Saturday, January 25, 2020

Bob Malm: Club Protest Membership Countdown


By virtue of trying to shutdown criticism by going to court with his facially false claims that he had been threatened, pseudo-priest Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal signed up for the two-year membership at Club Protest. No refunds, late payments result in an extension of membership. And his decision to include Mike in his vendetta, his multiple lies in court, and his efforts to subpoena a dying woman, all mean Bob gets the special VIP add-on package — my online presence will continue ad infinitum. That’s right, Dysfunctional Bob gets the lifetime virtual membership. Hey, Bob always did think he was special. Well, he’s right.

So, this countdown timer doesn’t mark the countdown to an end to open hostilities. But it does mark the payout of Dysfunctional Bob’s basic Club Protest membership.That said, I have always believed in under-promise, over-deliver, so I also will no doubt extend Bob’s basic membership well beyond his original contract.

Hey, if he behaves, maybe we can even spot Bob some core body fitness tips. Heaven knows he’s been looking rather well-fed in recent years. And it fits — Grace Church aka St. Dysfunction is looking a whole lot leaner and meaner these days.

See you at Dysfunction Junction aka Malm Square(d)!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Grace Episcopal Alexandria: Painful Budget Realities



Fourteen Symptoms of Toxic Church Leaders

Ever back up and take a dispassionate look at Bob Malm’s “ministry?” 

Check out the linked article for an insightful look at the atttributes of toxic church leaders. Yes, like Bob Malm.

https://thomrainer.com/2014/10/fourteen-symptoms-toxic-church-leaders/




Thursday, September 12, 2019

My Advice to Potential Interims: Run!





Analysis of the recent surge in traffic to this website reveals that a great many visitors to the site are clergy and others interested both in issues at Grace church and the possibility of serving as the interim rector. With that in mind, here is my advice to anyone considering serving as interim: Run. Like. Hell.

Let’s start with the lay of the land.

Problems in the Parish

Dysfunctional Bob “served” for more than 30 years. That in itself is an issue, because you’re not coming in after someone has made a hash of things for a few years, then moved on. Instead, you’ve got three decades of dysfunction, misfeasance and nonfeasance. As a result, only a handful of parishioners have known anything other than the so-called Planet Malm paradigm.

Why do I refer to the church as Planet Malm? The other handle sometimes used for the place, “Bobby Malm’s Playground,” speaks to that issue. Simply put, Grace Church is all about Bob Malm. He decides who serves on the Executive Committee, thus ensuring a rubber-stamp vestry. As a result, there’s zero accountability for Bob or church staff. No annual performance review, no annual mutual ministry review. Or, as one former assistant rector of the parish says, “Bob’s been getting away with murder for years.” And while Bob’s friendly, there is zero genuine concern for others. Instead, the church is all about meeting Bob’s needs

Bob’s also been very clever in playing to the whole “lay-driven church” thing. Bob claims, and rightly so, that laity at the church are responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the church. What this means is that things like church administration, facilities issues, and programmatic activities all fall to laity. In other words, Bob simply doesn’t get involved in the food pantry, Carpenter’s Shelter, planning Shrine Mont, or much of anything else. His role is liturgy, answering emails, and very limited pastoral care—as in Bob will show up for a few minutes, smile, chat, give you a hug and dash off.  But with a vestry that reports to Bob, and where Bob can bypass or overrule the vestry at any time, the result is that even basics, like ensuring that cash is handled appropriately, were ignored by Bob for much of his tenure. Consider: thousands of dollars in cash and stale checks were found in the office of a previous parish administrator following her departure. Are we really to assume that no one ever called to ask why these checks were never cashed? What does this tell people about the church, its clergy/staff, and its “stewardship?”

Moreover, Dysfunctional Bob uses this paradigm to dismiss anyone who claims he’s abusive, arguing that laity would not put up with things like gross mismanagement. But the reality is that laity has done exactly that for many years, lacking any meaningful recourse.

