The Clara Blackford Smith & W. Aubrey Smith Charitable Foundation will soon receive input and advice on how to distribute charitable funds across Grayson County.
Both the Denison Independent School District and the city took action last week to appoint members to a new citizen advisory committee who will provide guidance on grants made through the foundation.
The Smith Foundation was the center of a recent lawsuit related to local representation on what has historically been a Denison-based organization. In January, city officials announced that a new five-member committee featuring city and district representatives would be formed as a result of the lawsuit.
“We felt like there was a decline in local dollars coming back into the community and that’s really why the team initiated the lawsuit,” Denison City Manager Jud Rex said. “They did so we could get back local control and funding as it was before.”
The city of Denison will be represented by former Mayor Jared Johnson, Kris McKinney and Kelly Spiegel on the new committee. Meanwhile, Alvis Dunlap and Sherry Christie will represent DISD.
The dispute over the Smith Foundation started about five years ago when Bank of America, who oversaw the foundation, left the Denison market and closed its branch on Main Street.
“Slowly they started disconnecting themselves from the existing foundation board that was in place and eventually just dissolved that board all together and took over all the decisions and managing of assets,” Rex said. “Everything ended up at the corporate Bank of America level and we just saw things go downhill from there.”
This led to a couple years where grant proposals were accepted and denied without input from the local community, officials said.
DISD has been one of the larger beneficiaries of the foundation, with about $7 million of funding for various projects through the foundation.
“The problem is, someone in Dallas really doesn’t have an idea of the local needs in the Denison area,” DISD Superintendent Henry Scott said. “So it really took away any local representation is what it really did.”
Among the projects that were supported by the foundation was the Smith tennis courts and Smith Auditorium at Denison High School and improvements to the Eisenhower Auditorium at the middle school.
Currently, the district has one grant application under consideration with the Smith Foundation. Each year, the district has applied, and been granted, funds to send disadvantaged students to Camp Goddard.
Kris McKinney, who represents the city on the committee, said Clara Smith was something of a mentor to her when she was younger, and she remembers when her father worked at the bank the foundation was initially overseen by.
“I wanted to see her wishes continued, and I knew the history of the bank and what had happened. I wanted to make sure we got started on a great new chapter with them (the Smith Foundation),” McKinney said, describing her decision to join the committee.
When the foundation was created in 1985, following the settlement of Smith’s will, McKinney said the foundation was focused on Texoma causes and projects. The causes that the foundation was set up to support included religious, scientific, educational, literary and charitable purposes.
McKinney said Smith also supported and had a close connection with Texoma Medical Center.
“There was some concern that eventually there would be grants made outside of Grayson County,” McKinney said.
Under the terms of the committee, members will meet at least once each quarter. With the current fiscal year slated to end in June, McKinney said the committee should meet early into the next fiscal year.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.