Wednesday, September 27. 2006
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A time-sensitive question: Since the MC meets 9/28, did MC members get ANY financial reports to review prior to their meeting? If so, what? If not.... (why bother asking!)
And on this thread, I say we ask Richard Rock for a copy of his "best practices."
#1 Curious on 2006-09-27 20:56
The only "Best Practices" rules needed are as follows:
1) Be honest at all times.
2) Keep complete and accurate records of all transactions.
3) Provide copies of all records to all appropriate persons.
4) Do not lie, do not cheat, do not steal and do not tolerate
others who lie, cheat or steal.
5) When in doubt, refer to rule number one, two, three and four.
6) Obey all rules.
If there is anyone who has a problem with these rules, you need to get rid of them and find someone else.
#2 Erik Fender on 2006-09-28 05:59
"Best Practices" are at best a catchphrase. I work in healthcare, and have for 20 years. "Best Practices" in the healthcare environment are those that provide the most effective outcome for the patient. It is, at the core, learning from others. I must admit, I don't see much learning from others going on within the OCA. Quite the opposite -- we summarily dismiss any suggestions that consideration of examination of the practices of others is applicable. If it does not have the "Orthodox" label, we somehow believe it must be evil ...
I would strongly suggest a detailed review of the standards, bill of donor rights, and best practices documents developed by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. While some standards regarding governance do not apply to our situation (particularly in the "statement of faith" requirements), it provides, in my opinion, an excellent backdrop by which evaluation of the proposed OCA Best Practices is possible, both in process and content.
Forgive me, but I'd like to reproduce the Donor Bill of Rights here. I'd love to know which of these violate Orthodox Christian ecclesiology, or are inconsistent with Orthodox Christian teaching, and why. As my professors say, please show your work, and cite your sources.
The Donor's Bill of Rights
When you give, be sure your selected charity employs standards and policies that assure you of a "bill of rights" as a donor. You have the right to:
Know how the funds of an organization are being spent.
Know what the programs you support are accomplishing.
Know that the organization complies with federal, state, and municipal laws.
Restrict or designate your gifts to a particular project within the organization's mission objectives.
A timely and courteous response to your inquiries about finances and programs.
Visit office and program sites of an organization to talk personally with the staff.
Give cheerfully without being pressured by the organization.
Obtain a copy of the organization's most recent audited financial statements
Know that there is a responsible governing board providing oversight to the organization's mission.
Know that all appeals for funds are truthful and accurate.
GOOD CHARITIES WILLINGLY ANSWER TOUGH QUESTIONS.
Before you give to any charity, ask these questions. Worthy nonprofit organizations recognize they are recipients of the public trust, and are willing and prepared to supply the answers.
Does the organization have a clear and strong commitment to a certain mission objective?
Does an independent board that oversees the organization's operations and accepts responsibility for its activities?
Are the organization's financial records audited annually by independent certified public accountants?
Does the organization practice financial disclosure?
Can anyone receive a copy of the organization's most recent audited financial statements upon written request?
Can donors obtain financial and other information about any program they have supported?
How does the organization avoid conflicts of interest?
What are the guidelines and standards for fund-raising?
* Is there a review procedure to assure compliance with fund-raising standards and guidelines?
And, if we demand that "Orthodox" label to be valid, I submit this quote from Metropolitan PHILIP of the Antiochian Archdiocese:
"For many years we have been administering our local parishes under a false dichotomy, under a dangerous and completely un-orthodox dualism. Thus, we have been preaching two kinds of theologies: one for the church upstairs, and one for the hall downstairs. We do not believe in this “upstairs-downstairs” theology. Nor do we believe in the existence of two classes in the parish opposing each other: namely, clergy versus laity. This kind of dualism has caused us many problems.
"Some Orthodox clergy do not think that we need organizations and church councils. They think that they can administer the affairs of the parish without help from the laity. Furthermore, they believe that the councils are nothing but an American innovation in our Church and that we do not need them. We completely disagree with this trend of thinking. At the same time, there are some councils who believe that the priest can be hired or fired if he is not perfect. The question now is: what human being is perfect? If you are looking for perfect bishops or perfect priests, you are going to look, and look in vain. "
(the full text is found at http://www.antiochian.org/1153956202 )
I understand fully that our giving is for our own salvation, and an expression of our dependence on God's benevolance for our needs each day. However, I struggle with the idea that those to whom money is given use those funds in an inappropriate way. Am I somehow responsible for a continuing substance abuse situation by giving money to a beggar on the street? I suspect I am.
In many respects our Church leadership, being addicted to material wealth and the power it holds, are like that beggar on the street. Unless I have belief the money is spent responsibly, then it is my duty to withhold my contributions.
Not to say we should discontinue giving! Far from it -- we can express our charity towards others in many ways. Giving to meet local needs is ideal, in my view. Restricting gifts to the use of the local parish is possible, and should be investigated. I believe, given the current structure of giving within the OCA, the best reponse is withholding at the diocese level.
To this point, not a single staff person currently employed by the central administration in Syosset has come forward to justify any of the actions taken there. I'm forced to conclude that the entire staff is complicit in the actions of the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan's staff.
