Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Denial: It Ain’t Just a River in Egypt

In reading over recent reports about the sorry state of Grace Church’s budget, there is one theme that runs throughout. It’s a theme that is both amusing and appalling. What is that theme? It is the notion that the multiple failures in the building infrastructure, particularly in the HVAC systems, were both unexpected and cost more than anticipated. 

For the record, neither is true.

When I served as junior warden in 2014, I repeatedly warned about underinvestment in the building. Indeed, that was the theme of my article in the annual report. Similarly, in his final days at the church, David Adams warned both of the lack of replacement reserves, and the lack of a replacement reserve study.

The same issues came up in 2015, with Lisa Medley offering bitchy innuendo when the property committee yet again sent its recommendations to the vestry, only to again be ignored. 

Nor was this unprecedented. During the last capital campaign, HVAC experts recommended replacing HVAC piping in the building, only to be ignored.

Moreover, I personally sent several memos to Bob Malm while serving on the vestry, pointing out that cost structures were unsustainable, that income was inadequate, and reserves perilously thin. True to form, Bob made the right noises, but otherwise brushed things off.

Throughout all this, the stupid expenditures and inept financial planning continued, including:
  • Thousands of dollars from management reserves to pay for Chris Byrnes’ farewell party.
  • Proposals to pay for employee health benefits from reserves.
  • An annual (entirely unneeded) donation to Grace Episcopal School.
  • Proposals to kick the budgetary can down the road by drawing on reserves to “balance” the budget.
  • The granddaddy of all stupid expenditures, a $100,000 bonus to Bob Malm.
Nor are projections of infrastructure failure unpredictable. The replacement reserve study I paid for but declined to give to the parish due to bad behavior by Bob Malm, Lisa Medley and others made clear that multiple HVAC failures would occur in the next few years, as did multiple warnings from our HVAC vendor and MACC, the building controls company.

Of course, on an individual level, current vestry members indeed may regard the recent HVAC issues as unexpected. But on an organizational level, and in discussions with Bob Malm, these matters have been brought up ad nauseum. 

In short, this is a case of denial, not surprise. And people further show their stupidity, as in the case of members of Bob Malm’s family, by claiming that somehow these issues were exaggerated, or that I somehow caused these infrastructure failures. Funny how the latter have accelerated since my departure from the parish. But that is the sloppy thinking you get from Bob and members of his family.

To make matters worse, instead of saving for the future, the church now proposes to borrow to pay for the past. As in failing to plan, failing to save, and failing to maintain its current infrastructure.

Even the effects of my current dispute with Bob Malm were entirely predictable. Churchgoers are notoriously conflict adverse, but Bob Malm decided nonetheless to issue his infamous Edict of Shunning. Since then, he hasn’t learned a thing, instead doubling down on dumb with his bogus protective order, his lies to the Circuit Court, and his efforts to drag a dying woman into court—the very antithesis of Jesus’ message. As a result, Grace will increasingly be seen for what it is: a church in name only, where lying, shunning, bullying, and even misuse of the legal system are all okay.

Needless to say, until folks get a clue, things will only get worse for St. Dysfunction, aka Grace Episcopal Church.