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Burrell nonprofit service may reflect on mayoral bid

Shreveport television station KTBS may have just scratched the surface when it ran a story about unannounced announced city mayoral candidate state Rep. Roy Burrell’s involvement with a nonprofit organization the activities and accounting for which raise substantial questions about his potential service as the city’s chief executive officer.

Burrell, since his days as a city councilman, has lead an organization known as the Inner City Entrepreneur Institute, for which he appears not just to make a decent living off its only activity,  a two-week yearly event currently in progress called BizCamp, but also in a way that seems, relative to other organizations and their leadership pay, unusual. KTBS reports since 2005 the city of Shreveport has given ICE a total of $315,000, and since 2006, the Caddo Parish Commission has given it a total of $112,000.

But trawling through the group’s required, as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for each year since 2001 (excepting 2002, for which a filing could not be found) reveals a murky picture sometimes obscurant in details. For these years, the organization garnered $995,702 (and including 2002 figure reported in 2003, over $1 million) – from 2005 on over half of which came from government grants varying from $66,191 in 2007 to $15,000 in 2009 (forms previous to 2005 are unclear as to whether government grants comprised revenues). With public support (that is, contributions from outside government) making up the rest, this has led to wide ranging total figures, of a high in 2008 of $135,818 to a low of $36,890 in 2002, and thus also in terms of expenditures – the vast majority of which are for the director Burrell and the annual event – the most in 2008 of $169,226 to the least in 2009 of $65,134.

One immediate question raised by this is even though the group does the same thing year after year, its costs vary dramatically – over $100,000 difference between 2008-09. Reviewing its records, it seems to spend in relation to its reserves, even incurring greater expenses than revenues in some years if reserves are higher than usual. Burrell’s salary seems pretty constant, averaging $48,500 – although it’s difficult to tell since 2010 as after then he began working on a contractual arrangement and the forms sometimes are incorrectly filled out; for example, in 2012 Burrell is listed as receiving no compensation and no management fees are listed, despite his claim of working 40 hours a week for ICE, yet “other expenses” are listed as $61,090. (Another inconsistency is that year after year ICE reports show it “conducted 20 bizcamps to educate students on entrepreneurship,” yet it appears the group only conducts one of these a year.)

In addition to the tremendous variation in expenditures surrounding the only single thing it does every year, Burrell’s hours worked for the group and the proportion of its expenses going to pay him also seem unusual. Reviewing similar-sized groups in revenue terms, it’s extraordinary for a group with that relatively low amount of revenue to pay out 43.8 percent of its revenues over more than a decade for the services of the same manager. Putting it another way, it appears every government grant dollar plus $65,000 went to his compensation from 2005-12. And for a group that holds one major event a year and receives almost half of its money from government, that Burrell spent about 2,000 hours a year on the job – realizing that he serves full-time in the Legislature 45 to 60 days a year and part-time the remainder of the year – also appears unusual.

The group’s governing board, which changed entirely from 2001-12 and recently included Caddo Parish Commissioner Stephanie Lynch, doesn’t seem to mind. It stated in the yearly Form 990s through 2010 that it granted such compensation on the basis of performance, and its willingness to contract to Burrell’s firm from 2011 on speaks to that. Local governments continue to pony up, and other donors, apparently led by a dozen or so area businesses, which can be expected to be affected by ordinances at the local level and legislation at the state level, and local foundations, continue to give to it.

But the typical voter, even as the cause may seem worthy, must wonder whether the organization would be raising this money or paying these amounts for management if Burrell did not sit as a councilman, state representative, or had not been running for mayor essentially for the past five years. They also might ponder how these financial maneuverings would translate to his performance if given far more government money to spend as mayor.

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