Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another Blog Notice

UPDATE 5 AM Wednesday mornuing.
I have now caught up on moderating comments.  Things should move much faster now.
I still have some responses to write.

Because of the pressure of other matters, I have not been able to attend to comments awaiting moderation or to other correspondence regarding Trouble at Morningside.  I hope to be back on this track soon.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blog Notice

I have turned on comment moderation and word verification.
Anonymous comments will not be approved.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Trouble at Morningside - Four

Last night at the board meeting here at Morningside I came out. No, not as a gay man, but as a conscience stricken Christian. My conscience would no longer let me be unjust and unmerciful towards three of my colleagues on the board.

Before I left for the board meeting, I told Liz that there was no need for her to come to the meeting -- that the open session would be boring and that my dramatic move would come in closed session.
I had no way of knowing how wrong a prediction that would turn out to be. In what follows, I will use the same letters to denote individuals that I used here.

J had submitted a board member motion to rescind the September 14th motions and had specified that it be for open session. However, because the motion included a number of "Whereas" clauses that alluded, by extension, to matters that remain in closed session, C, on the advice of corporate counsel, moved the motion to closed session on the agenda.

At the outset of the meeting, J asked for a vote to change the agenda and move his motion into open session. Because two board members were late, the motion passed. I voted against it, and I have been pondering why. Mine was largely a strategic vote. I didn't want to tip my hand, especially not that early in the meeting.

Counting the adoption of the minutes, there were some 15 motions before we got to J's motion to rescind. I had earlier sent an email to J saying that if he really wanted the motion to pass, he needed my vote -- I even told him how to pare down the motion so that I would support it. When J introduced the motion, it was in the pared down form which has a stark simplicity. It was very clear what the issue before us was -- whether or not to rescind, period.

The first speaker was H. H is loud and he speaks his mind. One of the things he said was that to vote for this motion would be to state that we were wrong when we voted for the September 14th motions.

I was the second speaker . I said that, yes, voting for this motion would be to state that we were wrong and that was why I was going to vote for it. The harm we did to the coop by passing those motions far exceeds the harm done by the improper actions we were responding to.

Jaws dropped -- at least figuratively. One board member perceived my move as a personal attack, or at least he spoke in that way. Another (A) flat out told me that I was wrong and told me why.

I asked for, and got, permission to respond to the latter (A). I said I was not defending the actions that I still think were inappropriate, but that I have concluded that our response was excessive -- that an appropriate response would have been simple censure as it was when a majority of the board censured A last April for what we perceived as misuse of privileged information. I paraphrased the statement of Maimonides that I cited in Part One of this series.
any utterance (true or not) that might cause a person physical or monetary damage, or shame, humiliation, anguish or fear is prohibited
(Obviously I was not as clear as I could have been. A heard me as saying he was wrong to have caused monetary damage to B. In fact my intent was to say that I am applying the Maimonides standard to myself, not to others.)

I said that under that standard even simple censure is prohibited, so I apply the law of double effect (an action that has both a good outcome and a bad outcome is permissible only if the good outcome outweighs the bad outcome.) Censuring is a lesser evil than condoning improper behavior and is thus the better choice

Which brings me to the question of why I did not suggest replacing the September 14th motions with a simple motion to censure. The short answer is I didn't think of it. In any case, I don't think it would have gotten enough votes to pass, and finally, at this late date, even that response to the "offense" is excessive.

During the discussion, C made a great point of the harm that was caused by the secrecy of the actions of the prior administration. In fact, we cured that harm, if indeed there was any, by electing new officers last May. I say "if there was any" harm because, while there was certainly a potential for harm if the situation had continued, it did not continue. As for any financial harm to the coop, I strongly doubt that the charge imposed on E is collectible; the other charges were purely symbolic and hence to my mind they not only "might cause" but their intent could only be to cause "shame, humiliation, [and] anguish" to the three. I do not presume to judge the motives of the others who voted for the September 14th motions, but I can judge my own -- and having judged, I now repudiate my vote in the only effective way possible -- by voting to rescind.

Five people voted along with me for J's motion to rescind. Based on prior votes, I differ with all of them on key issues, including the issue of whether anything improper took place last year. But they are my sisters and brothers and I have to love them as myself.

The five people who voted the other way are also my brothers and sisters and I have to love them too as myself.

It's lonely being the swing voter. I sometimes jokingly say that I'm the decider -- and that seems to be true on a number of questions.

