Okay, maybe not exactly, but pretty close. A week ago I wrote a post My Thoughts on the General Assembly Council and Presbyterian Foundation Controversy. At the heart of the problem was determining who has final authority on interpreting restrictions on restricted funds. I won’t repeat all the issues here but Committee #8 heard proposals concerning solutions and came up with a resolution to the problem.
When the Presbyterian Foundation and the General Assembly Council staff can’t resolve differences concerning the interpretation of restrictions placed on restricted funds the disagreement can be submitted to a resolution committee. The committee will include two Foundation members and two GAC members, plus three outside members with some expertise in these issues. This committee will make a final determination about the interpretation. Cy pres actions may be required in some cases for the Foundation to feel they have honored the trust placed in them to protect donor intent. (A cy pres action is a court procedure where a restriction on a fund can be altered to a “next best use” if the original restriction becomes illegal, impossible, or impracticable.) This gives the GAC a court of appeal when they are at odds with the Foundation’s interpretation and the Foundation has its fiduciary trust preserved.
This process is a two year temporary solution. The overall relationship between the two entities will become part of a review that will analyze the workings and interrelationships of all six General Assembly entities. This task force will report back to the General Assembly in 2010 at which time this resolution process may become a permanent arrangement.
Deliberations in committee began yesterday morning with open hearings. Multiple past moderators of the General Assembly spoke to the issue, not all in agreement with each other. A number of folks who had had problematic experiences dealing with Foundation also spoke. The General Assembly Council and the Presbyterian Foundation both offered alternatives to the Advisory Committee on the Constitution’s advice about giving the GAC final interpretive authority. Meanwhile, a team of committee commissioners including Bob Davis drafted a proposal that would replace the ACC advice. The committee eventually went into committee of the whole mode to discuss the three proposals. Davis constructed a document that showed three areas where he thought the three proposals expressed agreement. Then he highlighted the issues where he thought they were at odds. He correctly discerned that the Foundation was opposed to any outcome that left them without final fiduciary authority and the GAC was opposed to leaving things without a court of appeal. You can see that the solution above honors both these concerns.
What is truly unfortunate is that it took all this to get to a solution. These two agencies have had friction going back to their inception in 1986. When issues about use of Foundation funds arose in1996, the executives were not even on speaking terms. Nothing nearly so divisive was at work here. The two entities have been in ongoing conversation all through this difficulty and they work just fine with regard to most issues. The complicating factor in this episode was the ACC advice to vest the GAC with final interpretive authority, an action which the Foundation believed would place them in a severe ethical and legal dilemma. Without that advice this issue likely never would have come to the assembly. On the other hand, the crisis may have created the urgency necessary to find a solution.
The bottom line is that these two agencies have got to learn to communicate better. As I’ve read documents pertaining to these problems and listened to testimony in hearing, poor communication is a significant cause (but not the only cause) of difficulties. This episode is much less about egos exerting power and far more about leaders of two entities trying to act responsibly in their respective roles. Assuming the Committee #8 action passes on the floor of the assembly I think it will be a helpful starting place to rethink how the two entities relate.
(On a side note, Presbyterian blogger, sociologist, and author Beau Weston (his esteemed gruntledness) got mention in the course of debate. Tim Clark, board chair for the Foundation, mentioned Weston’s comments about checks and balance from (I believe) Leading from the Center. So if you’re reading this Beau, you were briefly in the conversation as well.)