Blessed Theophylact told us that the storehouses of God are the stomachs of the poor. Are we to continue to allow our employees in Syosset to steal from God's storehouses? If we do, then we have as much responsibility for their actions as them.
Withholding funds is the only answer. Syosset exists, apparently, to funnel our money to individuals for their enrichment and amusement. Syosset is no longer needed by the OCA. We derive no benefit from the organization in Syosset.
Elimination of Syosset will refocus our perspective from interaction with the world community to meeting the needs in our local communities and dioceses.
The Holy Synod should, in conjuction with the Metropolitan Council, take away the centralized functions from the control of the Metropolitan. My suggestion is to assume those functions by the individual dioceses, but if a function must be centralized, the Synod must be the oversight, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Council. The Metropolitan can run his diocese as he sees fit -- but our Church is not an autocracy. Our ecclesiology is not monarchial but collegial.
We must empower our Bishops to lead their dioceses, and not be extentions of the Metropolitan. Returning the Bishop to their proper role as the "fullness of the church" is paramount.
Subdeacon John Martin
Martin D. Watt, CPA (Inactive)
#3 Marty Watt on 2006-09-28 08:50
Why do you put so much trust in this Synod? They have been asleep at the wheel! From whence will their competency arise? With all due respect, our ecclesiology is a dynamic of hierarchy and conciliarity, or collegiality as you put it. Empowering an incompetent bishop with more authority is simply a bigger disaster waiting to happen. The mentality of our bishops is not organizational. They are all about power and control and authority and status and pomp. They don't know how to behave outside that realm. They don't know, by and large, how to manage people. Look at the totally incompetent way most of them have responded to this crisis. When and how are they going to learn when it appears they have no interest in learning these skills? Fundamental things need to change in the formation of our clergy and their pastoral skills.
#4 Anonymous on 2006-09-28 18:12
Thank you for your comment!
I'm quite sure you are correct, but frankly I'd rather take my chances that at least some of the dioceses would follow their diocesean councils and statutes, than an all-or-nothing proposition we have now.
The Synod would only be responsible for those issues that require the cooperation from the dioceses. In my mind, those are liturgics and education. Remaining items could be overseen by the Synod but outsourced (like pension funds).
Currently the OCA has established an insurance program that each diocese and parish has the opportunity to participate. There is no central church staff for this function. Participation is optional. There is little, if any, opportunity for abuse in this environment. This, perhaps, is the model of the future.
The problem I have is while the Synod has been asleep at the switch, so has the Metropolitan Council. The MC has functioned (as a group) primarily as a lap dog for Syosset. Individuals with strength and courage to speak out have been summarily silenced. Decisions of the council have been outright ignored -- as an example, the disagreement over the approval or non-approval of the Honesdale bank loan.
I would much rather devolve as much authority as possible to the dioceses, and spread authority as broadly as possible. Centralization breeds corruption. As a consultant in internal control and forensic accounting, as well as troubled organizations, my experience is that centralization is much more difficult to control that decentralization.
I hope that better explains my position. It is by no means ideal, but we crossed that bridge several years ago.
Would we be in this mess if the collusion of five or six dioceses were required to execute the diversion of funds? I suspect not.
Subdeacon John Martin
Martin D. Watt, CPA (Inactive)
#5 Marty Watt on 2006-09-29 08:32
Your concerns about centralization of authority are well founded. The Apostolic model upon which the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church is organized, has been from the beginning decentralized. Our Lord Jesus Christ perfectly understood human weakness when He directed that a shared and conciliar authority guide His Church. He choose twelve discilples who were later to be joined by the seventy to become the apostles. They in turn ordained the bishops as the overseers of the Church. The centralized or "papal model" of Church leadership has been, and continues to be an abomination. Let us all learn from our history.
#6 Marc Trolinger on 2006-09-29 12:59
I presented the proposed "Best Practice Principles for Financial Accountability and associated Policies" to the Metropolitan Council on Thursday September 28, 2006. I will leave it to others to publish the decision of the Council. I will say that the three-hour session was open, cordial, and cooperative. There was no "battle" in any shape or form.
I would like at this time to respond to just a few of your comments.
I did not "decide what rules would govern the OCA" whether "on my own" or with Fr Paul Kucynda. As you know, I submitted the original draft as an offering to the administration and the Council. If they wanted at any time to throw it in the trash can, that would have been great. In retrospect, I wish that they had. It would have saved me a lot of grief. In any event, the selection of Best Practices is up to the administration and the Metropolitan Council to mutually discuss, with the Metropolitan Council being the decision maker.
I am disappointed that a written communication between myself and members of the Metropolitan Council has been made available to you and that you have quoted from it. This may be perfectly legal and I am sure that you think you "are doing your job" and the Council member thinks that he/she was fulfilling "a higher good" but it still smells bad to me. It also sets a very bad precedent for any further communications among Council members and anyone else who volunteers to help them.
You "question how Danilchick himself came to be on a committee ostensibly reporting to the Council without having been appointed to it by the Council." It is quite normal in any organization for individuals to be asked by the administration/ management to develop draft proposals for reporting to and consideration by the governing board. They don't have to be appointed by the board - particularly when the Board only meets two or three times a year. The Board is always free to reject any proposal coming to it from anyone and anywhere.