Predictably enough, Bob exploits this paradigm to his personal advantage. His annual compensation exceeds that of even top denominational officials, despite a demonstrably mediocre track record.  His insistence that the church tear down the rectory and help him buy a personal residence was a financially disastrous move for the parish, and one that he bullied through a reluctant vestry. And Bob pretty much comes and goes as he pleases.

It is in the matter of Bob’s 2014 bonus of $100,000 in the form of debt he owed the church that one really begins to understand this situation. “Negotiated” by two members of the executive committee directly with Bob (one’s husband is a regular golfing buddy of Bob’s), this was an outrageously large bonus for a feckless rector, particularly in light of the looming massive expenses facing the church. Yet members of the vestry supported the measure, with vestry member Lisa Medley even suggesting that the bonus be $200,000.

Why did vestry members make such an ill-advised decision? The answer is that, like many narcissists, Bob is good at turning on the superficial flattery and charm. He’s also very good at manipulating people and playing them against each other, with the result that conflict is rife in the parish.

Nor should one be misled by Bob’s claim that he doesn’t like conflict, which he trots out when faced with demands to address conflict within the parish. The reality is that his claim is true in part, in that he doesn’t like to do anything that will engender criticism. Yet the larger truth is that Bob often foments conflict among parishioners. His favorite tactic is to make himself out to be the friend, ally, and supporter, while claiming that others are hostile. As a result, people glob on to Bob, never realizing that he actually is the source of the underlying conflict. Much like Donald Trump, Bob exploits this paradigm to meet his own perceived needs, both oblivious and indifferent to the underlying harm he is causing the larger organization.

By now, astute readers will have concluded that, like Trump, Bob may be a narcissist. I believe that conclusion is spot on, and that Dysfunctional Bob exhibits other signs of possible narcissism and psychological maladjustment, including a propensity for lying. Whether it’s his claim that church office employees will be “retiring this year” (a lie he told repeatedly over the years), or his claims in writing, under oath, made with the advice of legal counsel that my mom or someone claiming to be her repeatedly made appointments with him and no-showed, Bob demonstrates a shocking lack of integrity, particularly for a priest.

In short. Bob’s tenure with the parish has produced a church that, not surprisingly, is much like him: Outwardly friendly and welcoming, while lacking inward faith and integrity, with a strong bias towards real or perceived self-interest, and willing to engage in virtually any behavior to meet its own needs.

Dysfunction at the Diocese

Things are no better at the diocese. Over the past few years, the diocese has repeatedly refused to deal with Bob Malm’s misconduct, even in the face of clear evidence that Bob has engaged in illegal activity. The latter includes perjury and deliberate misuse of restricted solicitations. Indeed, I am told by one church official that Bishop Shannon expressly understood that Bob’s misuse of funds was illegal, but still did not want to get involved.

The diocese also has ignored both church canons and the recommendations of its own officials. For instance, Title IV intake officer Rev. Randall Prior recommended that the church engage in conciliation of my conflict with Bob, only to be ignored by Bishop Shannon. In fact, when it did so, the diocese ignored the canonical requirement of providing written notice of its decision, instead simply falling silent. Hardly reassuring, especially coming from a diocese that had just spent seven years caterwauling to the courts about the canons and their applicability to dissidents who had left the organization.

Even more disturbingly, the diocese has said that there’s no point in its getting involved, as reconciliation is not possible. But reconciliation is not the only goal of church disciplinary canons; justice is also an objective. Nor did the diocese ever ask if I wanted to be reconciled with Bob. I don’t, as reconcilation is neither possible nor desirable when dealing with someone with Bob’s level of dysfunction.

In short, the diocese is part and parcel of the problem, for it is dysfunction at the diocese that has allowed the mess at Grace Church to take on a life of its own.

Trouble at Grace, a Stained Glass Slice of Paradise

So what does all this mean for an interim and the stained glass slice of paradise that is Grace Church?

