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Five Part Series Begins: Three Days in October

Part One:

Major Resolution Passed;

Little Resolved by Metropolitan Council

Much was decided but little resolved in this week's meetings of the Metropolitan Council and the Synod of Bishops, held separately and jointly, in Syosset.

The good news is that unlike past Synod and Council meetings, Syosset published something every day - and a brief summary of the Metropolitan Council's decisions with only a one day delay. The bad news is that much of what was posted was propagandistic, incomplete and misleading, often deliberately so, which is very much like the past. Ironically, the one thing most worth reading was posted, taken down 45 minutes later, and subsequently disavowed. In this, the first of a five part series attempting to piece together what happened in Syosset during these three days in October, OCANews.org examines the decisions of the Metropolitan Council.

Reality Check

We begin with Syosset's brief summary of the Metropolitan Council posted on the evening of October 18, 2007:

"SYOSSET, NY [OCA Communications] -- On Tuesday, October 16, 2007, following a Divine Liturgy celebrated by His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman in St. Sergius of Radonezh Chapel, the OCA Metropolitan Council met from 10:15 am to 10:10 pm.

In his address at the close of the Divine Liturgy, His Beatitude asked the group to remember its high calling at all times. He spoke of the Church's suffering, as well his personal pain at the strife and division within the OCA. He pointed out that the Special Investigation Committee's membership will be open as an agenda item at the Joint Holy Synod - Metropolitan Council meeting on October 17."

On the contrary, the truth is that the Metropolitan's address made it quite clear that the membership of the Special Investigation Committee (SIC) would not be open. He had already appointed the chair before the meeting, already nominated five members, and in his opening address peremptorily vetoed at least four other potential candidates for the remaining spot. To quote the Metropolitan directly: "When we gather tomorrow for our Joint Meeting, with Bishop Benjamin as the appointed chair of the new Special Investigative Committee, the clergy and lay membership of the Committee will be determined through open discussion with one exception; those who served previously and resigned are not eligible to serve on the new Committee." (Read the Metropolitan's Address here).

The press release continues:

"OCA Chancellor, V. Rev. Alexander Garklavs, chaired the Metropolitan Council sessions. His Beatitude was with the Holy Synod, meeting in separate session. In his opening remarks, Fr. Alexander reminded the Council that we are all gathered together by Divine Providence, we are stewards of this experience, and that we need to speak the truth in love.

Over the course of the day, the Metropolitan Council discussed issues ranging from points of order and governance to the Special Investigation Committee and the 2007 budget. A summary of discussion highlights follows.

Points of Order:

The Council agreed that its members from the Midwest Diocese should be seated with full voting privileges, despite the withholding of assessments from that Diocese. This was motivated by a desire to ensure that our entire Church family be represented in the discussion of our current situation, and a spirit of mutual love and respect in a period of serious dialogue on critical issues."

Point of Order, Indeed!

The last sentence is pure mendacity. The Statute of the OCA regarding the Metropolitan Council (Article V) says nothing about voting privileges being related to assessments in any way, shape or form. The issue was a non-starter. The fact it was even brought may be explained by who did so - members of the Metropolitan's hand-picked Reorganization Task Force, and an officer appointed solely by the Metropolitan. Their whole effort was as transparent as it was shallow.

What makes the press release mendacious is that the motion was hardly "motivated by a desire to ensure that our entire Church family be represented in the discussion of our current situation, and a spirit of mutual love and respect in a period of serious dialogue on critical issues." If that had been the case, was a motion even necessary? On the contrary, the three makers of the motion made sure to insert a clause in the motion noting that seating the Midwest delegates "does not set a precedent". This would suggest the motive was not love, but rather to issue a warning: "We may be allowing this at the present, but anybody withholding ( the Midwest) or even thinking about withholding (New England, the South,,,) be warned..."

Alaska says "No"

The press release continues:

"All but one Council member signed statements acknowledging their responsibilities in accordance with the Ethics, Whistle-blowing and Conflict of Interest provisions of the Church's Best Practices for Financial Accountability. (The one member who did not sign cited a letter from her hierarch being presented to the Holy Synod at this week's meeting.)"

