Members Of 'New Special Investigative Committee' Announced;
Summary of Joint Meeting Published; Minutes Forthcoming
In separate press releases posted Tuesday afternoon, October 23rd, 2007, the membership of the new Special Investigative Committee (SIC) was announced and a summary of the joint meeting of the Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council was posted. Members of the Metropolitan Council also received draft copies of the Minutes of the meeting, which are tenatively scheduled to be published on Friday, October 26th.
The New "Special Investigative Committee"
All the members were chosen from the Metropolitan Council by Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco, who himself was appointed Chairman of the new SIC by Metropolitan Herman. The members are:
Fr. Phillip Reese
- clergy delegate from the Diocese of the South
Dr. Faith Skordinski
- lay delegate elected by the Toronto All American Council
Dr. Dimitri Solodow
- newly elected lay delegate from the Diocese of the West
Fr. John Tkachuk
- clergy delegate from the Archdiocese of Canada
Ms. Alexandra Makosky, Esq. has been asked to serve as legal counsel to the committee.
The new "Special Investigative Committee" is smaller than the previous 'Special Commission' by one member, there being no other episcopal member on the new body besides Bishop Benjamin. It is also not quite that new, in that two of the five (+Benjamin and Skordinski ) served on the previous 'Special Commission', whose other four members resigned to protest the continuing interference in the work of the Commission by the Metropolitan - and its appointed legal counsel (Ms. Makosky). (Read the letter of Fr. Reeves here) Ms. Makosky, who has been referred to by Dr. Skordinski as her "personal legal counsel" as well, has been re-appointed to serve as legal advisor to the new Committee.
Of the three new members, Fr. John Tkachuk is a parish priest in Montreal, Quebec; Fr. Reese, a parish priest in Miami Florida, and Dr. Dimitri Solodow a parishioner at Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco. Solodow is a former President of the diocesan Life Giving Springs Retreat Center, Boulder City Nevada, and a former Secretary of the Patriarch Athenagoras Institute in Berkeley, California. It is known that at least one other Metropolitan Council member, a priest from the Midwest, was asked to serve, but declined to participate.
According to the press release, "The committee will begin its work immediately and will report its conclusions and recommendations to the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council when its work is completed." This last statement stands at odds with the resolution adopted by the Council, ratified by the Synod, posted just minutes later on OCA.org yesterday afternoon, that the new Special Investigative Committee would report to both bodies on a quarterly basis. (Read that resolution here)
Summary of the Joint Meeting
In a second press release posted yesterday, Syosset offered a summary of the joint meeting held by the Metropolitan Council and Synod of Bishops on Wednesday, October 17, 2007 in Syosset.
The summary begins:
"On Wednesday, October 17, 2007, the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council met in a joint session. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, greeted the assembly with brief comments. The combined group then met for six hours, engaging in a wide range of discussions.
Report from the Holy Synod of Bishops: His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim, reported on the session of Holy Synod of Bishop on Tuesday, October 16, 2007.
• The Holy Synod heard and will decide on the appeal of Robert S. Kondratick. In discussion, Metropolitan Council members emphasized the crucial importance to the Church as a whole that the appeal be decided as soon as possible.
• The Holy Synod clarified that the removal of a member from the first Special Investigative Committee was an action taken by the Holy Synod of Bishops as a whole.
• The Holy Synod has determined that the Church's 'Best Practice Policies and Procedures for Financial Accountability' document needs revision to conform to the OCA's statute and wider Orthodox polity. In discussion, the hierarchs clarified that the OCA will continue to operate under the current 'Best Practices' document while revisions are being considered and incorporated.
• The Holy Synod noted that there was clarification in writing stating that The Orthodox Church in America was itself the client of the law firm of Proskauer Rose.
• With the recent repose of His Eminence, Archbishop Kyrill of Pittsburgh, the Diocese of Western Pennsylvania is declared vacant. The Holy Synod has now initiated the process of finding a successor for the late Archbishop Kyrill."
Many of the decisions summarized above are interesting.
In #2 the Synod takes responsibility as a body for removing Commissioner Gregg Nescott from the former Special Commission. One wonders, seven months after the fact, why this still bothers the Metropolitan? Whatever the Synod wants to say now, two facts remain. First, that the Metropolitan's March 2007 letter dismissing Nescott unamibiguously states that it is he, the Metropolitan, who is dismissing Nescott. There was no mention of the Synod then.