Primarily, it means that problems within the parish will not not easily fixed. Part of the problem is that the issues that loom largest for the church are actually symptoms of bigger problems. For example, plummeting revenue and attendance at the church are seen by members of the church as themselves being challenges, while the real issues are the causes of these declines. These causes include organizational narcissism, troubled interpersonal relationships, and a lack of understanding what it means to be the Body of Christ. In other words, the parish has become much like Dysfunctional Bob: outwardly friendly, but in a narcissistic way, with all sorts of meanness right behind the scenes and a lack of self-awareness. Church members simply do not see that the place is toxic.

Predictably enough, people are very used to Bob’s way of doing things, and change will be met with resistance, a lack of understanding, and a lack of charity. (Keep in mind this is a church and diocese in which Bob Malm writes to diocesan officials, calling me “sick” and “twisted.”) Yet at the same time the challenge is to become a church, versus a religion club. This is a sea change akin to the challenges that faced The Falls Church and the Church of the Epiphamy following the property recovery litigation, and it’s a massive effort, complicated by the fact that there is no external enemy akin to the “Orthodox Anglicans.”

In the case of my conflict with Bob, which in many ways is the least of the church’s problems, Bob’s all-out effort to pull members of the church in to the conflict and to create fear among parishioners, complete with his ridiculous BS about mental illness and “single-button emergency transmitters,” etc., will make it very hard for folks to reverse course and approach the issue with clarity. Even otherwise intelligent, reasonable people have fallen prey to Bob’s manipulation, and few appear to see how laughable it is to claim to be “servants of Christ,” while failing to show any love or compassion for those who are the subjects of their gossip and speculation. It’s also worth noting that I am allegedly neither the first nor the second person that Bob has tried to push out of the church; long-time members say this is a pattern of behavior on Bob’s part.

Even more laughable are people like David Crosby, who see fit to lecture me on being hateful, yet turn a blind eye to Bob Malm’s perjury. But I can say with certainty that neither David, nor anyone else at Grace, has ever seen evidence of those alleged appointments that Mom — or someone claiming to be her — made with Bob Malm. Yet David and many others continue to support a priest who commits perjury and bullies the dying. In other words, Bob may not literally be getting away with murder, but he is literally getting away with perjury.

At the same time, any potential interim faces a grim reality, which is that the diocese, which should be leading the charge to fix things at Grace, is worse than no help at all. Diocesan officials are fine with Bob’s perjury and bullying of a dying woman, and have refused to address Bob’s forcing Mike out of the Christian faith. So the diocese is not going to provide air cover and lacks the ethical underpinnings to act as an honest broker going forward. Moreover, given the track record of diocesan officials, it would be difficult for anyone to take the diocese seriously at this point, even if it attempts that role. Indeed, the role of the diocese seems best confined to lamenting slavery and reflecting on reproductive rights, versus actually addressing real-world conflict. And the diocese lacks the self-awareness and Christian ethics needed to examine its own extensive role, both in my conflict with Bob and with the larger mess that is Grace Church, to wade in, accept responsibility, and fix things. Nor does the diocese have a great track record in that regard, for it made a hash of things over at St. Thomas’ McLean and managed to violate virtually every best practice out there regarding care for a church injured by allegations of misconduct, while conveniently ignoring church canons as well.

Of course, as Bob likes to say, “Charity starts at home.” While this is an ironic statement for a priest whose noisy fights with his wife are legendary, it underscores the reality that a denomination that cannot fix problems in its own house is unlikely to be able to do much to fix the issues in the world around it.

In closing

In closing, problems at Grace church far exceed the scope of a single post. These problems start with a lack of introspection, and are threaded through every aspect of church life, up to and including the diocese itself. Moreover, they go back many years, meaning that no interim, no matter how skilled or diligent, can fully resolve all or even most of these issues. Much like an alcoholic, who can only get better when he or she hits bottom and decides it’s time to change, so too can Grace Church only become healthy once it has hit rock bottom and decides something has to give. And for this to be successful, the diocese must also embrace a healthy approach, both to the parish and to its relationship with the parish. 