At the end of the open session meeting last night, I heard some one who should know better say "The spin has started," in reaction to a statement of someone else.

Pray for the peace of Morningside.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chasing "Chasing Heaven"

Yesterday evening, Liz and I and our friend Celia took the subway downtown so that we could go to a play, "Chasing Heaven," in which our friend Christine Campbell is playing the lead. We met at about 6 pm, on the Number 1 train. Celia was coming from 168th and we met her at 125th street. "Chasing Heaven" is by Leah Maddrie and is playing the Metropolitan Playhouse at 220 East 4th Street. I never knew, and Celia forgot, that 220 East 4th Street is not between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, but is rather between Avenue A and Avenue B, three blocks east of where we thought it was.

When we got there, we discovered that the show was sold out -- the theater was packed. The director told us that he had to give up his seat. We went across the street to an Irish bar -- I don't know the name of it -- and drank some beer, in which the director, George Ferencz joined us. We'll try to get to one of the two remaining performances, at 9 pm Thursday and Saturday.

I've lived in New York since I came to Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the age of 22 in the fall of 1958. In all that time, I have never become familiar with the East Village. I did teach for several years a few blocks south of there, at Seward Park High School on Grand Street, so I know some of the territory south of Houston Street, but not the East Village. Next time I'll know to take the D to West 4th or Broadway-Lafayette, and then switch to the F to Second Avenue.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Trouble at Morningside - Three

A week ago, an anonymous poster left this comment on my post Trouble at Morningside - One:
One need not turn to Jewish or Christian teachings for guidance on the subject of hurtful speech. Every child who graduates from Kindergarten is taught this. Backpeddling will not excuse you from your direct role and complicity in fomenting the conflict at MG that is tearing our community apart. Pandora's box is open.
It's a fair enough comment and I think it warrants being lifted out of the comments and into the main posts. My reply last Sunday was:
You misunderstand me. I am not looking to excuse myself from anything. Nor am I backpedaling, at least not in the sense that expression is commonly understood.
Now that I have posted this in which I say that I am going to issue a public statement urging a "NO" vote in the upcoming special vote to remove three directors, I want to expand on that answer.

I will avoid using actual names or initials in what follows, but I will use unassociated letters of the alphabet to distinguish those whom I am discussing. I acknowledge an inconsistency here; I link to an earlier post in which I did use first names.

The problem I have been struggling with since the end of July is this. I am convinced that some of the officers of the coop acted improperly last year when they consulted a law firm and incurred expenses with neither the authorization nor the knowledge of the board. But I also know that they are all honorable people and I do not believe for a moment that they knew they were doing anything wrong.

Last April we had an instance where board member A released certain damaging information about board member B, who was running for reelection. A was avowedly trying to prevent B's reelection. In that instance, the majority of the board concluded that the the information was privileged and therefore it was improper for A to release it on his own. We voted to censure him. By my current standard, my vote then was prohibited speech and therefore sinful -- I'll return to that point later.

Just before A released information on B, the then minority on the board, A, C, and D, alerted board members to certain invoices from an outside law firm -- invoices that had notations that it appeared were for matters that the board should have been informed about. It was, in part, those invoices which lay behind my statement last May in Board Affairs that "for the reasons I have stated [earlier in that post], and for some additional reasons that I will not put in a blog post, I have decided that I will not support" E for president. (My friend Z said that was innuendo and perhaps he is correct -- I'll have to ponder that. In any case, I think I made the right choice when I voted for C for president.)

I took a lot of flak from friends for my votes in the reorganization meting in May. In particular, people wondered how I could have voted for A for vice president when a few weeks earlier I voted to censure him. I'm not going to answer that question here, except to say that I thought then and I think now that the censure was a sufficient sanction for the move against B, and that what they were urging seemed to me to be, in effect, shunning.

After the new administration took office in May, three unexpected events happened. First, our auditors declined to renew, and we were forced to scramble to find a new auditor in time for the mid-year audit. Second, it became necessary to investigate the behavior of an employee. Third, in early July, E sent an email to several non board members in which he made negative statements about an employee -- a serious lapse in judgment. Each of those events required action by the new president and the new officers -- the choice of a new auditor also required action by the board.

Sometime in mid July, I was given a packet of material that C had assembled, detailing the history of the coop's involvement with the outside law firm I mentioned above. At the time I concluded (based on a careful reading of the material) that the material established that E and other officers had acted in this instance as if the authority for the affairs of the coop (the corporation) were vested in them rather than in the board. The board discussed this material in closed session in July.

