In Search of an Education Program, Part 5
Part 5 - Benjamin the Munificent
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity" - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Contrary to some, the recent series on the Last Will of Mr. Adams is not intended to negate the wishes of this fine Assyrian. It is not intended to sully his memory. It is not intended to invade the prerogative of the six nominated Assyrian organizations. And it is not meant to cause the funds to be frozen or to be squandered in a legal morass. Very simply, the series is intended to inform and to educate. These are apparently unfamiliar concepts to some who claim to be our "Assyrian leaders".
A presentation on this subject at the Assyrian Community Networking Conference (ACNC) this past May revealed surprising support for the coverage we have provided, and for the right of the people to know. In the past, the biggest ally of our "leaders" was the people’s short attention span. Hence, if the "leader" could delay his answers, in the end the questioning would stop. But there are indications that in this age of cyberspace, information (and questions that it raises) reaches more people; the traditional stonewalling may no longer be effective. It was significant that at the ACNC not one voice was raised to challenge the Kibitzer series. Nevertheless, some of the questions from the audience suggested less than complete understanding of the issues. Hence, it is well to revisit some of the basics.
The Kibitzer series has been premised on the idea that the best incoculation against misbehavior is the glare of public disclosure.
3. Mr. Adams was very serious about the way his funds were to be spent. So serious that he took specific measures:
First, he executed a Will rather than a Living Trust. If Mr. Adams did not care about compliance with his specific wishes, he could have executed a Living Trust. This would have left the estate with total privacy, and outside the public glare. Instead, Mr. Adams executed a Will, which is a public document. Like it or not, compliance with the Will is subject to public scrutiny. We assume that Mr. Adams and his lawyer were both cognizant of this.
Second, Mr. Adams did not express a "preference" or a "hope" for the way his funds should be used. He made it a condition, which means it is a firm requirement. While the six organizations can decide how they will carry out these specific instructions, they do not have the liberty to spend a single dollar outside the two categories Mr. Adams specified.
Third, just a few weeks after executing the Will, Mr. Adams decided to also appoint a Trustee, so that he wouldn’t have to rely on the honesty and good faith of the six organizations in carrying out his intentions. The Trustee was named to make sure of compliance in how these six charitable bequests are spent. It would be highly irresponsible for the Trustee to release any funds without receiving convincing assurance that the intended use will be consistent with the Adams Will.
4. Mr. Adams placed his ultimate trust in a Trustee. This individual must exercise responsible caution in any way he deems necessary. He can demand from each of the groups a detailed plan on how the funds will be spent. It is up to each of the groups to submit a statement which is specific and credible, rather than vague and suspect. In assessing the adequacy of any plan that is submitted to him, the Trustee cannot overlook each organization’s history and past experiences. The Trustee should also insist that any plan that is submitted to him is signed by the President and the Board members of the organization. If there is a later violation, the Trustee should be in a position to hold these persons responsible.
5. Even after acting with caution, the Trustee may find that he has distributed some funds which have been misspent. Such funds should be restored to the estate and the Trustee would certainly be justified in holding up the cash flow to the the offender. The more cautious course probably calls for the Trustee to make several partial distributions rather than a single outright distribution. This will provide a better opportunity for monitoring the ability and the good faith of the groups involved.
6. The six organizations must have no doubt about the limitations imposed on their bequests. It is not clear whether the Trustee has provided such a clear communication, in writing or otherwise. The Trustee has refused to answer this question when we have posed it, leading us to ask whether he may also have something to hide. In addition, it is unclear whether each of the six organizations, including all of their Board members, clearly understand the limiting language of the bequests. Except for the Southern California Association, five groups have declined to answer our questions. It is not clear whether these five groups are practicing the Mark Twain axiom that "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." But of one thing, there can be little doubt. Since the month of March the Kibitzer has elaborated on the issue with emphasis, and all six groups have been provided ample notice. Ignorance is not a defense, and in the present case, it clearly cannot be claimed.
7. The Assyrian people have a right to know, on two counts.
From the legal standpoint, two large classes of Assyrians are the potential beneficiaries of these six bequests. In legal terms, a "class" consists of individuals who have a direct (or indirect but substantial) interest. These people expect Will compliance, which means the funds must be applied to "Assyrian children’s schooling and education", or to "Assyrian refugee assistance." It is true that the Board of each organization has the sole discretion whether it will apply its funds to one of the two categories or to the other. And it is also true that within the two categories, each Board also has the sole discretion to decide on the kinds of projects it will pursue. However, the Board does not have the discretion to step outside these two categories. A breach of trust by the Board invites a class action claim.
From the practical, moral and political standpoint, the people have a right to know. Each of the six organizations has a charter which pledges it to serve the Assyrian people. It is not every day that $1 million is dropped in the lap of Assyrian organizations. To invoke secrecy on a matter of such public significance does not show much respect for the wisdom of the people. An enlightened Board recognizes it is not the fount of all wisdom. It will have the confidence and largesse of spirit to hear what others may have to say. This is not a sign of weakness, but of maturity. It does not relinquish any Board authority, it legitimizes it.
In a letter to the Kibitzer on March 30, 1997, the Assyrian American Association of Southern California wrote in part: " … beyond the immediate question of fund application, there are important issues … One of these is the importance of establishing confidence in the Assyrian public that its organizations are both honest and capable of carrying out their bequest. We want to do all that we can to encourage others to follow the example of Mr. Adams…"
The AAASC letter added: "As regards the specific uses of the Adams funds, … you are … welcome to send us your ideas. This invitation is open to any other Assyrian."
Imagine for a moment the great leap forward if all of our organizations assumed the maturity and self-effacement of the AAASC. Here is a group that surely deserves our salute. If you have any specific suggestions, send them to:
AAASC, Education Committee
How refreshing it is to be trusted for a change.
Please send your comments to: Francis Sarguis, firstname.lastname@example.org
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