Millage For Mayfield

Ronald-Markham-Irvin-Mayfield

“The Guys”: Ronald Markham and Irvin Mayfield.

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.

  • kmsoap

    OK, the obvious first question is…

    How is the board selected? Who fills vacancies when people resign? From the timing, it looks like the 2013 resignations may have been ethically motivated.

    It’s also interesting to note that Jim Letten and Jim Bernazzani are on the advisory board. One has to wonder if they were consulted on this, and what they advised.

  • Joe

    Jan, You are far too kind on your assessment of these two individuals. I have to ask what longstanding commitments have either made to the music community? what you say here is so true “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.” I take due note that musician is not listed as one of their talents. Self promotion is a key word here. This is a guy and i’m referring to Mayfield , who has never had a major record deal as an artist ever….just not nationally recognized. He has built a brand on nothing. For a person who has never earned a degree in his life to be put into the positions, after qualified persons were removed, is ridiculous. His qualifications are zero. When you say locals don’t like him….this is the reason, not because he is successful…successful at what? This is kinda like the minister you see on tv every night telling you he needs your money. Believe me when I say its all self serving and has nothing to do with the community. Charismatic can equal bullshit artist and thats what has happened here. the careers of both of these men are not in music. A jazz club in a hotel with your name does not mean anything. There is a reason why this band rarely tours or mayfield rarely plays a gig in new orleans. They are mediocre musicians. Schmooze is another word used…perfect. I’m not sure what the Jazz Market is actually contributing to the community except a venue that no one will use. This is the tip of the iceberg. The charade must end just as Ray Nagin is serving his time, this guy was empowered by Nagin….and lets not forget Dan Packer. Ask the people that were donating to his ridiculous Armstrong park project where the money went to. There is so much to question that no one ever has, its actually surprising it has gone this far. Now that the crime commission is getting involved, its just going to get worse. Don’t be fooled….this was never about you or the community..there is nothing right now that you can point to and say that was done by Mayfield or Markham, that stands on its own that actually helps the community. Non Profits are supposed to give not take.….its about themselves.

  • Joe

    Also its my understanding the tax money will go straight to the library instead of the library foundation. But to the guys…you do great work? what work?

  • Joe

    Theres so much to comment on in this article. I disagree that they motivated to make change in new orleans….what have they changed?

  • A New Orleans Property Owner

    The library foundation is private foundation not funded by public money what so ever. Mayfield was courted to head the foundation at a time when it needed his “star power” and youthful energy to attract the right donors and raise a lot of money. That he personally raised much of the library foundation funds in question should be noted here as well. That he and his library foundation board revised the foundation’s bylaws to diversify what they could give money to is a good thing in a fast paced, technologically driven society where libraries are now playing second fiddle to Google searches and iTunes. That NOJO used the funds to build a first class, forward thinking institution highlighting the historic musical achievements of black people in the heart of a historically black community that is in process of losing much of its long time population to richer, whiter new comers should be applauded. The only issue I see here is a technical one. “The Guys” should have resigned from the Library board before they asked the board to grant the money to NOJO to build the Jazz Market. For-profit real estate developers who sit on the boards of non-profit development corporations do it all the time when they want to self deal without raising a red flag. They simply step down from the board in question, install one of their allies in their place and do the deal at what then appears to be “arms length.” But in usual American business practices, is there really a such thing as “arms length”? This is how the many of the publicly funded non-profit housing developments are built by private development companies with close ties to non-profit development corporations, but I guess it’s only a bad thing if a young black musician who is “full of himself” does it to unapologetically better his community. I don’t mean to digress into playing skin politics, but this whole situation wreaks of that old, time-tested, all american elephant in the room that has created a double standard for the haves and have-nots, the black and the white.

    • Jeff Noble

      There is no star power when you are not a star. Straight up BS. You think rich white people are moving into that neighborhood? Please. How about restore a building that Louis Armstrong actually played in on south rampart. Maybe I would believe it . But to defend the library connection by showing the have about 6 miles Davis records on premises is lame, weak, sad…..BS. When one donate to the library it is expected that that money goes to the library. Not another project that is so far-fetched to believe that it is associated with the library is insulting. It partly was a way to pay these two guys six-figure salaries through their own organization with money that came from another. Have and have-nots don’t play anything into this picture because Mayfield was a have he gave it to himself. You can’t funnel money to your own personal project and pay your own personal salary matter what color

      • Chilito Campo

        With all due respect, last time I checked, those Louis Armstrong-associated buildings on South Rampart are owned by the St. Bernard Parish mafia — the Sidney Torres/Jack Stephens/etc. white mobsters that strong-armed and jacked the fortune of the Arlene Meraux heirs. That’s a whole ‘nuther mafia than Mayfield/Markham — the latter pair are rank amateurs compared with those real professional thieves from “down the road” in St. Bernard. The St. Bernardians should be strung up for letting those national jazz landmarks rot. Mayfield and Markharm should be punished for stealing from their own people under the guise of “aggressive” and “ambitious” so-called “outside the box” library services (that is, Bolden’s Bar) that only served to pad their candy asses with salaries beyond the wildest dreams of New Orleans bona-fide most-legendary, most talented, dues-paying musicians.

        • Joe

          “There is probably no other block in America with buildings bearing so much significance to the history of our country’s great art form, jazz,” John Hasse, curator of American Music at the Smithsonian Institution. If those guys were for real they would have figured it out. Jazz music and education is a front for these guys no matter who has ownership of these buildings, it can be done, their focus is misguided and always has.

  • George Weiner

    Ramsey just be covering butt after that embarrassing puff piece on Mayfield in Offbeat’s April issue, with its now-even-more-embarrassing headline of “Business As Musical,” Mayfield defending his presence on a dozen boards by likening himself to Martha Stewart (who actually did jail time), and even name-checking David Hammer (p. 28): “He’s doing investigative journalism on TV now,” Mayfield cracks, “and I think he’s enjoying that.” Not to mention, Ramsey must do damage control for her major advertising revenue source, Basin Street Records.

  • George Whine

    They ain’t heavies; they ain’t thieves; they ain’t self-serving double-dippers; they’re just the boyz next next door — “The Guys.” What BS.