On September 14th, 2010, the earliest possible date to call a board meeting with 100% attendance, another meeting was held in entirely in closed session, ostensibly to discuss the matter, but actually to take action against three board members, B, E, and F. My apologies to A, C, D, G, and H, my fellow conspirators, but that is in fact what we were. We conspired to keep the resolutions (which we had predecided to pass) secret from the rest of the board until they were sprung on them at the meeting. Those resolutions were fine tuned so that all six of us would vote for them. In particular, in order to get my vote, the resolutions stopped short of actually billing anyone for charges beyond those that we judged E to be responsible for.

In fact, I made that point in the meeting, and all ten of the other directors heard me make it. I can well believe that some of them (the five who were not part of the conspiracy -- excuse me, the majority caucus) did not fully take in the distinction I was making. Three of them were without doubt feeling the shock that comes with feeling attacked. The other two, I and J, were no doubt in shock also.

Here I must make another discursus. I apologize to those of my readers for whom the words in the subtitle of this blog "Thoughts of a progressive Episcopalian" invoke a yawn, but I now realized that I missed a significant signal. There were four motions. The first called on E to resign. The second billed E for a specific sum. The third censured E, B, and F, and stated that they "should" each pay a specific sum. The fourth was a motion to move all of the motions into open session and notify the cooperators of the text of the motions. The only one of these motions I was willing to make was the last. I was not willing to make any of the other motions. That was, of course, a sign that I knew something was wrong -- But I didn't know what was wrong.

In fact, as I see it now, there were two things wrong. First, and least important, the sanctions imposed in motions two and three were excessive, even if it were granted that some sanction was warranted; and second, the imposition of these specific sanctions was categorically wrong.

I believe in the devil. That is, I think that when otherwise good people act to cause harm to other people, that it is useful to attribute that act to the influence of a malign influence -- the devil. I wish I had been more alert to the opportunity my vote of September 14th for those four motions was offering to the devil. (Like many other places in the US of A, Morningside Gardens has been an open hunting park for the devil for several years.) And I recognize that I succumbed to the temptations of the devil in voting for these motions.

The upshot was that these motions led to a stockholder petition to remove E, B, and F from the board. There's a lot going on in this petition. It's whole foundation is inference from the motions and rumor originating from several sources. But there is also a subtext -- not explicitly stated in the petition -- that these people don't vote the right way on financial matters and therefore the coop would be better off if they were not on the board. After all, suppose they and their friends could regain the majority -- what would happen then?

In fact, in the summer and fall of 2009 there was a stockholder petition circulating to remove directors including at least some of the same people -- that petition was based in part explicitly on the way people voted and in part on unproven allegations of their intentions. Fortunately for the coop, that petition did not have a sufficient number of valid signatures. The current petition has withstood challenges to the signatures and the vote will indeed go forward.

At the December board meeting, I stated that I was going to vote against removing the three directors. There are ample reasons to vote against removal and I shall state some of them in the future.

This post is getting too long, so I’ll quickly add just a few points. First, as to “prohibited speech,” the insight (or perhaps conversion experience) I had the other day was to see that a vote constitutes speech. For me, the implications of that are profound.

Second, as to the censure of A last spring, for me the law of double effect comes into play here. Voting to censure was indeed prohibited speech, but taking no action would have been worse, because it would have amounted to condoning improper behavior. By the same token, if on September 14 I had voted to censure, or in some other way had indicated that I could not condone the actions, that would have been acceptable – voting for the motions as they stood was not acceptable.

Third, and this is a completely new topic, it is not possible to have genuine fruitful rational discussion at our board meetings. Time constraints, Robert’s Rules, and the fishbowl atmosphere all contribute to that impossibility. Much of what we say is either advocacy or posturing. Real deliberation on hard questions takes a great deal of time – time we don’t give ourselves. I may say more on this later.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Trouble at Morningside - Two

I had planned to write something more on the troubles before now, but that didn't happen. The careful reader will recall that in this post I said (not in so many words) that I now perceive that I fell into sin when I voted a certain way at a closed session board meeting on September 14th.

