To continue the exploration of tangents from the last post on Dave Fleming's theology, I want to talk about the relatively "new" bookeeping stuff. I tread lightly here primarily because I don't know the first thing about bookeeping. I can't even spell bookeeping! Is it two k's or just one? Two k's looks weird (bookkeeping) but the other way is like you're keeping boo.
Anyhoo, I'm a creative, artsy, theology type person. My wife keeps the boo. So even the basic facts of this stuff confuses me. I'm a simple caveman; your world frightens me.
Also, it's a very icky matter that appears to have emerged late in the game. (How one day after the weekend constitutes "late in the game," I don't know, but I reckon 'cause it wasn't mentioned from the stage.)
To the best of my recollection, the info provided at the Tuesday night elders meeting was this:
The elders discovered a secret expense account connected between Dr. Foster and an independent accountant named Chris Beck. (At this point, I want to emphasize greatly that nobody questions the integrity of Chris Beck at all.)
The elders did not accuse Dr. Foster in this meeting of doing anything wrong per se. What they said was, given the budget crisis, and given that the expense account operated exterior to the regular operational channels, it was a troubling arrangement. Actually I don't remember what word they used to describe it other than "secret."
A questioner in the audience pressed them about the "sloppy bookeeping" charge, which the questioner attributed to elder Richard McKinney when he appeared on a Channel 5 news piece. The elders could not confirm that McKinney volunteered that phrase, but at least one of the elders said he believed a secret expense account whose total averaged between $3500 and $10,000 a month and which arrived with little detail (line items or receipts) during a time of budgetary setbacks constituted "sloppy bookeeping."
I'm looking at the transcript of the Channel 5 story right now, and it includes the phrase "sloppy financial record keeping." It is attributed to Mr. McKinney, but it is not a quote, so it could be, as one of the elders also pointed out, the Channel 5 reporter's interpretation of McKinney's explanation.
I'll reiterate I know nothing about bookeeping, but if you're spending thousands of dollars a month and charging it to your business and then file an expense report that just lists totals but neglects line items or receipts, I think I'd consider that sloppy. But I'm a moron, so maybe I'm wrong. Maybe "sloppy bookeeping" just means your pages aren't collated correctly and the cover page has a coffee stain.
Okay, so why so late in the game? Dr. Foster maintains he was never told of this information before (of course he also said he knew nothing about the firing until Friday morning).
Here's where I start making reasonable guesses again. It's possible that this issue was always a concern, but prior to legal counsel, the elders did not feel they could divulge it. I do know they employed lawyers "late in the game" too, and as far as I can tell, this is only further evidence that the elders have been desperately trying to act in good faith.
Can I take an aside to talk about the elders a minute? These guys have had to bend over backward to accomodate so many demands and expectations. And the kick of it is, they kept somehow assuming the people they were dealing with would act honorably and in good faith. So that's why they're always scrambling to repair damage they didn't expect; because they assume people aren't going to be screwing them over.
They're actually pretty lovable. Like Woody on "Cheers" or something. Never believing somebody's taking advantage of them. ;-)
There is also the introduction of an independent forensic auditor who is even now going over the books. (I bet he or she can collate like the wind.)
Stressing again: The elders have never, as far as I have seen, accused Dr. Foster of wrongdoing, and certainly of nothing illegal. These are operational concerns related to the general operational concerns regarding Dr. Foster's leadership, or lack thereof. In the elders' statement last weekend they did not mention Dr. Foster's erratic behavior in staff meetings or unreliable communication either. But those things are connected to this holding hostage of the church's operational procedures. That's how I read the bookeeping thing; not as a financial scandal. It's unfortunate that it has been colored that way in the media simply by virtue of its consistent appearance.
Actually, the most interesting thing to me about the secret expense account business was not that there was a secret expense account, but that it in the audit procedure, it apparently revealed a trip for two to Austin in 2004, along with a hotel stay. This was something the church paid for, but there was no church business in Austin at that time. The connection is between this information, obviously, and Dr. Foster's interaction with a church in Austin for potential hire.
As I said in the previous post: Given the context of all that went wrong in the last 18 months, this bookeeping thing may turn out to be important, but it really is a blip on the radar. It's small beans compared to the other stuff. And the elders confirmed that. None of them hyped this issue or acted like it was a matter of dire concern; they admitted that, apart from it deviating from established financial procedures and despite it looking odd, they were not making any accusations or allegations.