It was indeed announced at the Council meeting that all the members present, save one, had signed the annual Ethics, Whistleblower, and Conflict of Interest statements mandated by Best Practices. Mina Jacobs, the secretary of Bishop Nikolai and lay delegate from Alaska, was the sole exception. All the members of the Synod had signed "Best Practices" as well, except one. Bishop Nikolai of Alaska would not sign either.

The Bishop described "Best Practices" in his letter to the joint session as "poorly drafted, poorly edited, and poorly reviewed". In a four page statement listing his objections to the document (that was adopted by the Council and Synod in June) the Bishop of Alaska suggested new deletions or revisions that gutted virtually every significant part of the document, arguing that episcopal prerogatives were being usurped. In this opinion the Bishop stands alone. He stands in contrast to that of the law firm that reviewed the "Best Practices" documents; the committee, under Deacon Peter Danilchick that drafted them; the Metropolitan Council, who spent hours reviewing them, line by line, before adopting them; not to mention all the other members of the Holy Synod. (Fr. Isidore (Brittain), the clergy delegate from Alaska, (currently under investigation for sexual harassment as per allegations made by the former Dean of Students at St. Herman's, Paul Sidebottom) was not present at the Metropolitan Council meeting but has not signed "Best Practices" either.)

The press release continues:

"The Council heard a report on the immigration status of Paul Bodnar, recently named as OCA Secretary, whose visa extension application is delayed in routine INS processing."

Bodnar, a Canadian citizen, cannot be an 'official' OCA employee working in the United State until his Immigration and Naturalization Service paperwork is fully completed. Thus he was seated as a Council observer, without a vote, at this meeting. In the future he will, by Statute, be a voting member of the Council.

"Governance:

Very Rev. Andrew Jarmus, Director of Ministries and Communications, presented a draft communications protocol for the Council's ongoing consideration."

Fr. Jarmus, in fact, passed out a draft communications policy which offered the promise of regular informational updates from the Chancery to Council members on the one hand, while proposing that all questions from Council members between meetings be sent to the Metropolitan (as Council Chair) and the responsible Syosset 'administrative team member'. (In recent months, Metropolitan Council members have addressed questions via e-mail to Syosset, copying the entire Council. Answers have been provided in some instances - but too often Council members questions have gone unanswered.) The proposed new policy would have the Metropolitan respond to such questions, or the appropriate administrative team members personally, or through the regular information updates.

The issue of confidentiality was also briefly discussed. Because the communications policy and limits on dissemination of other information could restrict the flow of information from Syosset, the draft policy was sent back for additional review.

"OCA Audit Committee Report:

V. Rev. Paul Suda reported a successful quarterly audit of central Church financial activities for the period April - June 2007."

The Council passed a motion to restore limited and strictly controlled use of corporate credit cards, since the new system which banned all use of credit cards, was unwieldy and difficult. Mr. David Donlick resigned as an elected OCA internal auditor. Frank Tkacz was then moved up from alternate, but noted that as a stipended employee (Tkacz manages the OCPC) he should no longer be eligible to run for Auditor at the next All-American Council as per "Best Practices".

The Heart of the Matter

The press release continues:

"Special Investigation Committee:

After lengthy deliberation, including informal discussion with His Grace, Bishop BENJAMIN, the Council passed a resolution, presented by V. Rev. Mark Sherman, Diocese of New England. Specific points of concern were the Council's statutory financial and legal responsibilities and its obligation to assure the integrity and independence of the Committee's work product. The resolution calls for an independent Special Investigation Committee that reports to both the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council with specific provisions to protect the Committee from infringements on its independence."