For my distant friends I have to explain that at that meeting a bare majority of the board imposed certain sanctions on three board members who were officers in the last board year. The sanctions were imposed for actions the three had taken that the majority of the board deemed improper. They were not actions which were intrinsically improper -- the impropriety lies in the fact that they were undertaken without the authorization or knowledge of the entire board. I'm sorry -- I can't be more explicit.

I am now faced with the question of what to do about the results of my September 14th vote. I have struggled with that question for weeks.

Another thing that most people here at Morningide know but that my distant friends do not is that a valid stockholder petition was submitted to the president calling for a special stockholder vote to remove the three directors named in the September 14th motions. One thing I plan to do is issue a statement urging a "NO" vote on the question fo removal. That is the least I can do do.

I am pondering whether there is anything else I can do.

While I was thinking about this I encountered eight lines of a poen by Margaret Attwood:
We are hard on each other
and call it honesty,
choosing our jagged truths
with care and aiming them across
the neutral table.

The things we say are
true; it is our crooked
aims, our choices
turn them criminal.
The pom is about two peopple, but the lines seem to me to apt when I consider the state of thigs here at Morningside.

Also, this past Wednesday evening, Liz and I attended a hymn sing with Alice Parker and I heard and sang for the first time these words of Charles Wesley's:
Times without number have I prayed
"This only once, forgive";
relapsing when thy hand was stayed,
and suffered me to live.

Yet now the kingdom of thy peace,
Lord, to my heart restore;
forgive my vain repentance,
and bid me sin no more.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Still More than you want to know

I showed up for my colonoscopy at 7:30 am; by 8:30 the procedure was underway and by 8:45 it was over. I was awake during the latter part of the procedure and experienced much discomfort from the pseudo-gas pains caused by the air pumped into me during the procedure. Two polyps were removed and, assuming the biopsy show they are ok, I have to go back in three years for another one. He also told me I have diverticulosis, which sounds alarming but according to the Naitonal Institutes of Health, half of all Americans of 60 have it and of those 75 to 90% never get diverticulitis -- which is painful and could require a colon resection.

Liz picked me up on schedule, at about 9:30, and we walked the 9/10 of a mile home. (I had also walked to the doctor's office.) The gas pains persisted into the early afternoon. After I got home, I slept for two hours, in two separate shifts -- one before I ate anything and one after I had eaten lunch. Finally, at about 3 pm, I began to feel normal and now at 5 pm I'm back in the groove.

However, the state I was in for most of the day meant that I didn't get much catching up done. I still hope to post part two of Trouble at Morningside by Saturday -- especially because I expect there will be a part three.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More than you want to know

Tomorrow morning at 7:30 am I will report to nearby gastroenterologist's office for a colonoscopy. Today I am on a very restricted diet, liquid except for some white toast I ate at breakfast, and the unpleasant part of the preparation will begin at 4 pm this afternoon. I am going to have to miss a pleasant gathering we have at St. Mary's every month -- it's called "Peace of Pizza" and members of the congregation share food and fellowship with the five interns who are housed as St. Mary's.

I'm planning to devote this day to "catch up" -- I have an awful lot to catch up on. Tomorrow I'll probably be logy from the sedation (and the fasting) so that may be another "catch up" day too.

I'm working on the next installment in the "Trouble at Morningside" series. I hope to have it posted by the weekend.

Monday, January 10, 2011


I have been a happy user of the Eudora email program since I first started using email. Since Qualcomm stopped updating Eudora a few years ago, I have begun experimenting with Thunderbird.
Yesterday, I made the switch over to Eudora OSE, which is really Thunderbird but has many of the features of Eudora. I hope I like it.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Trouble at Morningside -- One

It's been a while since I posted anything and longer since I posted about Morningside Gardens, the cooperative I call home. Things are not well here at Morningside -- the board of directors is deeply divided and there is anger, dismay, and confusion among the cooperators. A friend said to me today that the general fractious mood that characterizes our country these days is also manifesting itself here at Morningside.

What follows is largely intended for my neighbors, but you more distant friends might find it interesting also.

I have recently been reading about the ethics of speech, in particular hurtful speech. I read that Maimonides said that any utterance (true or not) that might cause a person physical or monetary damage, or shame, humiliation, anguish or fear is prohibited in Jewish law. As a Christian, I find that teaching to be consonant with the Christian ethic as I understand it.

Over the past several weeks I have been increasingly uneasy about the effects of a vote I cast in a closed session board meeting on September 14. If I take the statement of Maimonides as a standard, my vote was prohibited speech.