The analogy to an alcoholic goes even further. Much like the drunk who lashes out at those who try to intervene, potential interims need to understand that members of the parish will have no compunction against trying to obstruct their efforts, or throwing them under the bus. One has only to look at the ugly comments coming from within the church, including the college-aged parishioner who urged me to commit suicide, to realize just how sick Grace Church really is. And the Jean Reeds of the place can bloviate all they want to about defamation, etc., but Bob Malm’s perjury, his manipulative behavior, his bullying, and even the comments from the parishioner about suicide are all documented in writing.

Fixing the mess at Grace Church is a Herculean task, and I have yet to meet the interim who is up to the challenge. But if you are a prospective interim and considering taking on the job, I urge you to do your homework before signing on the dotted line. You are in for a rough and rocky road.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Thinking About Pledging at Grace Episcopal Alexandria this Fall?



Considering pledging at Grace Episcopal Alexandria this fall? Or thinking about becoming a member?

If so, just know before you take the plunge: This is how people at Grace Episcopal Church talk to each other. But then, in light of Bob Malm’s perjury, what’s a little defamation?

Keep in mind, too, that the Episcopal bishops of Virginia say they fully support Bob Malm and the parish. And Mike Jones talks about how Grace is a wonderful place.

If you think this sort of thing is okay, you probably do think Grace Episcopal is a wonderful place.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Michael Jones’ Sermon: My Response



I read with interest Michael Jones’ sermons from Shrine Mont, particularly in light of Dysfunctional Bob’s impending retirement. And while I agree with much of what he says, particularly his remarks about the importance of being positive, I want to rebut the underlying premises behind his sermons.

Specifically, Grace church is not a wonderful place. Bob Malm is not a wonderful priest. And God is not on the church’s side.
  • Jesus was very clear in offering choice words for clergy who are hypocrites and who interfere with the faith of others. 
  • The Bible is very clear about bearing false witness—as in Bob Malm’s perjury, done in writing, under oath, in front of parishioners, and with legal counsel involved.
  • Jesus would have no use for a church that thinks it’s okay to try to drag a drying woman into court. 
  • God does not approve of the deliberate misuse of memorial donations. 
  • God is outraged when Bob Malm pushes Mike out of the Christian faith, after being received into The Episcopal Church only 18 months earlier.
  • God is not okay with a church where members are so morally bereft as to think it’s okay to urge others to commit suicide.
Nor did Dysfunctional Bob and Sugarland Chiow act in isolation. They acted with the approval of the vestry and a family system that allows, permits, and endorses such conduct. And one can understand the real motives and values of the parish by examining these behaviors and actions, for Jesus is clear: “By their fruits you shall know them.”

In the case of Mike Jones, he and others who wash their hands of these issues offer tacit, if not explicit, endorsement. They are hypocrites of the first order, modern-day Scribes and Pharisees. Turning a blind eye to evil is itself evil. Or as Desmond Tutu says:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

I would add that if you say the elephant is great, wonderful, and doing an awesome job, the mouse will not only be ticked, he will think that you are a liar, a bully, and an enabler. And if you are an organization that makes that claim, the mouse likely will conclude that you are an organizational narcissist.

Meanwhile, Michael Jones conveniently ignores Fanny Belanger’s abrupt resignation, two years early, for “personal reasons.” We all know the real reasons for that, and sweeping the matter under the rug does not help anyone.

Further, even if everything Bob Malm claims is true, and it certainly is not, nothing justifies bullying Mike, lying under oath aka perjury, or trying to drag a dying woman into court. 

Nothing.




Sunday, September 8, 2019

Grace Episcopal Alexandria Lurches Towards Financial Crisis



As I’ve said many times, Grace Episcopal’s existing cost structure is unsustainable. Thanks to the debt incurred for the recently completed HVAC project, as well as the parish’s continuing willingness to live above its means and its refusal to save, things are looking grim for the 2020 budget. This is the result that, in 2014, I warned Bob Malm was looming, possibly as early as 2016 if expenses were not curtailed. I did so in writing and, predictably enough, did not even get the courtesy of a response from Dysfunctional Bob.