The heart of the Council meeting was a discussion of the investigation process. The Council had already unanimously agreed to the charge and the goals for an investigation at its last meeting in June 2007. However, the Metropolitan had other ideas - which ended in resignations from the Special Commission in August 2007. Shortly after the Midwest began withholding its assessments, the Metropolitan appointed Bishop Benjamin to lead a new Special Investigative Committee, ostensibly with all the power he had denied the previous Special Commission. The problems with the new SIC were discussed at length on this site.

(Read that article here)

As a result a potential showdown loomed at this meeting, with the possibility of two bodies being established - one by the Metropolitan Council and one by the Metropolitan, both dueling over which was more legitimate. Many on the Council sought to allay this possibility. It was in this context that Bishop Benjamin spoke to the Metropolitan Council on Tuesday evening, repeating his remarks to the Synod in the joint session the following day. To the Council the Bishop stated that:

- he was going to pick the members of the new Committee himself, not the Metropolitan


- the criterion would be 'people he could work with'


- the members should be more representative of the whole church geographically


- no one who had taken a strong position ( i.e. published on the internet) would be chosen


- no one who had served on the Kondratick court would be named


- that witnesses will be interviewed


- that a chronology is needed of what happened, when, why and how


- that the new Committee would report to the Council and the Synod


- that the Committee needs to tell the story, but not all the particulars


- that he wants to prove doubters wrong, that our OCA model of governance can work

A lengthy discussion followed the Bishop's remarks between those who thought it necessary that Council and Synod work together, even if it meant adopting the Metropolitan's framework, and those who remained skeptical given the evidence of the recent past. In the end, in an attempt to safeguard the new Committee from the interference the former Commission suffered, the following resolution was proposed.

It reads:

"RESOLUTION FOR THE HOLY SYNOD (HS)/METROPOLITAN COUNCIL (MC) SPECIAL INVESTIGATIVE COMMITTEE

Whereas, the Metropolitan Council is given in the OCA Statute the competence to 'examine all financial reports of the Church', and the competence to 'supervise the collection of the assessments and fees established by the All-American Council and determine the allocation of such funds', and further the competence to 'initiate, prosecute, and defend all legal matters affecting the interest of the Church', and:

Whereas, the Metropolitan Council therefore has the authority and responsibility under the OCA Statute to investigate the financial concerns associated with the years 1998 to 2007, and:

Whereas, the Metropolitan because he was Treasurer during the period of interest, would be considered to have a potential conflict of interest in accordance with the Best Practices with regard to such an investigation;

Be it therefore resolved by the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America that the Metropolitan Council respectfully requests that the investigation be conducted by a HS/MC Special Investigation Committee established by the Metropolitan Council in conjunction with the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America.

Be it further resolved that the HS/MC Special Investigative Committee shall:

1. Determine what tasks need to be concluded in order to determine what happened in the financial affairs from 1998-2007, what were the root causes that allowed in appropriate financial transactions, and what corrective actions are necessary to prevent recurrence of such inappropriate financial transactions:

2) Conduct all necessary interviews of persons that in the committee's judgement may have information germane to the matters at issue, considering no witnesses off limits;

3) Make written recommendations to the Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod regarding implementation of the corrective actions necessary to prevent recurrence of inappropriate transactions;

4) Recommend such other actions as the committee may feel appropriate;

5) Provide quarterly reports to the Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod regarding progress of the committee;

6) Make decisions with the committee by majority vote of the committee, with the Chair voting to resolve tie votes;

7) Conclude the investigation and provide a written report to the Metropolitan Council and the Holy Synod of the committee complete findings.

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."

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 18 in favor,

1 opposed with 2 abstentions. Yet little of the above made it into Syosset's summary. And as we shall see, not all of these recommendations made it through beyond the Synod of Bishops. The Council's key concluding point, that the Metropolitan be asked to step aside as regards the investigation, did not.

The Looming AAC

"15th All American Council (AAC):

Acting on a report from V. Rev. Myron Manzuk, Council Manager, the Metropolitan Council agreed on a series of recommendations to the Holy Synod, including the following: that Pittsburgh, PA, be the site and that November 10-13 be the dates of the 15th AAC. In comparison to previous All American Councils, this will be a relatively scaled-down event. Although early discussions about the upcoming AAC spoke about only allowing delegates to participate, it was the collective opinion of the Metropolitan Council that allowing observers to be present was crucial to preserve a spirit of being open and inclusive of all our faithful.

