By Cindy Stiff
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Despite a federal lawsuit to take away its money, North Carolina’s multi-million-dollar tobacco foundation is getting itself ready to accept requests for grants.
The board of the Golden Leaf Foundation organized itself into committees Monday so it could begin looking for an executive director, developing procedures for grantmaking and proceed with moving its assets from Citibank in New York to North Carolina banks.
Bill Friday, chairman of the foundation’s board said the strategy is to get organized before making any grant decisions.
“We’re a long way before we get to the decision process,” said Friday, retired president of the University of North Carolina system and retired executive director of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust. “You really can’t operate without taking all these prior steps.”
As it begins to develop its own operating policies, the tobacco foundation board was briefed Monday on the operating policies of two of the state’s largest foundations.
Friday said the tobacco foundation has received four grant applications from individuals and expects soon to receive a request from the state’s Rural Prosperity Task Force.
State Commerce Secretary Rick Carlisle reviewed recommendations of the task force, which was headed by Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff.
Friday said at least two recommendations involving education and community development seem to fall within the scope of the foundation.
Funding requests by the rural task force could total $220 million.
Friday said Carlisle made it “very clear that we were listed as an alternative, not as a single source” of funds the task force wants to boost agriculture in North Carolina.
The Golden Leaf foundation was set up by state lawmakers to distribute half of North Carolina’s expected $4.6 billion share over the next 20 years of the 1998 settlement among 46 states and the tobacco industry.
The foundation’s mission is to assist communities in the state that depend on tobacco.
A top priority of the board, Friday said, is to hire an executive director. Several applications already have been sent to Libba Evans, chairman of the personnel committee. Evans own BizNexus and West Third Street Management in Winston-Salem.
Friday said the executive director will hire a staff of up to five people to start, but the exact number of employees will depend on the volume of work and how the board selects its projects.
“The board will decide whether to receive petitions or generate initiatives or do both,” Friday said. “My guess is this group will do both.”
Friday advised board members that they would be spending a lot of time on foundation work. He estimated that he has been spending 20 hours a week as the foundation’s volunteer chairman.
“We’ll be meeting every month so we can get where we need to be,” Friday said.
The next meeting is March 6 with a facilitator from the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro to work with the board on team development.
Friday said he was moving ahead with the foundation despite a federal district court suit.
“I know it’s there but that’s in the hands of attorneys,” Friday said. “My mind is concentrating on getting this foundation under way.”
The federal class action seeks to recover the amount paid by Medicaid for tobacco-related illnesses. Similar action has been filed in 18 other states involved in the $206 billion tobacco settlement.
Raleigh lawyer Eugene Boyce also has filed suit in state court to stop a non-elected board from spending state funds.
The foundation board’s 15 members were appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt, House Speaker Jim Black and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, who each named five members.
As of Jan. 31, the foundation had more than $54 million in its account. The amount is expected to grow to $80 million to $90 million by April.