Alum support McCray; NAACP objects to Scott’s award
UPDATE, OCT. 16: B-CU won’t change course on Scott award
BY THE FLORIDA COURIER STAFF
UPDATE: Despite vocal opposition, B-CU has decided to go forward with presenting Gov. Rick Scott with the school’s most prestigious award, according to a statement dated Oct. 15, issued by B-CU Board Chairman Joe Petrock.
“We thank those who are in support of our decision to honor the Governor; and we thank those who have yet to appreciate what the governor’s support means to B-CU. However, while the Governor may have differing views on many issues as it relates to several matters, those who support the governor and those who do not, should all agree to support B-CU and our efforts to Ascend to Greatness,” Petrock stated.
DAYTONA BEACH – As alumni and supporters of Bethune-Cookman University converge on Daytona Beach next week for the school’s annual Homecoming Week activities and its trustees convene a critical board meeting, the university’s administration is catching flak online from alumni and criticism in writing from two of the university’s strongest organizational supporters.
In a letter Oct. 14 and addressed to B-CU’s Board of Trustees, Carmen Oliver Williamson, president of B-CU’s Volusia County Alumni Chapter, wrote that the chapter is on record as supporting a B-CU trustee’s call for a forensic audit – an intensive, specialized review of financial records that attempts to find the source of transactions with an eye toward revealing and prosecuting fraud, financial malfeasance and economic crimes.
It is different from the regular yearly audit that B-CU typically produces.
“I am writing on behalf of the Volusia County Chapter of the Bethune-Cookman University National Alumni Association, affectionately known as the ‘Mother Chapter,’ to endorse Trustee Johnny L. McCray, Jr.’s recent call for a forensic audit of the University’s financial records,” Williamson advised.
The alumni chapter’s message comes less than a week after the Florida Courier broke the story McCray’s ultimatum demanding that the board bring in forensic auditors to probe the school’s finances for fraud and fiscal mismanagement – or he would file lawsuits against individual fellow board members and request a state and federal criminal investigation.
McCray, a Pompano Beach-based attorney, is a longtime member of the B-CU Board of Trustees.
His letter was the first public glance at a boardroom dispute that has been roiling in the wake of the university’s decision to spend $72 million to build new on-campus housing.
He demanded that the board convene “an appropriate investigation” at this week’s board meeting, starting with putting the item on the board’s agenda for discussion and action.
Citing local media reports as well as Florida Courier reporting, Williamson’s letter states, “The (Florida Courier) article highlights the rationale underpinning Trustee McCray’s appeal to the Board, and the full letter appended to the article by electronic link outlines a litany of allegations and unanswered questions that should alarm and disturb all who have any interest in the University.”
Williamson wrote that the alumni chapter was not happy with the university’s reaction to media reports.
“In addition to the articles and Trustee McCray’s letter, the alumni community has also read what appears to be (B-CU Board of Trustees) Chairman (Joe) Petrock’s reply in part to Trustee McCray’s request. Having reviewed the Chairman’s letter, it paints a rosy picture of progress at the University but conspicuously fails to debunk any of the allegations in Trustee McCray’s letter or fails to mention any corrective measures to address the events detailed therein.”
Last week, Petrock distributed a letter to B-CU stakeholders citing the university’s various accomplishments before concluding, “Bethune-Cookman University is financially healthy and is in good standing.”
“We believe it is not only our right but our duty to demand accountability from those charged with governing the University. In so doing, as alumni, we must remain vigilant to ensure the fiscal soundness and vitality of our great institution,” Williamson’s letter continued.
“Accordingly, at the Volusia County Chapter meeting this past Saturday, October 10, 2015, members unanimously voted to begin mobilizing efforts in support of the request by other alumni and Trustee McCray’s call for a forensic audit.
“We urge the Board of Trustees to deliver on the transparency to which Chairman Petrock committed in his recent address and to uphold the duties and legacy with which it has been entrusted by immediately moving to undertake a forensic audit, at least sufficiently broad in scope to address the multitude of questions generated by Trustee McCray’s letter,” the letter concludes.
Last week, B-CU’s Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Awards Gala, now considered to be one of the school’s leading fundraiser, was suddenly the focus of controversy when the university announced that Gov. Rick Scott will receive the school’s highest honor: the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Leadership Award.
In response, B-CU alumna Jasmine Burney of Orlando, a member of the school’s Class of 2009, initiated a Change.org petition entitled, “Bethune-Cookman University honors Gov. Rick Scott over Students and Community Interest” that garnered 593 signatures as of the Florida Courier’s press time late Wednesday night.
“This great institution of higher learning has chosen to commit such an atrocity as honoring a man that has done quite the opposite for the poor, minority and disenfranchised of our state,” the petition states. “As a premier historical Black College and University of Florida the institution should be embarrassed by this decision to celebrate a man with such a record.”
Burney listed bullet points accusing Scott of committing government fraud, refusing to restore civil rights of ex-felons, opposing Medicaid expansion, purging voters from voting rolls, cutting early voting hours to stifle “Souls to the Polls,” appointing a single Black judge, and cutting funding for all historically Black colleges and universities in 2011–including B-CU.
Originated by B-CU President Edison O. Jackson, the Legacy Awards Gala is now one of the university’s leading fundraisers. According to the school, the 2014 Legacy Gala raised $2.5 million, including a $1 million donation from the B-CU student body as a consequence of a referendum approved by the students to add a $30 endowment fee to their fees.
Burney’s efforts picked up local and statewide support when both the Volusia County-Daytona Beach Branch of the NAACP as well as the Florida State Conferences of NAACP Branches weighed in.
“The officers and executive committee members of the Volusia County-Daytona Beach Branch of the NAACP are strong supporters of Bethune-Cookman University,” states a media release dated Oct. 12 and distributed by the Volusia County-Daytona Beach branch.
“Many NAACP members and their families are graduates of the University. Nonetheless, the local branch does not support the decision made by Bethune-Cookman to confer on Governor Scott the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Leadership Award.”
Doesn’t match values
The release praises Jackson “for his vision of creating the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Gala,” but states that the award “should recognize accomplishments that are in-line with the values of Dr. Bethune.
“Governor Scott has done virtually nothing to improve the lives of African-Americans and other minorities since elected to office. Critically, in 2011, Governor Scott cut all funding from HBCUs including Bethune-Cookman University. The recent monetary gift that he has granted to the university only restored money that he had taken away from HBCUs,” the organizations argue.
“…What Governor Scott has amassed a long record of anti-minority initiatives that should disqualify himself from receiving this award.”
Said Volusia County-Daytona Beach Branch President Cynthia Slater: “In light of Governor Scott’s overwhelmingly anti-minority record, the Volusia County-Daytona Beach NAACP respectfully opposes the bestowing of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Leadership Award on him. Governor Scott has not earned this great honor.”
Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of Branches of the NAACP, agreed.
“The Florida NAACP strongly supports the position of our local branch in Daytona Beach regarding the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Leadership Award. Mary McLeod Bethune would not have been pleased.”
In addition to Scott, other awardees include Daytona Beach-area hospital administrator Jeff Feasel; Florida Blue executive Tony Jenkins; B-CU graduate and published author Lucille O’Neal, the mother of NBA All-Star Shaquille O’Neal; and Rev. Dr. Gerald Lord, a former United Methodist Church leader.
The gala is set for Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Ocean Center, 101 N. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach. It is open to the public; individual tickets are $125. Go to http://www.cookman.edu/gala for more information.