The Metropolitan Council proposed that the Pre-Conciliar Commission consist of the four members of the Chancery Administration Team (Chancellor, Secretary, Treasurer, and Director of Ministries and Communications), plus four other people, 2 men and 2 women, selected with a view to including younger Church members and members representing the geographic diversity of the Church. Parish assessments will be $8.00 per capita."

The first session of the next All-American Council is expected to begin its first session on the 11th of November, 2008. The Metropolitan Council recommended that retired clergy be invited to attend as delegates, be allowed to speak, but not allowed to vote, in accordance with the Statute. A special assessment of $8 per person will be levied throughout the OCA to pay for the Council. This was adopted in place of the old tax which charged a minimum of $400 per parish even for those with less than 50 members.

As usual, Fr. Myron Manzuk remained in place as the Council Manager, but others, such as long-time Metropolitan Council member Dr. Alice Woog, who had been receiving $500 a month from the OCA as an "All- American Council Project Manager" in years past, were removed from the OCA's payroll.

The major problem with the All-American Council, as discussed by the Metropolitan Council, was that no one knows what to do with it. If the scandal is ongoing, still unresolved, it matters little what theme is chosen or what is planned. Thus, when Syosset proposed a list of 15 people (clergy and lay) for the Pre-Conciliar Commission, as well as the other names added from the floor, the Metropolitan Council would not agreed to the expense of such a large body. Instead 2 clergy and 2 lay persons were proposed in addition to the 4 officers from Syosset, and Fr. Manzuk. The appointments will be made by the Bishops. They have yet to be announced.

The Budget Tightens By Necessity

"The Council as a body reviewed each line item of the 2007 budget to identify $250,000 in 2007 cost reductions necessitated by the withholding of assessments by the Diocese of the Midwest. After hearing recommendations for reductions of approximately $126,000.00 from Financial Committee Chairman, V. Rev. Matthew Tate, the Council explored various alternatives for further savings of $124,000.00, without decision. At the end of its late evening session, the Council reviewed the status of benchmarks set by the Midwest Diocese"

The Council authorized the freezing of stipends or their elimination - as proposed earlier by the Reorganization Task Force and Finance Committees. The Reorganization Task Force reported that Syosset had 35 employees -- full and part -- with a total compensation package of almost $2 million in January, 2006. Today, that number is 18 at a little over a million. With a few new hires (Treasurer, etc.) that is expected to rise to $1.4 million.

A Final "No" to Proskauer Rose

What was not mentioned above was that the Council passed a motion, almost unanimously, not to authorize payment of any new charges to Proskauer Rose LLP effective immediately. The OCA still owes between approximately $100,000 to the law firm; and several thousands more to the accountants for work already completed.

When question on the outstanding amount due to Proskauer Rose LLP, Fr. Kucynda, Acting Treasurer, inexplicably 'recused' himself. In short, he refused to cooperate further with the Council and that line of questioning was brought to an end. It was subsequently revealed that an additional invoice for work done in preparation for the Kondratick trial would be forthcoming from Proskauer Rose LLP.

The Council ended its meeting almost 12 hours after it began. They tried hard, and often successfully, to face head-on the biggest problems facing the OCA - the lack of truth and the lack of credibilty. Unfortunately, as a distorted and distorting press release about their work demonstrates, those problems are not theirs alone to solve.

- Mark Stokoe

------------------------

Coming Next Week:

Part Two
The Opening Address of Metropolitan Herman to The Synod and Metropolitan Council Examined

And in the days to follow:

Part Three
The Synod and Metropolitan Council Address The Special Investigative Committee

Part Four
The Statement of the Synod of Bishops Regarding Robert Kondratick

Part Five
45 Minutes that Shook the OCA: The Disappearing Summary

 
 

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