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MLK panel leader defends foundation

As executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, I would like to add to the information included in a recent article about state officials stepping back from the commission.

By law, both the secretary of state and New Mexico state treasurer have a seat on our board of directors. They can either attend our meetings themselves or send a designee. For the past two years, (Secretary of State Maggie) Toulouse Oliver has sent Sharon Pino, deputy secretary of state, rather than attending herself.

The secretary of state sent a letter on May 3 demanding the board schedule a special session within two weeks to discuss several issues, including the status of the Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation. In order to be as efficient and gather as much information as possible, the board decided to discuss these issues at its regularly scheduled June meeting. That meeting will take place at 1 p.m. today.

Both the secretary of state and state treasurer have expressed concerns about the Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation. The foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 2017 as a separate entity to support the work of the commission by raising funds for high-profile events. The foundation has directly used funds it raised for the MLK Track & Field event. Because it is a separate organization, the foundation is not under commission oversight.

The foundation has never received any funds from the commission. It is staffed by four unpaid volunteers. It is true that the foundation has been allowed to use commission offices as a meeting place, but the commission also allows other community groups to use our offices as a meeting place. We do not believe this is a violation of the state’s anti-donation clause.

The other issue of concern is our audits. In order to catch up, we had to submit audits for a number of years – 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 – this year. Our focus was on getting four years’ worth of audits completed and submitted in 2021, so we did not resolve some of the findings from previous audits in 2015 and 2016. We are now working on addressing those findings. The major outstanding issue is the creation of a Policies & Procedures Manual. This activity is underway now, and we expect to complete the manual this year and submit to the state auditor this month.

We all recognize the commission was not well-run or well-managed in the past. When I agreed to become executive director in 2016 after a successful 30-year career in private industry, it was because I cared about its mission. I admired the commission’s dedication to working with individuals and groups throughout our state to promote racial harmony, multicultural diversity and social justice. Over the past five years I have met amazing people throughout New Mexico who work on that mission every day.

While I cannot speak for the board, I can assure everyone the commission’s finances and operations are completely above board and comply with all applicable state and federal laws and regulations. We strive to fulfill our mission and improve our activities and outcomes every year. We will address all concerns and issues going forward, and I hope that in the future the secretary of state and the state treasurer will continue to be involved.

Leonard Waites has been executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission since 2016 and is a former member and chair of the Albuquerque Police Oversight Commission.


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