Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Disgraceful Waste: Bob Malm Flushes $2 Million of Church Funds Down the Toilet on His Personal Residence

Speaking of dysfunction, in 2014 the Grace vestry decided to write off half of the value of a loan it had made 10 years earlier to Bob Malm. The loan had been provided so that Bob could purchase a private residence. But writing off half the loan, especially at a time when the church was in relatively dismal financial condition, was a bad and irresponsible decision, as we’ll see below. And before you ask, as a vestry member, I was the sole person to vote no on the forgiveness, which amounted to $100,000 of a $200,000 loan.

But there’s more to it than just the loan. As we’ll see below, the loan is just the tip of the iceberg in a series of spectacularly ill-advised business decisions made by the vestry at Bob Malm’s urging. In this matter, Bob placed his perceived personal interests ahead of those of the parish he claims to serve, while the vestry lost sight of its fiduciary obligations.

First, an important disclaimer, which is that a loan for a personal residence is the one exception to the canonical prohibition on churches lending money to their clergy. Thus, there is nothing inherently wrong about a church lending its rector money for the down payment for a personal residence.

That said, it is important to note that, at the time Bob decided to buy a personal residence, he resided in a perfectly livable rectory, much larger than his current home. Yes, it needed work, perhaps as much as $200,000 worth, but it was comfortable, convenient, and owned free and clear by the church.

But Bob appears to have had it in his head that if he had his own place it would be a nest egg for retirement. That of course, presupposes adequate maintenance and upkeep—neither of which has happened in practice. Thus, Bob traded a large, poorly maintained home for a small, poorly maintained home, all while spending a small mountain of donated cash. Nice move, Bob. 

So, despite considerable misgivings and resistance on the part of the vestry, Bob bludgeoned a proposal through the vestry to help him buy a private residence. This he did by dint of much noisy argument, and by remaining present during the vestry vote on the matter, with the result that more than one vestry member feared that, if they voted no, they would face retaliation. Yes, imagine that.

But the proposal went further. At Bob’s urging, the church tore down the rectory, an asset with a value of roughly $700,000, at an all-in demolition cost of about $200,000. (Such projects are surprisingly costly.) Thus, the parish was down about $900,000, of which roughly $200,000 was a wash versus the cost of updating the rectory.

To get Bob into his new residence, the parish extended what was then a $100,000 loan for the down payment, and boosted Bob’s total compensation via a housing allowance and other perks from a little more than $70,000 a year, plus the use of the rectory, to a total well more than double the original figure.

To make matters worse, the original loan amortized accrued interest. In other words, the loan just sat there like Jabba the Hut, getting bigger and bigger over time, with no payments or interest due. Thus, Bob’s personal residence needed to increase in value by 7% every year if the loan was not to erode any potential profit that Bob would make at the time he resold the house. Hardly a done deal in the best of times, and a very tall order indeed for a small, older home with few updates and much deferred maintenance.

Jabba would look better with a hair transplant, don’t you think?

When the note first matured in 2009, Bob already had signaled that he would likely seek another position, one in a different church. But it appears that Bob did not find another church willing to match his insanely generous compensation package, nor provide a laissez-faire governance regime in which, to closely paraphrase one of Bob’s former assistant rectors, “Bob could get away with murder.” So, in true Grace Church fashion, the vestry decided to add insult to injury for all parties and kick the can down the road. The maturation date on the loan was set back another five years, conveniently ignoring the deferred maintenance and interest that was piling up on Bob’s personal residence and thus eroding the parties’ equity in the property.

By this time, Bob still had made not a single payment of interest or principal. Making monthly payments, regardless of the imprudent terms of the loan, would of course have been sensible, but Bob has never been one to let such niceties intrude. As a result, when the loan matured in 2014, the value of the loan had ballooned to $200,000, double its original size.

So, in 2014, the vestry decided to “solve” things by writing off $100,000 of the loan, in recognition of Bob’s years of “service,” and requiring repayment of the original loan over a five-year period. That’s right—the church walked away from the original deal and gave Bob a $100,000 bonus. Keep in mind, too, Bob is far from stupid. He knew full well what he was getting into. So, why should he not have been held to the terms and conditions to which he agreed?

