In a unanimous vote the Denison City Council approved a resolution that would authorize the city to provide funding to cover legal fees for the purposes of bringing a lawsuit against Bank of America, Inc. to return control of the Smith Foundation trust to the citizens of Denison.
According to a news release issued by the city, the foundation has contributed more than $27 million to a number of local foundations ranging from Grayson County Shelter, Denison Education Foundation, Casa of Grayson County, the Denison Independent School District and many more.
The Save Smith Initiative is filing a lawsuit to re-establish the local board of directors to manage the funds, and Mayor Janet Gott said the city stands united in the efforts to restore the funds to the citizens.
“I would venture to say there is not a citizen in Denison that has not been directly or indirectly impacted by the generosity of the Smith Foundation,” Gott said Tuesday evening. “It is right and appropriate that the city joins in this effort to return local control and oversight of the funding to Denison and to Grayson County as was clearly the intent of Clara Blackford and W. Aubrey Smith when the trust was established. The attempt to circumvent their intent is wrong. The unanimous support of this council demonstrates our commitment to a legal action to again honor the intent of Clara Blackford and W. Aubrey Smith that their funds would be used to better the lives of the residents of Denison and Grayson County.”
Denison Main Street Director Donna Dow said over the years the foundation has provided funding to programs such as Music on Main and the city’s Fourth of July celebration, and since the board has been disolved is has become harder to get those funds. Dow has not had a grant approved since 2015, and 2017 was the last time she applied.
“We’re always fortunate we have so many local foundations that support us,” Dow said. “The Smith Foundation was always a leader in funding and support. When they provided Music on Main, the funding was used for securing artists. When we built the stage they were involved in that.”
Dow said she didn’t believe the trust has made it impossible to receive funds, just more difficult, and her contacts in the organization have been helpful in guiding her through the types of funding the foundation is currently supporting. Dow said the foundation has basically stopped supporting programs and only funds infrastructure projects, and that is not an uncommon request in grant writers.
Denison City Manager Jud Rex said the city is committed to helping fight to return local control of the funds to the citizens of Denison, and the resolution will declare the lawsuit a public purpose.
“Anybody that has been in Denison for any amount of time has heard of the Smith foundation,” Rex said. “The family left significant dollars to help the family out. As the community battles the foundation losing local control, we want to be a part of that. We have not only directly received funds from the Smith Foundation, we know that the community has received huge amounts of it. That is what the fund was set up for to benefit Denison projects to benefit Denison residents. As a city we want to stand in defense of our citizens to fight to return local control of the foundation.”
Tom Porter was a former officer for State National Bank in the 1970s. He said he knew the Smith’s personally and they were huge supporters of Denison and Grayson County.
“It would be a travesty to justice and honor to see Bank of America pilfer the legacy of the Smith family for “self-profiteering” to the bank,” Porter said.
Sherry Christie is a former board member of the Smith Foundation and plaintiff on the lawsuit. She said the foundation has contributed funds to a number of local causes for more 30 years, and once Bank of America left Denison they terminated the board and removed any local say in the funds.
“Our goal is to return local input, local control and local oversight to Denison through a local board,” Christie said. That is how this foundation operated for over 30 years. Every entity, every successor in her will, should a bank fail, that the successor would remain with the trust. Because that is part of the will it had to be enforced. One of our basic feelings there is no local successor any more. Not only us there not one in Denison, there isn’t one in Grayson County.
Christie said anyone wishing to contact the Save Smith initiative can call 903-271-9199. Donations to the effort can be made at a First United Bank branch attention Save Smith, P.O. Box 346, Denison.
Do you support the city’s efforts to bring local control back to the foundation? Let Denison area reporter Richard A. Todd know by email RTodd@heralddemocrat.com. He can also be reached via Facebook and Twitter @RichardAToddHD.