Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On Accounting

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.

4 Comments:

At 10:25 AM, Blogger judas icarus said...

Jared,

It is a blip on the radar screen... yes....

But how many blips does it take to recognize that there has been some major air traffic control problems at BCC....

Does it take a plane carrying 3000 people.... including staff and elders.... crashing.... before the blips become consequential?

Again... I'm a cynic.... I apologize....

Cheese Whiz..... a secret expense account.... a trip to Austin for two paid for by the church... from tithes and offerings (wonder what that trip was for?)

I tell you.... as much as I can and do forgive David Foster... this whole things smacks of a CEO gone bad... Enron may not hold a candle to this... if it ever is really all exposed....

My point has always been this.... David Foster is not a Pastor at heart..... he may look like one... he may talk like one.... and he may act like one (sometimes).... but HE AIN'T ONE! And, as the elders have stated.... he is not fit to pastor BCC or any other church.... at least for a time.... maybe treatment, counseling and pastor rehab might be in order... I don't know...

But, so much of this stuff has gone on for so long... and been kept hidden or was overlooked or people were afraid to say or do anything.... from as far back as 1999...

I say this crew of elders deserve the churches highest honor.... LET'S LIFT THESE GUYS UP!!!

C'mon people,now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try and love one another, right now.... including the Foster's.... all 5 of them....

But don't tell me a congregational vote to reinstate David Foster as lead/senior/whatever Pastor is the cure all for this crap....

... putting the lion back in the lion's den doesn't seem fair.... I think enough Christians have been eaten over at BCC....

PUH-LEASE....

C. Evan Leonard

 
At 8:13 PM, Anonymous Dirk Plantinga said...

We'll need to wait and see on the forensic audit and hope it only shows irregular accountnig procedures and not any kind of financial impropriety. I'll echo the previous comment that elders did in fact accuse the Fosters of paying for a trip to Austin with church funds, where we're told he was seeking a new job. If you give him the benefit of the doubt, Dr. Foster might have also conducted some business that promoted BCC at the same time. So again, I expect the new church leadership to be open about the results of the forensic audit. Until then, it is a footnote to this ordeal

 
At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Rod Frank said...

I view the forensic audit to be simply another example of due dilegence on the part of the board. To me, it's like when you buy a new house and you change all the locks. It's a new day and we want to know where we really stand financially. (In the meeting I attended Randy Holland kept saying they only got reports from the 50,000 foot level.) If they didn't hire a forensic auditor, and some past (possible) impropriety has consequences in the future, we would be blaming the board for not having the foresight to have done something about it. Well, they do have the foresight to something and it is hiring a forensic auditor now.

 
At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Damon said...

$3,500 to $10,000 a month? Geez, at a minimum that's $42,000 in a year, getting as bad as $120,000 if it went to the max. Considering his salary was what, $250,000 I'd say this is a little more than a blip, especially if nobody knew of it's existence, and if it was used to pay for job-hunting trips.

 

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