There are, of course, circumstances under which this may have been appropriate. For example, if the parish were awash in a sea of cash. Or if Bob’s job performance were exemplary. As in, if he adhered to the terms of his letter of agreement. Or grew the parish. Or had regular mutual ministry reviews. But the reality is that, while Bob can be engaging on an interpersonal level, he views being a priest as, in the words of someone close to him, “Just a job.” So no need to get too caught up in notions of Christian charity—that’s not part of Bob’s worldview, and I can tell you firsthand he doesn’t extend that approach to others.

Bob Malm’s Mediocre Job Performance

Moreover, Bob’s attitude towards being a priest is reflected in his work performance. Consider:
  1. For years, parish business records were a hot mess. 
  2. One of the parish registers has gone missing. 
  3. For more than a decade, church financial records were facially disorganized, and no audit was done, nor was any meaningful effort made to clean up the books. (The parish does an agreed-upon procedures review, which has no external attestation value. In other words, it doesn’t prove anything, but instead recites information provided by the client.) 
  4. Staff has often behaved badly, and one staff member was a hoarder. Bob consistently refused to address these issues.
  5. There still is no strategic plan.
  6. Bob comes and goes pretty much as he pleases; there have been times when he has taken leave far in excess of that permitted under his letter of agreement, and without vestry approval.
  7. Basic canonical requirements, such as a written finance manual, are still not in place, more than 25 years after Bob started his job. (See the Manual of Methods in Church Business Affairs for this and other requirements that Bob has conveniently ignored.)
  8. Even his sermons have become pointedly short, and more than one parishioner has said that Bob seems thoroughly burned out. Bob has become both increasingly lackadaisical and autocratic, while appearing convinced that he is somehow special. Yes, he can turn on the superficial charm when he chooses to, but that’s all it is — superficial charm. I mean, if Bob really cares about the church and its people, as some members claim, why the dysfunction and the indifference? And it’s not like there’s any dearth of folks who’d be willing to help fix things; many parishioners are both intelligent and highly skilled.
Where does that leave things? As things stand, Bob is paid better than a great many Episcopal bishops. For example, below are 2017 salaries for bishops on the staff of the presiding bishop, including Todd Ousley, the bishop in charge of pastoral development:

Nor does locality account for Bob’s overly generous compensation. See, for example, data below for priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which has some of the highest salaries in the country:

Another data point is reflected below, which is the Church Pension Group’s (CPG) 2016 salary survey of Episcopal churches of Province III, which reveals that Bob is compensated at annual rate more than 40 percent higher than comparable clergy in the region (look at the Program category)—and that is without factoring in his $100000 bonus in 2014! (CPG’s numbers include housing and any bonuses paid; the imputed value of a rectory is included).

Bob has about another year of payments left on the original $100,000 loan; meanwhile, the church (including its component entity, the school) is preparing to spend $1.2 million on HVAC improvements that will primarily benefit the school, with half the money coming from the church. The faux slate roof needs to be replaced, the stained glass windows need costly restoration, the parking lot needs repaved, and the original elevator needs to be overhauled.

The Debacle by the Numbers

Total Loss to Grace Episcopal Church, 2004-2018
Loss of equity, rectory$700,000.00
Write-off, accrued interest$100,000.00
Total compensation increase, 14 years$1,200,000.00
Avoided costs, rectory repairs$200,000.00
Rectory tear-down costs$200,000.00

These numbers become particularly compelling when we look at the capital expenses and extraordinary costs the church will face in the next few years:

Anticipated Capital and Extraordinary Expenses, 2018-2021
Miscellaneous HVAC repairs$45,000.00
HVAC replacement, church share$600,000.00
Elevator refurbishment, church share$30,000.00
Stained glass restoration$60,000.00
Parking lot repaving, church share$25,000.00
HVAC blueprints, church share$22,500.00
Faux slate roof replacement$60,000.00
Replace failed double-pane windows$40,000.00
Replace exterior rotted wood trim and rake boards$40,000.00
Replace obsolete fire alarm control panel$15,000.00
Contingency funds (needed for HVAC replacement and other major projects in light of facility age)$200,000.00