On "dodging" the direct question of transparency for seminaries and other church organizations -- no reasonable person would think that "applicable with varying degrees of emphasis and detail" would possibly mean "little to zero transparency". A reasonable person would infer that while these policies are good, there should not be the blanket (and blind) application of these practices and policies to all organizations. If you were to read the statements of major non-profit coordinating bodies on this subject, they all say that each organization must consider for itself what are the right policies and procedures that would be most effective in their own particular situation.
As to whether the Finance and Audit Committee is a pipedream or not, I would say that it takes no sweat, no guts and about three seconds to say "it's a pipedream." However, to make this happen in practice will take a lot of sweat, a lot of guts and a lot of time. There will need to be training of the people on the Council and appointments of volunteer experts to help out the Committee members. But there's a real problem here. Who in their right mind would volunteer when they see the record of how volunteers have been treated? Will they want to see themselves selectively picked apart, their discussions with the other members of the committees published, their motivations besmirched, their integrity maligned ("hand picked small group of insiders who govern the church by fiat and lies") and their personal and professional reputations damaged thereby?
There are many other misleading statements in your article which unfortunately I don't have the time to respond to right now.
In Christ, Deacon Peter
#7 Protodeacon Peter Danilchick on 2006-09-29 18:49
I had a strong negative reaction to this article when if first appeared, but haven't commented because every time I try my comments become too convoluted to share, but here's an effort at something coherent ...
There's a difference between what's done, how it's done, and why it's done.
I don’t think that there’s any dispute about the “what” of best practices – we need a guiding set of principles and the ones in the working document are well thought out. If implemented (that’s a big if) as seems to be envisioned by the authors, they would represent a significant step forward (not THE solution to everything, but a step).
This article attacks the "how" of the best practices development. There is, of course, much that's faulty with the "how" of things in the OCA today. But the aspects of how Best Practices have been pursued and developed as discussed in this article don’t strike me as good examples of the problems. The "how" as described here (underneath the spin) is just the way all organizations everywhere work -- people turn to individuals they trust and get advice. Folks are asked to work on things, and then their work is reviewed and ratified by others. That, in and of itself, is not nefarious.
I'll acknowledge, however, that it is muddy territory -- one of the underlying sources of the problems we're facing is that a small group has controlled all information and acted secretly to cover up any unpleasant, unethical, immoral or illegal behavior on the part of insiders -- thus creating a breeding ground for unpleasant, unethical, immoral and illegal behavior. The article paints the whole Best Practices process as an example of this secrecy. But it seems that in this instance Metr. Herman has reached out publicly to some new blood -- maybe not enough new blood, maybe not publicly enough, but still not just another example of business as usual. Reasonable people can disagree on this point, but it’s a matter of opinion, not of fact, and the article goes too far for my taste in presenting a particular opinion as fact.
We don't have functional procedures for doing things, we don't have an effectively functioning Metropolitan Council, we don't have effective oversight or checks and balances -- we need to work towards those things, but we also need to make progress before those things are corrected. So appointing some folks to do something and letting them get to work isn't, in and of itself, a bad thing.
I think concern about the “why” is what really underlies Mark’s attack on the “how”, and I share his concerns as I infer them from what he has written.
There are three possible why’s:
1. To fix things, to be THE solution to our problems
2. To make constructive progress and fix a few things that are aspects of our problems
3. To appear to be doing something in order to suppress criticism, to be a smoke screen.
#1 is a bad reason, and a dangerous one. Best practices isn’t the be all and end all solution. The problems are broader.
#3 is really dangerous and entails convincing people that #1 is what’s going on. So whenever someone is pushing #1, I suspect that #3 is really at work.
#2 is fine – and I believe that it is the motivation for some of the people involved in this effort. They have chosen to engage constructively and to try to make some progress toward solutions.
Their good will does not exempt them from the possibility that others will abuse their good will by attempting to present their work as a more comprehensive solution than it is, but that, in and of itself, does not indict the people who have, with good intentions and a good heart, engaged in this effort.
I’m not sure whether or not #3 is really at work with Metr. Herman and Fr. Kucynda, but confess my deep skepticism. But I am not at all cynical about Dcn. Peter and Mtka. Mary Buletza-Breton – I believe that they fully have #2 as their “why” and are motivated by a desire to offer their professional talents in a constructive manner. Attacking them strikes me as in very poor taste and perhaps also a tactical error.
#8 Rebecca Matovic on 2006-10-01 04:06
I think Rebecca Matovic has made a helpful clarification. Let's hope that many people will be working on #2.
#9 Leaella Shirley on 2006-10-01 11:02
I read the Best Practices implementation guideline, or parts of it and would like to express my concern that providing a financial 2 page summary to the entire church starting Q1 2007 is disappointing.
I expect a compilation report to be provided to the entire church via TOC and the website for June 2006. This is a reasonable expectation, perhaps the language was just wrong.
#10 Daniel E. Fall on 2006-10-02 17:09
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