You have to hand it to Irvin Mayfield: this talented musician knows how to raise money and how to influence the right people. Along with his lifelong friend, Ronald Markham, Mayfield has managed to do an amazing amount for music in his hometown with the money he and Markham have raised for various projects (and they are many, and they have undeniably benefited the community). Their obvious talent; young, vibrant and charismatic looks and demeanors; their passion for promoting their projects (and for Mayfield, promoting himself) have stood them well.
“The Guys” have a fantastic ability to mingle and schmooze with high rollers and the well-connected, from Stephen Perry (New Orleans CVB President and CEO) to Dee Dee Bridgewater (jazz diza) to Gordon Parks (legendary photographer) to Ron Forman (the powerful Audubon Institute founder) to head honchos at Iberia Bank, Peoples Health, Lincoln Center, Goldman Sachs, and so many more. Their achievements and contacts are non-pareil and legendary. As a team, they’ve managed to raise a ton of money and with it, do an enormous amount of good in a relatively short period of time. They deserve kudos.
Their talents are legion, and while they’ve achieved enormous success and popularity among the city’s (and country’s) moneyed elite, they’ve managed to alienate a few local folk along the way, probably [IMHO] because they’re so successful. Mayfield is the front-man, the erudite and talented musician/composer advocate of our musical culture; Markham is the behind-the-scenes business planner and strategist, and a fine pianist as well. Theirs is a great team.). I’ve noticed that overall New Orleans is jealous of—and therefore hates—success, more’s the pity.
Mayfield-Markham’s ambitions are enormous, and while many have said Mayfield’s ego rules his behavior, so does many a highly successful businessman’s—and make no mistake: the Mayfield-Markham team is a consummate business wheeler and dealer. I don’t believe either of The Guys would ever settle for the pay that most musicians have to live with. Nor would Markham ever think of taking a backseat to most other musicians. He’s out in front, all the time, and for a good reason. He wants to live the high life, and he’s doing that. But, at the same time, they are both motivated by making a positive change in New Orleans. You have to admire that. They just want to make a lot of money doing it.
Most people who know The Guys are aware that they both are making an excellent living doing what they do. It is the New Orleans way to try to “take down” someone who’s done well for themselves. But, until last night, there was no way to demonstrate that there was anything untoward about the way they operate.
Funny that it took a misstep and hubris—and a little too much buy-in from people probably a little less intelligent than they are—to give The Guys somewhat of a black eye.
Last night reporter David Hammer of the New Orleans Advocate released a story—the weekend after a city-wide vote to add a millage to support the New Orleans Public Library—that demonstrated that both Mayfield and Markham, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra’s leaders, and their newly-opened New Orleans Jazz Market, had received $863,000 of the New Orleans Library Foundation’s money. Not cool.
Mayfield first became involved in the city’s library system when he was appointed by then-mayor Ray Nagin, and he caused a lot of hard feelings in that institution when he was appointed (presumably with Tania Tetlow, who he replaced and who is a part of Hammer’s story). Reporter Hammer and WWL apparently had the information for the story that aired last night before last Saturday’s election, but the station and newspaper chose not to air the story until after the library vote (the millage was approved by voters).
It’s surprising that no one had noted that The Guys had received money from the Library Foundation before Hammer reported the story; all one needs to do is to access both the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (thenojo.com) and the New Orleans Library Foundation’s IRS-required 990 forms that are public information.
On May 2, the citizens of New Orleans voted to raise property taxes to support the New Orleans Public Library. With the extra millage, the Library could take in a much-needed $8.2-million. The additional millage for an owner of a $300,000 house who claims a homestead exemption would increase from $71.94 a year to $126.75 a year. The millage increase was needed to close a $3-million New Orleans Public Library budget gap and to prevent the city’s 14 library branches from cutting back hours of operation or, even worse, close.
But now we learn that the library’s Foundation gave $666,000 in 2012 to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and another $197,000 in 2013. That’s a lot of money, and it appears that a good-sized portion of the grant went directly to Mayfield and possibly Markham.
Given these donations from the library’s Foundation to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and to Mayfield and Markham, it would seem that the Foundation may have lost its way and may have become bedazzled by the glamour of being associated with someone as charismatic as Irvin Mayfield and his flagship project, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Two of the five board members resigned in 2013. But two of the board members who made the decision to give the funds to NOJO were Mayfield and Markham themselves. The board (that included Mayfield and Markham) voted to give close to a million dollars over a two-year period to NOJO, plus unprecedented power to Mayfield in making decisions.
Anyone with half a brain could see that this is a huge conflict of interest and potentially big trouble. But it went through anyway. They had to know this action was not something that was going to be kept on the down-low. Especially when Mayfield had made some serious enemies in the proletariat.
To obtain and keep a non-profit status, an organization has to make sure that its board does not benefit directly from their board membership. Paying board members like this was clearly a violation of the rules set up by the IRS. I don’t know that there’s any criminal penalty associated with this sort of behavior for Mayfield and Markham (except being removed from the board and maybe even having to pay the money back), but it certainly tarnishes their sterling reputations as community leaders. Or maybe what it does it to put them into the New Orleans We-Don’t-Believe-In-Conflict-of-Interest Hall of Fame. In my experience, conflicts of interest in political and business dealings in New Orleans are de rigueur. And no one does a damn thing about it. That kind of behavior is accepted, because it’s done all the time: good ole boys will be good ole boys. Handshake deals behind closed doors. Again, more’s the pity.
Where was the city’s Inspector General in all this? Doesn’t anyone get involved in ethical issues? Can the New Orleans Library Foundation lose its non-profit status because of this? What about NOJO?
Only in New Orleans would something like this happen and be considered by its makers (Mayfield and Markham) as ethical (see the Hammer reportage). It’s unfortunate that the City of New Orleans, along with the library’s Foundation, failed to first determine if money was available before asking its citizens to pay higher taxes. Maybe the additional millage for the New Orleans Public Library should have more accurately have been presented as Millage for Mayfield.
To The Guys: you do great work, but there are moves that you just cannot make.