Keep in mind that, when all this work is done, there still will be major challenges with the building. For instance:
  • The nave still will not be able to maintain temperature during hot summer days or major events. 
  • Plumbing will still be obsolete, with piping in original parts of the building at actuarial end of life (for the record, copper pipes, which comprise most of the plumbing in the building, do not have an indefinite lifespan). 
  • Neither elevator will meet modern Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. 
  • There still will be no ADA-acessible entrance. That means not just a ramp, but Braille signage and an electro-mechanical door opening system to assist wheelchair users and others of limited mobility.
  • Interior directional signage will remain crude and non-ADA compliant.
  • Interior finish, notably much of the 1994 renovations, will still be at end of life. 
  • The commercial kitchen will still be obsolete.
  • Several local HVAC units will remain out, including the one in the rear fire tower.
  • The lower hallway under the original narthex will still lack adequate HVAC.
  • Humidity and temperature control in the undercroft will remain spotty at best due to poor air flow control and the oversized, 20-ton unit that services the space. As a result, summer humidity levels routinely exceed 70 percent, which is neither healthy, nor good for the grand piano and other musical instruments in the choir room.
Nor is the HVAC work likely to come in under budget. Builders are doing well right now, and with the third floor of the building out of service, it will be clear to bidders that the church has little leverage. Further, older buildings such as Grace’s physical plant have one consistent characteristic, and that is their ability to throw curve balls into the path of anyone doing capital improvements. In short, procurement under duress rarely is the most cost-effective procurement, and even more so in a building that is now more than 60 years old.

Nor do things look much better for Bob Malm. Although comparable homes in the area have appreciated by about $200,000 since the date of this purchase, the extent of deferred maintenance on Bob’s private residence, the antiquated layout, the very small size, the perilous exterior steps, the lack of landscaping, the original windows and the obsolete bathrooms leave Bob in a position where he will be lucky to break even. Moreover, despite the influx of donated cash, Bob’s penchant for lengthy vacations, expensive private schools for his children, cosmetic procedures, and other indicia of keeping up with the Hillers left the family in precarious financial condition for many years. See, for example, the judgment recorded in 2010 by Suntrust Bank,  now a matter of public record, six years after the church’s original loan, against Bob’s wife Leslie, for what appears to be an unpaid personal loan; it appears the default occurred on August 2009. (Source: Alexandria General District Court public records)

Similarly, public records reveal what appear to be unpaid dental bills for two of Bob’s children at about the same time; the cases were scheduled for hearing on 12/15/10, but the cases dismissed. My opinion: Getting your kids sued for medical bills is not cool. Actually, it’s pretty damned dysfunctional.  (Source: Fairfax County General District Court public records)

Rising interest rates, bad credit history, and the fact that the original mortgage has an adjustable interest rate also suggest that the house will get more costly over time. A re-fi may take some finagling, and terms for a new loan likely will not be great. So the entire transaction winds up looking even worse with the passage of time, not better.

At the end of the day, Bob engaged in a highly speculative real estate transaction, and now has been bailed out by the church for his remarkably bad business decision. It also is troubling that the loan to Bob was recorded off the books, not showing in the financial reports, for the first ten years. This raises some disturbing issues concerning financial transparency, candor, and accuracy of financial reports. If nothing else, why did the church’s “auditors” not insist that the underlying receivable be reflected in the financials? It is a basic premise of good governance that insider deals such as this be reported publicly. Again, why was this allowed to happen?


In summary, the church’s current financial posture is best described as a hot mess. Over time, Bob has increased the church’s carrying costs, while reducing its assets and eroding both giving and attendance. Yet the decline in the church’s financial position would be more than adequate to pay cash and carry for upcoming expenses, and even more so had the cash involved in underwriting Bob’s desired lifestyle been appropriately invested.

Meanwhile, the church is placing itself in existential peril, for its continuing declines in giving and attendance could well result in its being unable to meet its financial obligations as this wave of capital expenses hits in the coming years. And regardless of the ultimate outcome, the parish is out more than $2 million dollars as a result of Bob’s self-serving lack of business acumen. At the same time, it is shocking, appalling, and outrageous that Bob Malm should get both a 2014 bonus of $100,000, and annual compensation that exceeds that of many Episcopal bishops, given his feckless job performance. Even his decision to pursue a personal residence, at a time when he couldn’t so much as come up with a down payment, shows a remarkable lack of concern for the wellbeing of the parish and a dearth of common sense.

