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Some Thoughts on Culture

and the AAC
by Dr. Dmitri Solodow, CA

A forty-year career as a strategic, financial and organizational advisor to business leaders around the world has convinced me that successful organizations actively and consciously build a culture which supports their vision and strategy. I certainly am not the first to “discover” this.

As a member of the SIC, it was heart-breaking to see the way in which the culture of the OCA was actively built into one of deceit, self-dealing, cover-up and criminality. The SIC's recommendations are aimed at developing a culture of accountability, openness and balance. Our recommendation for a strategic planning process, from the bottom up, involving as much input as is possible, specifically addresses the question of culture-building.

Culture may be defined as an organization’s beliefs, values and norms; reflected in the way in which it does things, in its standard operating procedures. It is not impacted by designing a new organization chart or putting new people into boxes on that chart. What is required is an organization-wide agreement on where we are going and on the leaders consistent modeling and rewarding of the behaviors necessary to get us there. We have a long way to go to make the culture of the OCA what it must be.

Two recent events demonstrate this. At it’s last meeting, the Metropolitan Council took up the question of presenting materials to the AAC to help it make the critical decision on the “head tax” for the next three years. There was a fruitful discussion of how to do this, with two options emerging.

One would present two possible head taxes ($90 and $105), show the income to be derived from each, and show how that income might be budgeted. “People need to know the results of the choice they make, and how that choice could 'devastate’ the administration” proponents said. On the AAC website the administration tells us "The per capita assessment level must realistically match the expenses of the central administration; the assessment and the budgeted expenditures must work together”.   Not so. This statement represents the old approach to budgeting, in which the administration tells us how much it needs to do what it wants to do and asks us to provide enough income for it to do so.

Those of us who spoke against this approach at the Metropolitan Council meeting believe that setting the head tax and allocating income are two separate tasks. It is impossible to know what allocations will be made until the MC makes them. A head tax of, for example, $90 does not mean all central administration positions will be funded, or that a certain amount will go to fund evangelization. To present budget “scenarios” which imply otherwise is misleading, however well-intentioned.

The alternative approach advocated by many of us would also show the income derived from each of the two head taxes, but would then show only the “unavoidable expenses” which have to be met, regardless of the level of income. These “unavoidable expenses” are: estimated legal expenses, the costs of maintaining ownership of the Syosset property, payment on the Honesdale loan, the annual financial audit, the meeting and travel costs of Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council, and estimated costs associated with the strategic planning process. These costs total approximately $773,670.

No other allocations are proposed. It is left to the AAC to prioritize categories for spending (evangelization, external affairs, administration, Christian Education, etc),and to the Metropolitan Council to create a budget to actualize these priorities and, in doing so, establish specific, measurable outcomes for each allocation.

The Metropolitan Council, by majority vote, chose the first plan. There was dissent, but the decision was fairly made. To be clear: neither choice is “right” or “wrong.” But each reflects a very different cultural approach.

The former says “here is what we need. If you don’t fund it, look at the chaos you will create.”

The other says “here is the income generated from your head tax decision. Once specific “unavoidable expenses” are met, here’s what’s left. What do you think our spending priorities ought to be?”

The cultural norms reflected in each approach are clear.

My second point: reading the minutes of that Metropolitan Council meeting, one would have no idea that such discussion took place or that choices were presented. The minutes reflect the outcome, not how the Council got there. This, sadly, is consistent with something else the SIC learned in the course of its investigation: past Metropolitan Council minutes were edited so that no dissension was ever mentioned. Readers would not know that individual Council members stood up against what was happening, often at their peril.

This artifact of the old OCA culture also must change. Openness and transparency call for just that: the complete story, fully told. How else is the Church to know what is really happening in its governing bodies?

Changing our culture will not be easy. The very concept of change is frightening to some. They will suggest any number of reasons why “it can’t be done.” Others will resist because we have done a poor job of making the case for change. Others may feel left out of the process. Some will get it. Those who do get it have the responsibility of not being stopped by the nay-sayers and in bringing along the rest of us. Patiently. But vigilantly.

Let me close on a positive note. The SIC itself was an example of how the new culture, which respects and balances hierarchy and conciliarity, can work. The Committee was established to include two members of the laity, two members of the clergy and a bishop. Decisions were made by majority vote, with the bishop voting only to break a tie. This allowed for many spirited and fruitful discussions, without the opportunity for anyone to “pull rank.” It worked very well.

This AAC will provide the Church with a clear opportunity to build the open, accountable and balanced culture we need.

Let's seize that opportunity.

(Dr. Dmitri Solodow is currently a member of the Metropolitan Council from the Diocese of the West, and a member of the Special Investigation Committee (SIC).)


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