Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Part Two

This post is continued from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Part One.

The Bad and the Ugly

When Clint Eastwood rides into town wearing a poncho, people pay attention.  It must be ... The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  

I talked about The Good points of the PB's budget proposal here.  And I want to be clear - the good points of this proposal are enough to win my support.  This proposal is a vast improvement over the Executive Council proposed budget that came out a few months ago, and caused such a brouhaha.  A kerfuffle.  A dustup.  A mad dash to find the Confederate gold ... no, wait, that's Clint Eastwood again.  

I think we should vote for the PB's proposal, with some adjustments that will no doubt be considered carefully by PB&F as they listen to input in their hearings.  Mostly I support the PB's proposal because it adopts a mission-based and much healthier format that the tired old Canonical, Corporate, Program format, and also because it has much better information regarding necessary staffing levels than Executive Council had.

But as we go to a vote, we need to understand also the negative points of this proposal: the Bad and ,,,

The Ugly.

I really don't have to explain the Ugly to you.  I will leave the astonishment over the crazy process that gave rise to the current budget fracas to Katie Sherrod and the Crusty Old Dean.  I just have to say that I am truly troubled that people have been hurt, that well-intentioned input has been disregarded, that there are mysteries to what happened in this budget melee that still have not been unraveled.  When we in the church start disrespecting, disregarding, and hurting each other, I am concerned that we have lost our way.  Our beloved BCP says that the mission of the church is "to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ" (p. 855).  We are not modeling that reconciliation well within the church; why would others want to join us in our unreconciled differences?  

Can't we make a pact to give each other the benefit of the doubt at this Convention?  Can't we give each other credit for loving Jesus and following him the best way we know how?  Can't we listen, share, and discern God's way forward in atmosphere of trust and respect?  Rodney King has just died - in his honor, can't we all just get along?

It's time for a change in the way we do things ... a big, sweeping change, led by the Holy Spirit, putting an end to old things and taking on new things for a new era.

But more on that later.  For now ... back to Clint Eastwood.

The Bad

It's maybe a bit of an exaggeration to call this "bad" (but we're sticking with Clint Eastwood, by gosh).  But there are a few things I think we should be aware of.  

> This proposed budget does not increase the percentages of funding devoted to mission as much as it appears to.  The pie charts at the back of the document would have us believe that "mission" has increased from 53% (in Bishop Sauls' famous presentation to the House of Bishops) to 67%.  A lot of this apparent increase is due to some accounting reclassifications.  For instance:

  • $4.5 million of principal payments on the 815 debt were moved out of administrative expenses altogether, and shown in the PB's proposed budget as a discretionary use of cash surplus rather than an administrative expense (which it was in the EC budget).  The money is still being spent, on exactly the same thing it was before (that lovely hierarchical-model headquarters building), but it's no longer counted as administrative expense, or any kind of expense.  This is not a reduction in administrative expenditures.  But it makes the percentages look better.  
  • The new budget takes $4.6 million of administrative services provided to affiliated organizations, like ERD, ECF, UTO, etc., breaks them out separately, and includes them in the percentages devoted to "mission."  Those same expenses were incurred in EC's budget, but included in administration.  Again, it makes the percentages look better while changing nothing.
  • Funding for the Development Office in this budget, as in the EC budget, comes from a special draw on the endowment, shown in income.  The EC budget had an inexplicable error that needed to be corrected: it showed expenses less than income for this item of $1,250,000.  Therefore the EC budget was actually a deficit budget of this amount.  The PB's budget has corrected this error and described the costs of the Development Office as a "mission" expenditure.  The correction needed to be made.  But again, it increases the percentages.
  • The PB's budget shows a special collection for Haiti, spearheaded by the Development Office, in the amount of $1.6 million, and also shows it in "mission" expenditures.  The expense is a wash - income equals expense, and presumably if the Development Office doesn't succeed in raising the funds, the money won't be spent - but it increases, once again, the "mission" percentage.  
  • I calculate that if the above items were treated consistently with EC's treatment, the percentages in this budget would be Mission - 60%; Governance - 11%; Administration - 29%.  Still an improvement over the percentages in Bishop Sauls' presentation.  Just not as dramatic an improvement as it appears on first glance. 
  • Please understand, the accounting treatment of all the above items is appropriate; we should just not understand them as actually improving our situation.  