Pastor Buys Wife 200K Sports Car — Maybe Grace Episcopal Should Buy One for Bob Malm

Pastor John Gray, of Relentless Church in Greenville SC, has recently drawn criticism after buying his wife a Lamborghini for their anniversary. But I’m not sure what all the hullaballoo is about. After all, in 2014, Grace Episcopal aka St. Dysfunction gave Bob Malm a 100K bonus. I mean, what’s a few hundred thousand among friends?

Indeed, given that Bob is big into keeping up with the Hillers, maybe now is the time for Grace to buy Bob a Lamborghini.

Check it out at here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Termination of DioVA Search for Bishop Provisional Underscores Problems in Diocese

As members of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia know, the diocese recently announced that it has ended its search for a bishop transitional, or interim bishop to serve for a three-year period following Bishop Shannon Johnston’s retirement. For those of us who have been following events, the announcement is far from unexpected.

As I have said many times, there have been signs for many years that, while Bishop Johnston may have been the right bishop for the years of litigation against the CANA crowd, he was a hot mess when it came to leadership and organizational dynamics. This conclusion is evinced by:
  • The allegations that Bishop Shannon covered up the sexual harassment of a female church employee who had filed a Title IV case against her alleged clergy harasser, including his failure to provide any effective pastoral response to the complainant.
  • His repeated violation of church canons and failure to address my complaints about Bob Malm’s misconduct, including his false statement that the matters complained of had been “investigated and resolved long ago,” and his statement of support for Bob’s misconduct.
  • His utter screw-up of the sad situation at St. Thomas’ McLean, which involved a Title IV case against a much-loved parish priest. Included in this situation is the diocese’s utter failure to adequately address the pain and pastoral needs of affected parishioners. (Highlighted by the spectacularly inept decision to announce the suspension of the parish priest at Sunday Mass without prior warning. The fact that diocesan officials can’t figure out why this is a seriously bad move speaks volumes to the capabilities of diocesan officials.)
  • The abrupt resignation of Canon Pat Wingo.
  • The prior collapse of the Bishop Interim search process, when plans fell through with both final candidates. It’s called “Plan B,” kids.
  • The ongoing spat with the trustees of the funds, which is now permeating every level of the diocese.
  • The shutdown, over the past year, of thing like The Episcopalian magazine, which hasn’t been published in more than a year.
  • The utter lack of diocesan services to churches, including lack of templated resources for pledge campaigns. The diocese yammers on about parishes honoring their funding commitments, yet supplies no resources to help make this happen. Go figure.
  • Spectacularly unresponsive staff at the bloated Mayo House bureaucracy. 
  • The announcement by Susan Goff of listening sessions across the diocese — but no promise of action.
  • The decision by the diocese, which still stands under Susan Goff’s tenure, to permit Bob Malm to perjure himself in court, to try to subpoena a dying woman, and to retaliate for complaining to the diocese about his conduct.
Of course, there’s also the amusing observation by a now deceased clergy friend of mine, who famously used to say, “You know you’re in trouble when the bishop says nice things about you in public.” And so it is with Bishop Johnston, upon whom the presiding bishop heaped fulsome praise as the latter announced his retirement.

What does all this mean for Grace Church aka St. Dysfunction? Primarily that what would have been a relatively minor dispute has now mushroomed into an existential crisis for the parish, which increasingly appears to be lurching towards disaster. Indeed, had the diocese taken seriously its obligation to supervise clergy from the onset, Bob never would have gotten himself into the mess he’s now in.

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Of course, a cure for Grace Episcopal’s woes at this point would involved something closer to a ton of cure, versus a pound.

See for Yourself: Grace Parishioners Continue Their Efforts to Destroy Their Church

It is comments like this that underscore my point: Grace Episcopal Church is a toxic church.

And if you send your child to Grace Episcopal School, keep in mind that this is the caliber of conversation that goes on behind the scenes.

