers a ‘social circle’ and a ‘community.’ White is a Carver alum who continues to dream big and for a football field for the school. At her New Orleans home, she has a sign that says ‘DREAM’ prominently displayed, to share with guests as a sign of hope and inspiration.
But seeing what has happened to the Carver community’s now-Empty Field of Dreams fills her with very different emotions.
“Yes, I’m frustrated. Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I’m demanding. Because I want answers,” White said. “We can’t move forward until we have a new board. Because whose going to trust the board they have now?
“Not only did you take from the children – because that’s who you hurt more than anybody – but you took from the community. You owe the children. You owe the community. And you owe the donors. The board does.”