(Read that letter here)
Secondly, Archbishop Kyrill's letter reinstating Nescott to the Metropolitan Council some weeks later concluded that there had been no misconduct by Nescott and he should never have been suspended to begin with. (Read that letter here) History cannot be altered by a synodal vote; it can only be covered-up, and not very well at that.
In #3 the Synod appears to have agreed with the critiques of Bishop Nikolai of Alaska. +Nikolai described the current 'Best Practices' as inconsistent" and "confusing". The Bishop objected to provisions concerning financial accountability, the ethics policy, the conflict of interest policy, and the whistleblower policy. For example, the Bishop objects to the whistleblower policy because there are no exceptions made in the protections offered whistleblowers for reports which are, in the Bishop's judgement, "intentional or reckless lies". The Bishop seems to suggest that only those reports deemed "not purposefully malicious", or not made in order to "smear" someone, should be protected. Such a change, of course, would eliminate protecting anyone branded, for example, as being no more than a malicious 'disgruntled former employee'. Or reporting what a priest said, say, in an amorous, drunken stupor, that might reflect negatively on a Bishop...
#4 reaffirms the answer Metropolitan Herman has been giving for the past 18 months - even though the body designated by Statute to deal with legal matters is the Metropolitan Council, not Metropolitan Herman. Yet the Council has never been allowed to receive more than an oral report from Proskauer Rose. The Metropolitan defends this seeming contradiction - that the OCA is the client, but the body the client has designated to handle its legal matters - the Metropolitan Council- can have no access to the lawyers or their findings by holding that the scandal, the investigation, etc. are not 'legal issues'. According to the Metropolitan's legal advisors, since no one is in court, there are no "legal" issues.
The Summary continues:
"Special Investigative Committee: Metropolitan Council members presented and explained the Resolution passed by that body on October 16. The Council's Resolution calls for a Committee that reports both to the Council and to the Holy Synod, with specific provisions to protect against infringements on its independence. After discussion, the hierarchs of the Holy Synod conferred and gave their blessing to a joint Holy Synod/Metropolitan Council Special Investigative Committee with seven specific guidelines as recommended by the Council for its scope, operations, and reporting."
The Council actually made eight recommendations. (Read that story here) The one not adopted by the Synod reads:
"Be it further resolved that the Metropolitan Council asks, for the good of the Church, that the Metropolitan recognize his potential conflict of interest by stepping aside and appointing a temporary administrator to act in his stead regarding matters associated with the investigation."
Rather than step aside, as the resolution of the Metropolitan Council suggests, the Metropolitan appointed the Chairman of the new Special Investigative Committee.
The summary then turned to the 15th All-American Council, to be held, as reported earlier, in Pittsburgh November 10-13, 2008. The summary did not include that Bishop Nikon will chair the Preconciliar Commission, nor name the four of the nine members of the Pre-Conciliar Commission. (The first five are all members of the Chancery Administration Team and Fr. Manzuk.)
The OCA did, however, announce the appointment of a new treasurer, Fr. Michael Tassos, and offered a brief biography of the Antiochian priest. The summary included an update from the accountants. In the context of the 2007 budget, which had to be cut, and the 2008 budget, which had to be reduced, the outgoing acting Treasurer Fr. Paul Kucynda reported some interesting figures:
"Financial Reports: The combined Holy Synod/Metropolitan Council heard reports from the OCA's Acting Treasurer, Archpriest Paul Kucynda, on outstanding invoices for accounting work. Outstanding invoices from the accounting firm Lambrides, Lamos, and Moulthrop, LLP, total $11,522.00. Total billed by that firm is $214,710.25. Outstanding invoices from the law firm Proskauer Rose, LLP, total $105,624.97. Total billed is $337,455.48, which includes a 10% reduction granted the Church by Proskauer Rose."
In short, the investigation of the scandal has cost the OCA more than $650,000 in legal and accounting fees - not to mention the additional undisclosed amount due Proskauer Rose for its work related to the Kondratick trial. Moreover, it was not the Metropolitan or Acting Treasurer who carried through the 10% reduction; it was the Metropolitan Council.
The summary concludes with various reports from the Metropolitan Council committees and other business, most notably the selection of one of eight applicants to be the new general counsel for the OCA. A decision on the new legal advisor will be made by the Metropolitan Council at their next meeting.
Finally, in a welcome change from past practice, the actual Minutes of the Metropolitan Council meeting, as opposed to the summary posted last week, are scheduled to be posted on OCA.org this coming Friday, October 26th.
- Mark Stokoe