Lastly, if you are contemplating pledging for 2019, this is the sort of discourse you are supporting.

See for Yourself: Follow-on Message from Kemp Williams

Here is the follow-on email from Kemp Williams to Bob Malm; it is the successor to the exchange previously posted.

Here, we see some possible paranoia on Kemp’s part, as he references the Legacy Society, which comprises those who have remembered the church in their wills. (Mine used to, as it named the church as my contingent remainderman, but rest assured, that provision is long gone.)

At any rate, this email brings forth the alarming proposition that I may still know what’s going on day-to-day at the parish. Horrors!

And I can assure you: Bob and Leslie Malm are among my most avid readers. I have the access logs to prove it, LOL.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Grace Episcopal, Toxic Church

See for Yourself: Grace Episcopal Parishioner Mocks Dying Woman, Drags Family Members Into Dispute, Makes Accusations of Domestic Violence

Need further proof that Grace Episcopal Church and Bob Malm are toxic? Here’s a screen cap of comments believed to come from a member of Bob Malm’s family. I’d add that mom’s “shiner” is a growth on her right eye.

Grace Episcopal and Bob Malm are so ethically skewed they think it’s okay to mock the dying.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Does Bob Malm Realize It’s Time to Retire? Inquiring Minds Want to Know.

One of the fastest ways to run a church into the ground is for the pastor or rector to stay too long. That raises the question: Does Bob Malm realize he’s worn out his welcome? My guess is that he instinctively knows that he has indeed worn out his welcome, but he’s too narcissistic to readily admit this, even to himself.

In cases where clergy do overstay their welcome, the results can be devastating for the church. For example, the church where my offices were located was blessed with a beautiful physical plant, wealthy members, and a location in one of the nation’s most affluent suburbs. Yet, even with a generous endowment, the church struggled to hold on. Why? Because the previous rector had stayed too long, slowly draining the life from the church, until it became a “ghost church.”

Similarly, Bob Malm increasingly is a grim relic of the past. With only the vaguest notion of how a computer works, Bob has little concept of social media, the needs of modern churches, or even how most of his church’s members live. For example, Bob once remarked on the generosity of parishioners, while adding that few, if any, parishioners were millionaires. Yet the reality is that, given the cost of living in Northern Virginia and housing costs, he actually has quite a few millionaires in his parish. Indeed, if you have paid off your mortgage, chances are you’re a millionaire.

Bob also harkens back to a long-gone time when clericalism was the name of the game, and Episcopal priests were little mini-monarchs whose word went unquestioned, and who were regarded as pillars of the community. Today, of course, that is no longer true, and many, myself included, instinctively cringe when we see a man in clericals.

The demise of clericalism also means that church members increasingly want to see their clergy as separate but equal, versus separate and special. That means that people have little patience for clergy who, like Bob, think it’s adequate to poke their head in and say, “Great job!,” while never actually getting involved with the food pantry, the hypothermia shelter, work in Haiti, or any of the other myriad ways churches look beyond their walls.

Nor do clergy automatically get respect. Churchgoers expect clergy to live not perfect lives, but exemplary lives, while avoiding anything that smacks of hypocrisy. Trying to force parishioners out of church, falsely calling them “domestic terrorists,” and lying in court all while professing the love of Jesus and their enduring Christian faith doesn’t fool anyone, and churchgoers today will quickly back away from a church where this sort of dishonesty is okay. Empty Jesus-babble might have worked in the 1970’s, but it is completely counterproductive in 2018.

Neither do the things that Bob values resonate today. Most inwardly cringe at the whole elitist prep school routine, and while there are circles that do still value such things, most church members can’t really connect with this increasingly irrelevant section of society. Nor does Bob really have the resources to move in those circles. Yes, he may be a Hiller, but the reality is most families that send their kids to prep school aren’t getting sued for the kids’ unpaid dental bills. Same for the whole sports and big-man-on-campus routine. Leaving aside the fact that Bob’s rather too geriatric to play that card, today’s young people are more likely to value those, for example, who have a strong social media presence.

Where does that leave Bob Malm? I’d respond by saying that at this point Bob has made such a mess of things it’s better to not even try to fix things, but instead to just get the hell out of Dodge. 

