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Appointee plans big changes for King Center
Mar-20-2010 1300 0

First step: Move King siblings from control

A court-appointed outsider plans to make Atlanta’s King Center live up to its full potential by removing the children of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and their allies from control.

Custodian Terry M. Giles believes the underused center on Auburn Avenue honoring the martyred civil rights leader should be on par with a presidential library and should continue its original mission of using nonviolence to bring social change around the world.

To accomplish that, Giles told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he plans to restructure the bylaws and governance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change — an institution mired in conflict for more than 15 years — to ensure a national board controls it rather than the King family.

Giles said he hopes to persuade King’s heirs — Martin, Dexter and Bernice King — and their relatives to support creating a diversified board that can raise tens of millions of dollars and hire top-flight management, but he said he has court authority to act unilaterally.

“We want the best people we can get,” he said. “I know the family has been concerned that this would allow them to lose control. Maybe there are some family members who would be perfect for those parts, but maybe not.”

Andrew Young, who received a lifetime appointment to the King Center board, told the AJC that the revamping was “probably overdue. The center originally started with a 35-member board and had prominent people from around the nation and Atlanta, but many resigned and others were not reappointed after Dexter King became chairman in 1994.”

Dexter King wanted to build an interactive museum at the center — which didn’t come to pass — and under his stewardship the nonviolence and social activism training programs that had been so dominant faded, Young said.

“He was basically a businessman who didn’t know Martin Luther King and didn’t know a lot about the movement and he was exercising a lot of authority,” Young said. “If we can get a new board and a new structure, then I think it would help solve some of the institutional problems of management and give us a new opportunity to start again.”

Giles, a prominent Houston lawyer and businessman, became the new power broker at the King Center because of a family feud. In 2008, Martin and Bernice King filed a lawsuit accusing Dexter of mismanaging and looting King Inc. — the family corporation that controls Martin Luther King’s copyrighted material, image and intellectual property, and which has generated millions of dollars.

Dexter King — head of King Inc. and chairman of the King Center — fired back with a lawsuit that accused his brother of misusing the assets of the King Center, a nonprofit corporation that Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King’s widow, founded in 1974.

Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville appointed Giles as part of the settlement of the lawsuit.

Martin and Bernice King declined to discuss the custodian or whether they support his plans. Both said they wanted to wait for Giles to do his work. “The [court] order speaks for itself,” Bernice King told the AJC on Friday. “It is a consent order with all our signatures. That speaks volumes.”

Critics have long charged that the center largely served to employ King family members. Martin King was once the president with a $150,000 salary, until removed by his family at a board meeting in 2004. Dexter King is currently the board chairman and chief operating officer, with a salary and deferred income of $197,000. His cousin Isaac Farris Jr. is the chief executive officer, with a salary and deferred income totaling nearly $96,000, according to tax forms the nonprofit filed in 2009 for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Attempts to reach Dexter King were unsuccessful. Farris declined to comment, saying the Kings had requested he not comment about the center.

In the tax document, the most recent filed, Dexter King, 49, maintains he spends 40 hours a week on center business from his home in Malibu, Calif.

The tax document also shows the center paid $696,163 to Dexter King’s company, Intellectual Properties Management, as a management consultant for 2007-08 fiscal year. The fee in the past has often been more than $1 million. The King Center has maintained the money is to repay IPM for salaries it paid center employees, currently numbering about 20.

Giles told the AJC the IPM payments appeared to be legitimate but resulted in a lack of transparency that created family friction and fueled public suspicions.

“They actually kept it pretty straight — it was the first thing I looked at to make sure it was being done right,” Giles said. “IPM was not taking a fee. IPM was being reimbursed for the actual number that IPM was spending on salaries. It was only being reimbursed for actual expenses from everything I have seen. Now maybe something will pop up and surprise me.”

Bernice and Martin King alleged in court documents that their brother also might be under investigation by the inspector general for the federal Department of Education for misusing a $600,000 federal grant. The education department would not confirm whether there was an investigation.

Dexter King tried to support the center by marketing the life story and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. commercially — an approach that angered many members of the old civil rights guard — but the approach was largely unsuccessful, Young said.

Giles said the result was that King Inc. ended up underwriting financial shortfalls at the King Center, which receives about $2 million a year in federal grants, fund-raising and sales.

“King Inc. has been keeping the center afloat and that is something we have to turn around,” he said. “If you actually went through the numbers, King Inc. would probably be owed a couple of million dollars.”

Giles said the center first needs to hire a small group of turn-around officers to get the center properly financed and functioning.

He said the nonprofit’s 16-member board has offered little oversight. The bylaws were changed so that only the chairman could call a board meeting.

“It has literally been years since they had a real board meeting and the center has been run with absentee management — that is never a good idea,” Giles said. “The only public relations they have had so far has been bad and we need to turn that around.”

The King Center has filed a motion in Fulton County Superior Court to intervene in the lawsuit because of concerns of how Giles’ appointment might impact the center. Giles said he planned to work closely with the family. “I know right now there is a lot of angst,” he said.

Disciples of Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence, including Dorothy Cotton and Bernard Lafayette Jr., both of whom once headed the King Center’s programs, said the center had used that philosophy for everything from helping end conflict in families and among street gangs to teaching neighborhood activists how to get their share of public dollars.

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