Reflections On The Scandal
Comments and Clarification
on "Best Practices"
by Protodeacon Peter Danilchik
Thank you for your report and analysis of the recent Metropolitan Council meeting. I was not present at the meeting. However, I would like to offer some comments on the Best Practice activities preceding that meeting and some corrections/ amplification to your report on Best Practices - for the record. On the latter, I believe that your sources have given you some inaccurate information on how the proposed / original version of the Best Practices differs from that finally approved by the Council. I would like to note in advance that, if anyone finds any errors in my corrections, I would be grateful to hear of them.
But first, I congratulate the Metropolitan Council for their obvious intensive and lengthy discussions on Best Practices at their last meeting and their final adoption of the Best Practice Principles and Policies for Financial Accountability. It has been a long road but I am confident that the increased energy and involvement shown by the Council augers well for the future. I suspect that there are some readers of this website who might minimize this accomplishment and think this was “window dressing” and “smokescreen”. I know that they have been disappointed in the past. However, I encourage them to read point-by-point what the Metropolitan Council has committed itself to do regarding financial accountability. It will not be easy and the Council members will need support and encouragement.
Now to my comments on your report (I apologize that this will be long and a bit boring):
1. Your report said that the Best Practices "were first presented to the Council more than a year ago." In fact, they were only officially presented in the September 2006 meeting - although they were sent to each Council member in draft form for comment some months prior. However, the Council as a body only had the action responsibility since September last year.
2. Your report said "In subsequent Council meetings they [the Best Practices] were not passed." That is not quite accurate - since they were indeed approved at the September meeting pending New York State attorney review. That attorney review (which was favorable) was finally received for the March 2007 meeting... at which the MC decided to table final approval pending the Best Practices Committee addressing enforcement and penalties, among other items. The report from the Best Practices Committee addressing these issues was submitted to all Metropolitan Council members on June 1, 2007.
3. Your report said that "members found difficulties with section after section". To find out what the members thought, I asked all the Council members via two e-mails in late April 2007 for their suggestions of any wording changes to the Best Practices document. I received three responses supporting the current wording and urging adoption of the current document plus one response which called the document "severely flawed" but offered no wording changes. No other proposed wording to remedy any difficulties was received by me in response to my requests. So I find the reported comment hard to understand.
4. Your report said "Necessary sections were simply absent or weak - such as whistleblower protection." In fact, the original document did contain an explicit section called "Whistleblower Policy". This policy was consistent with models recommended by coordinating organizations representing hundreds of non-profits and provided explicit protection for whistleblowers -- and was in substance the same as the document finally adopted by the Council at this last meeting. (I should note that I was made aware of one set of recommended wording changes to this Policy that a Council member did indeed send to the rest of the Council. This set of changes was sent on Thursday June 7 -five days before the Council meeting and forty-seven days after my request to the Council for wording suggestions. These changes were not copied by their author to the Best Practices Committee.)
5. Your report said "Members of the Committee insisted for months that the Best Practices were ready to be approved as written and repeatedly urged the Council members to do so." That statement in itself is quite accurate. However, there is more - in the form of three extensive e-mails from me and the Best Practices Committee (one seven pages long) analyzing the issues that were raised in the March meeting and in the afore-mentioned June 7 communication. The recommendation of the Committee (in the seven page document) was that the Best Practices document, as currently drafted, appropriately and adequately addressed the issues brought up by the Council in May and did not require any wording changes. We were open to debate on the issues; however, we did not see much desire from others to debate. I think that was because, for most of the Council, they were in agreement with the existing Best Practices (especially since they had agreed to them at the September 2006 meeting already). We did encounter criticism from one Council member complaining about "pontificating to” and "strong-arming" the Council. On the contrary, we thought that we were doing our job by explicitly setting forth our recommendations and supporting them with rational arguments and facts (even if the report was seven pages long).
6. Your report said "Protodeacon Peter Danilchick suddenly resigned citing other responsibilities." True - except for the "suddenly". I had sent an e-mail to the Council on April 18 that I would not be able to contribute further due to other pressing responsibilities. However, when it appeared that this might cause further delay in the adoption of the Best Practices, I continued working anyway. However, after a further almost two months of work, I thought it unfair to my other church, family and business responsibilities to continue and thus I called a final halt to my involvement. This had been a very long and tedious road to the adoption of Best Practices which, until this last Council meeting, remained under construction. Thank you, Metropolitan Council, for opening the road to traffic.
7. You quoted a Council member who said "It was rather like being told to buy an appliance at a scratch and dent sale, like it or not." While this is certainly a colorful expression, it is also highly discounting to the work put in by the Best Practices Committee since November 2005.
8. Your report said that "what the Council passed was not what Syosset intended." Syosset had nothing to do with it. The Best Practices document was an independent product of the Committee - not of anyone in "Syosset". While some may think that the Committee was “hand-picked” by Syosset, the Committee members have their own sense of personal integrity which prohibits them from being a “mouth-piece” for others – any others.
9. Your report said "the original version encouraged whistleblowers to complain to management (about management). The revised version offers a different pathway, through a newly-established Ethics committee." Yes, the original did just that - as does the revised version also - you only need to compare the two versions. This is Standard Operating Procedure in any organizational Whistleblower Policy – to try to resolve problems from within, with members of management that one trusts, if possible. What your report did not mention is that the original version states that if the employee is not comfortable with that process or suspects fraud, the employee goes to the Chair of the Council Audit Committee. The substantive change made in the revised version is to replace the former Audit Committee responsibility with an Ethics Committee. Although I believe the previous version would have worked well, the new version is a definite improvement by shining the spotlight in a highly visible fashion upon the subject.
10. Your report said "the Ethics Committee is accountable to the Council - not management as Syosset originally intended." The last phrase is not accurate. If you read the original document, you will see that the Audit Committee is a Committee of the Metropolitan Council - NOT established by Syosset.
11. Your report said "failure to report suspected fraud is now grounds for termination of employment as failure to report is now a violation of the Policy." This statement is not accurate. Firstly, there is no change in treatment between the original and the revised policy. Secondly, "termination" is mentioned in both document versions only for retaliation against whistleblowers. Thirdly, both versions speak of the Council taking “appropriate corrective and disciplinary action”. That could certainly include termination but would need to take into account, on a case-by-case basis, employment contracts, law and regulations as well as Statute concerns (e.g., expulsion from the Metropolitan Council).
12. Your report said "before the meeting began no proposal had included the Synod itself in Best Practices." That is quite correct. It was not included on the premise that the Council is specifically responsible for financial governance and accountability according to the Statute. Also the feeling was that the Council needed to show that it was willing to live by these Policies before imposing them on other church bodies. However, if the Synod were to accept the Best Practices, including Ethics and Conflict of Interest Policies, that is certainly a wonderful outcome. I commend the courage of the Council in recommending that.
13. Your report said "in another significant change from the original proposals, the new Best Practices contains no worrisome 'confidentiality agreements' that could be used against Council members." That is not correct. Nowhere in the previous versions was there ANY mention of confidentiality agreements.
14. Your report said the new version "does however include a 'disclosure of conflicts of interest' policy ". However, this disclosure policy was included in the previous version – and thus there is NO change. The wording of this policy AND treatment of offenders is exactly the same.
All of the above being said for the record, I am very happy that the Council has approved the Best Practice Principles and Policies for Financial Accountability. I hope and pray that these will help them fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities. I also hope and pray that we will all support and encourage the Metropolitan Council in their efforts.
Mark – thanks for the opportunity to make these comments.
Protodeacon Peter Danilchick