Of course, that won’t be easy, as Bob appears, like most narcissists, to be strongly wedded to the recognition and adulation he receives at work, all the while being firmly convinced that he doesn’t need anyone else—an amusing notion for someone whose very livelihood depends on the generosity of others. And Bob is very good at pulling otherwise sensible people into his web of narcissistic machinations, getting what he needs from them, and discarding them when his needs have been met. Hardly a Christian worldview, or a recipe for long-term church health.

In the meantime, it’s interesting: Folks like Jeff Chiow, who are probably quite sensible and respected in other areas of their life, are utterly blind to the mess that Grace Church is fact becoming, or their role in creating that mess. Yet behind the scenes, Grace Church continues to quickly unravel, and may not even wind up with 200 pledging units this year.

In short, Grace Church is in a bad way, and no amount of generosity on the part of its members will be adequate to fix that mess, or to undo the problems Bob and his minions have created for the church.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Grace Episcopal: More on Bullying

Amidst Lisa Medley’s claims that no one else has complained about being bullied at Grace Episcopal Alexandria, aka St. Dysfunction, I have already supplied written evidence that her claims are a falsification, a lie. But there is additional evidence out there.

Earlier, I posted about the ridiculous and childish antics in the altar guild, when a senior member of the altar guild launched a year-long episode of the silent treatment towards the then-chair of the altar guild after the latter announced that members were free to wear — or not wear — the blue smocks the ladies had traditionally worn. This policy, which was approved by Bob Malm, angered the senior member of the altar guild, who apparently disagreed with the decision. Tellingly, there is no evidence to suggest that Dysfunctional Bob said, “No mas,” despite the fact that altar guild members serve at the pleasure of — you guessed it — Dysfunctional Bob.

The person on the receiving end of this bullying, after largely being ignored by Dysfunctional Bob, went to Anne Turner for guidance, possibly because of the existing relationship that parishioner had with Anne from her time as assistant rector at Grace church. In subsequent conversations with me, Anne shared that she too had also been on the receiving end of inappropriate outbursts from staff during her time with the church, but had not realized that others had had the same experience. Anne’s experiences date from the 2007 timeframe, so problems at St. Dysfunction go back more than a decade. Yes, more than a decade.

So, there are three additional examples of bullying and abuse of power:
  1. Shunning/bullying within the altar guild, and for truly stupid reasons.
  2. Inappropriate outbursts by staff towards clergy.
  3. Repeated failures by Bob Malm to establish behavioral norms for volunteers and staff members.
The upshot is that the Lisa Medleys of the world can lie all they want, but there is ample evidence on multiple fronts of abusive behavior and inappropriate responses to conflict within Grace Episcopal Church, and not just in Bob Malm’s decision to try to drag a former parishioner and a terminally ill woman into court based on his weird claims that terrorists are out to get him, or in Jeff Chiow’s abusive and misleading court pleadings containing multiple fabrications.

Folks, this is one toxic priest, and one seriously toxic church.

See For Yourself: Grace Parishioners Asked to Pay Half the Cost of HVAC Rebuild, Despite Almost No Benefit to the Church

At a time when Grace Episcopal is barely hanging in there financially, there’s a dark cloud hanging over things. Specifically, members of the church are being asked to pay half the cost of replacing the HVAC systems in Merrow Hall, the wing of the complex that houses the school and the auditorium. Given the limited benefit to the church of the work, this expenditure, which is estimated to cost in total $626,440, is going to prove a difficult pill for members to swallow.

The work, which is confined to the Merrow Hall wing of the complex, comprises the auditorium, myriad classrooms, the tower rooms, and two small rooms on the third floor of the building — one of which has almost entirely been taken over by the school. In addition, while the offices and sacristy are not part of the same system, they should be included in the work, as the HVAC compressor on the roof that services these areas is already past end of life.

The problem comes into sharper perspective when one examines the question of who uses this space; it overwhelmingly is the school. Yes, the church uses several classrooms for an hour a week, and the auditorium for about two hours a week (coffee hour and La Gracia). The school, however, uses all the space, and on average 40 hours per week. Yet, per the terms of the agreement with the school, the church is being asked to pay half the costs. 