> I am not convinced that it is appropriate to fund a new Development Office from the endowment.  I generally think we do need a Development Office, but unless that office is raising funds for the endowment, I do not think it should be funded from the endowment.  This is drawing down our permanent asset base to pay operating expenses.  According to a copy of the Development Office Strategic Plan, the initiatives it is planning to support include the Archives, rebuilding in Haiti, church planting, and support for Navajoland and other area missions.  These are operating expenses.  If this office is important to us (which it probably is), we should find a way to fund it from operations.  Or, be honest about it and change the percentage draw we are taking from our endowment investments to show the Development Office as an operating expense.

> Likewise, I am not sure where the special initiative for Haiti, which is listed as a separate income item and which the Development Office is supposed to support, comes from.  Who created this priority?  If Executive Council agreed with this priority, why was it not in their budget?  If staff created this priority, I think it needs to be agreed to by General Convention.  Which I guess is what we're doing in this budget.  I just think things need to be clearly stated and justified.  Rebuilding Haiti is a great cause, and I support it. I just think we need to decide together on this priority.  

> Speaking of which, this budget allocates our entire 0.7% MDG commitment to Haiti.  Let's decide on this together.  

> Like the EC budget, this budget eliminates the General Board of Examining Chaplains.  I am not crazy about the GOEs myself, remembering long hard days tortuously slogging my way through those things.  I commend to you Crusty Old Dean's alternate proposal for GOEs.  But in the meantime, it is a canonical mandate.  I asked Bishop Sauls how you de-fund a canonical mandate.  He said that the existence of the GOEs is a canonical mandate, but that doesn't mean the funding of them is a canonical mandate.  Sophistry, angels dancing on heads of pins!  He said that perhaps, for instance, the GOEs could be funded entirely from user fees.  So there's that.  But I think this is an example of restructuring by de-funding, which I do not believe is a healthy way to operate.  If we are going to de-fund something, I think we should have a good reason, corporately decided (not by 815 staff), and a plan for how to get that function accomplished otherwise.

Now, Gentle Reader, if you have followed me this far, I congratulate you.  You have now heard my take on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in this budget proposal.  After all is said and done, in my opinion the Good outweighs the Bad or the Ugly in the PB's budget proposal.  Clint Eastwood may now ride into the sunset!  

I think we should adopt the PB's budget, with perhaps a few changes.  Because:

>  It directs our attention to Mission.
>  It contains a few new and needed initiatives.
>  It shows a good level of conscientious budget-cutting, backed up by much better data than EC had.
>  It restores Christian Formation and Vocation, which is the subject that got me (and maybe you) all worked up about the budget in the first place.  
>  It does not make the mistake I believe we made in 2009 of making long-term restructuring decisions based on short-term budget-cutting measures.  
>  And therefore, it provides us some breathing room.  We can work together, beginning at this Convention and continuing into the next triennium, on discerning God's will for this church.  Structure?  It's not about Structure.  It's about the mission of the church.  God's mission.  Let's pray, read the Bible, study, and discern together where God is leading us.  

More on this tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the oil on troubled waters, Susan. I've been trying to read up on the issue but the steadily-rising tone of the rhetoric was beginning to make me feel like our church was as divided by issues of and about money as by who should be allowed to be married in the church, the role of women (still) and the Anglican COvenant.

    But then, anybody who can preach an absolutely fantastic sermon about the wedding at Cana and include all the calculations about how much water was changed into wine that day and how long it would last (not to mention how many could spend how long in a very happy buzz with it), surely can make something like a puzzling situation about budgets, counter-budgets and where our priorities should be both understandable and compelling. Thanks again.