Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tucker rips into the King family for failing the MLK center.

Nation: A broken clock is right twice a day, this is the first of two for Cynthia Tucker.

"....But Mrs. King's other achievement, the King Center, has not fared as well over the years. Indeed, it is sliding toward oblivion. Perhaps because the King Center could never hold onto a professional executive, it has not become a significant institution for promoting nonviolent social activism — or, really, for promoting much of anything beyond the King family. Its schedule of seminars and programs has always been haphazard, its expertise superficial and its mission incoherent. More than anything else, the building on Auburn Avenue has served as an annual draw for thousands of tourists making the pilgrimage to Dr. King's grave and as a backdrop for services on the King holiday. Every year a high-ranking political official, usually the president of the United States, places a wreath on the grave. Now, however, the very building has fallen into disrepair under the abusive stewardship of King's heirs. The center needs repairs that will cost millions. The reflecting pool that surrounds the crypt is often scummy, its bottom covered with algae. An acquaintance once told me that her elementary school child, assigned to draw the reflecting pool, colored it green — correctly noting, "That's the color it was!" Visitors are often disappointed — indeed, dismayed — by its condition. When Mrs. King ran the center, she was disorganized and sloppy, not always monitoring finances as carefully as she should have. By contrast, her sons' poor management has been more callous than careless. Dexter King devised a convenient little deal that allowed him in some years to collect around half of the King Center's revenues. As the center's acting chief operating officer, he has given his private firm, Intellectual Properties Management, a contract to lease employees to the center. Between 2000 and 2004, the King Center paid the company $4.3 million, according to reports by Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Ernie Suggs. Meanwhile, the center also paid salaries to Dexter and Martin III. It's not clear whether the lucrative arrangement that allowed Dexter to siphon funds from the King Center continues, since the family refuses to answer questions about its management. But you can bet the sons haven't had any recent epiphanies that would compel them to stop leeching off the King Center, which they seem to view as the family business. The only hope for the King Center's long-term survival is to turn it over to the Park Service, which oversees much of the surrounding area. Congress would be more inclined to give operating funds to a public venue than to a private venture, especially since much of the taxpayers' money would likely be skimmed by the King children. Besides, the Park Service has been a reliable steward of civil rights-era facilities, including the old Ebenezer Baptist Church. If the King Center stays in the hands of the family, it will probably continue to deteriorate — and, with it, much of Mrs. King's legacy. Surely her children want more for her than that. The problem, of course, is not what they want for her, but what they want for themselves."
If the taxpayers are going to fund the center, that means the King children cannot be part of it considering what they have done to the place under their control.

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