Yet if one looks at the use of the nave, the church uses it about five hours a week, while the school uses it one hour a week for its weekly chapel. (School staff refers to the nave as “our chapel,” and church officers as “volunteers in our chapel.” Not surprisingly, school parents often view the church as part of the school, resulting in a certain level of disrespect.) Despite this relatively high percentage of usage, however, the school contributes nothing to the cost of maintenance, utilities, and repairs when it comes to the nave. 

Similarly, the sharing of utilities favors the school. These costs are shared 50/50, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of utilities are consumed by the school. As a result, and as a result of the school’s effective fundraising efforts, the school is relatively flush with cash, and will be able to pay for its share of the HVAC work from savings. (Amusingly, some vestry members in 2015 were very resistant to eliminating the $9,000 annual grant to the school, under the theory that “we then would be doing nothing for the school. Hardly.)

Nor is the school content to remain within its space. Over the years, it has managed to take over the clergy office attic, space in the undercroft, the music library (which was supposed to be temporary, but certainly has not been) and more. Indeed, at one point the school was trying hard to take over one or more of the vesting rooms, but it fortunately was not successful.

Is the school responsible for the church’s relatively lackadaisical attitude towards fundraising? Of course not. But at the same time, there’s little evidence that the school benefits the church. I mean, it’s not like students later become church members, or their families become long-term members. (In the past, some joined the church in order to get a discount on tuition, but pledges to the church from these “quasi-members” often were startlingly small, and a surprising number flew the coop the instant their kids graduated from the school. This discount is no longer available.) Indeed, if even half of each year’s graduating class became members, that would add up to 60 new families every year. This clearly is not the case.

The contingency funds for the project could also be an issue. Sensibly enough, the planning phase of the project includes $200,000 in contingency funding, which is a good idea when dealing with a 70-year-old building. Yes, the asbestos has all been removed, but a building that age invariably tosses contractors some curve balls, especially given the rather shoddy construction that formed the basis of the 1994 project. So, the church could wind up on the hook for another $100K.

True to form, the church has made no effort to save for this day. Even the fig leaf of the .05 percent of annual revenue, or $5,000, was zeroed out a few years ago in order to continue to pay Bob Malm’s outrageously generous compensation package. Meanwhile, staff is being asked to contribute to the costs of their own health insurance, and outreach is being cut, but Bob continues to live life large, with his annual month at the beach, his trips “out of town,” any time he feels like a week in Massachusetts or Georgia or elsewhere, and his autocratic control over the composition of the executive committee. Yet Bob has no game plan to grow the parish, no vision for the future, and no goals for tomorrow except to keep riding the Grace Church gravy train for as long as he can.

It’s time for parishioners to put the brakes on things and demand accountability from Bob, or make clear to Bob that it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge. The church simply cannot go on with an engaging but indifferent rector whose primary goals in life are to go jogging, hang at the beach, and play golf; and who evinces zero evidence of any genuine Christian conviction. Bob’s conduct over time has damaged the church on every front, and it’s time for change.

For the record, below is the current status of permitting with the City of Alexandria, which makes clear, inter alia, that the church has nothing to do with the project except to pay its share of the bill. Note the cost of the permitting and the fact that the city apparently has rejected the church’s mechanical plans as of today due to the lack of calculations regarding refrigerant quantity. Interesting, when you consider that the project originally was supposed to have been done last summer.

Ain’t it Great to Be Rich?

Monday, December 3, 2018

Speaking of Money....

As you consider pledging this fall, here are a few questions you might ask:
  1. Why, when a previous parish administrator left, was more than $1,000 in loose cash found in her office, as well as numerous stale checks?
  2. Why were these issues not detected in advance of her departure?
  3. What safeguards have been implemented so that this cannot happen again? “I trust Beth,” is NOT a safeguard, by the way.
  4. Why does the parish not have a finance manual as required by canon law, even after 28 years of Bob Malm?
  5. What do the answers to these questions tell me about the parish? About Bob Malm’s job performance? About the vestry? About respect for people and resources?
Last but not least, if you cannot get straight answers to these questions, or feel safe asking them, my advice is to cut your losses. Don’t pledge until you get answers to these questions.