Every night for the past week or so my wife and I have been watching episodes of Bewitched on Netflix. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything. I just thought you might like to know.
What I really wanted to say in this piece is this: if we’re going to undertake a CEF clean-up/reclamation project, then those who made the mess shouldn’t be the ones to clean it up. There are afew good reasons why those in the administration of district and CEF need to step aside: optics, their own protection, and the protection of investors interests. At first these might seem contradictory, even mutually exclusive, but they do make sense.
District President Don Schiemann said in his pastoral letter and to the CBC today, “(the CEF insolvency) happened on my watch.” “It happened on my watch” is a fantastic construction. It hearkens back to old ships and mates on watch, listening for the ships bells every 30 minutes (I love ships clocks and bells). For some it conjures a lonely shepherd keeping watch over his flocks by night…and then these angels came, made a huge racket, woke him up, freaked him out, and the next thing you know there’s a baby in a stable and wise men and what the heck is with all the TV specials and mulled wine? Like that.
“It happened on my watch,” can be phrased a few different ways. The implication is that “while I was at the helm (to stay with the maritime theme), something went wrong.” The first thing I’m going to point out is that “It happened on my watch” is passive language. “I was just standing there and >WHAM< did someone get the number of that truck?” It’s an acknowledgement of presence, but not an admission of failure. The failure just “happened.” Here are a few different versions and implications of “It happened on my watch.”
“It happened while I was watching,” or “I watched it happen,” implies that the problem was known, but no action was taken. Not good.
“I was watching, but missed it,” suggests they didn’t recognize the problem, so didn’t take action. Uh oh.
“It was my watch, but I wasn’t watching,” supposes they were responsible but weren’t attentive to the problem for any number of reasons. Oy.
“It happened on my watch” isn’t an answer or a response. It’s, “Hello, my name is District President.” Weirdly, it’s one of the few things we already knew.
I’ve been on the phone a lot over the last few of days. I’ve spoken with stock brokers, CGAs, CMAs, and financial advisors. What strikes me about the conversations is that they’re all the same. First, the experts ask the same questions as investors. The exact…same…questions. Then, when they hear there are no audits, no statements, no plan, and little communication, they ask who the trustee or receiver is. When I tell them it’s business as usual, all I hear on the phone is silence, followed by a slight escape of air.
Bearing all this in mind, the reasons for change at the helm are clear…
The first reason is the most basic and barely worth mentioning: the optics are just really really bad. Bad Bad Leroy Brown bad. It’s Wile E. Coyote trying to stop an avalanche of boulders with a little umbrella.
Secondly, by stepping aside, the administration protects itself from further entanglements. Entanglements is a word used by accountants and lawyers which really means, “it’s a mess…don’t make it worse for yourself or anyone else.”
Finally, and most importantly, the administrators need to act aggressively to protect the investors. It’s their actual job. It’s their fiduciary duty. A commitment to “get to the bottom of this” isn’t a matter of answering questions on a Q&A section of a website, and it’s definitely not trying to fix the problem you’re in the middle of. Just step away and let experts sort it out.
If we really want to get to the bottom of the issue, the administrators and board members ought to surrender all documentation to independent auditors (or trustee) for a full discovery of the facts, district office operations should be suspended to accommodate the investigation, and for the time being Synod should assume administration of ABC congregations (call process, services to congregations etc).
To restore trust someone else has to take the watch.
Andreas Schwabe is editor and publisher of SolaGratia.ca, and an Edmonton-based multimedia & communication strategist and producer. His focus for SolaGratia is on administration, governance, and issues of faith. For clients, he writes or produces just about anything.