Specifically, as of right now, the parish appears poised for 2020 annual income of $975,000, expenses of $1,206,000, and a net deficit (get ready!) of $231,000. 

Variables used to reach these results:
  • $70,000 diocesan pledge
  • $9,000 reduction in pledges over 2019 figures. In light of the length of Bob Malm’s tenure, the decline could prove much greater
  • $80,000 reduction in salaries, primarily attributable to alignment of interim’s salary with local norms, or $130,000 annually
  • $70,000 in debt service
  • $50,000 income from trust
  • $50,000 in maintenance (note that this covers janitorial supplies (paper products, etc) for both the church and school, which then reimburses half the cost to the church. These funds are returned to the operating budget, not line items associated with facilities expenses. Thus, according to the church’s customary financial reporting, nowhere near the full $50,000 actually is available for repairs or maintenance.)
  • $20,000 in search expenses
  • $10,000 invested in management reserve
  • Inclusion of the Alexandria sewer tax
  • A 2% increase in most operating expenses to adjust for inflation
  • Continued zero funding for the school beyond cost sharing, which already benefits the school
  • Limited programmatic, worship, and local outreach funding. Note that these are areas already cut very thin, and typically frozen at end of year. As a result, sooner or later several categories will require additional funding in order to continue.
Not factored in is the increasingly likely possibility of a recession, which would erode both Q4 2019 giving and 2020 pledges, and potentially reduce the allowable draw on the trust fund.

Of course, these figures don’t leave room for contingencies, such as extensive snow removal in the event of a severe winter, or burst pipes. (As I have pointed out ad nauseum, copper pipes do not have an indefinite life span. All the original plumbing in the building is at actuarial end of life. Same for the 20-ton HVAC unit serving the nave, which is well beyond end of life expectancy and already has had one fan motor replaced in an effort to buy time.)

Clearly, church staff recognizes the challenges ahead, and director of music Richard Newman (a delightful person and wonderful musician) has been wise in maintaining visibility by performing concerts in venues around the country. Similarly, it may no longer be possible for the parish to maintain full-time staff for the parish administrator and family ministries positions, or the associate rector position, for that matter.

It may also be time for the church to assess whether the school should continue and, if so, whether it might be spun off as a completely separate entity. The 50/50 cost sharing arrangement, often portrayed by Dysfunctional Bob as a benefit to the church, actually is to the school’s benefit, not the church’s, as the former is responsible for the vast majority of utilities, etc. Another possibility is to require the school to pay its full cost of operation. Such an arrangement could reduce the financial burden on the church and free up money to address issues like hunger in the community, versus devoting such a large portion of the budget to educating children who in most cases come from privileged, affluent backgrounds. It’s also worth noting that very few of the families with children at the school ever become involved in the church, especially since the school eliminated the tuition break for church members. 

In a situation such as this, there are no easy solutions, and it is vital that the parish begin to learn to save for the future. But no matter how things unfold there are some tough decisions and difficult times ahead.

And yes, before folks ask, I will continue to protest the church’s conduct, even after Bob Malm’s departure.

Bob Malm has stated in writing that the vestry and other parish leadership joined with him in its decision to take legal action against me, with the tacit approval of the diocese. So Bob Malm’s perjury, his decision to try to drag a dying woman into court, his decision to include Mike in his vendetta, and the various fabrications and inflammatory rhetoric in Jeff Chiow’s legal pleadings — none of these have been repudiated by the parish or vestry. Thus, it is appropriate that I continue to make public my experiences.

And that is exactly what I will do.


 

The Perils of Bob Malm’s Conveniently Faulty Memory

In an earlier post, I commented on how Bob Malm’s farewell mea culpa was facially self-serving, in that it tosses out the red herring of “things left undone,” while ignoring the other aspects of Bob’s misconduct as rector of Grace Episcopal Church. Yet even then Bob’s message, incorporated into his final Grace Notes, reflects Dysfunctional Bob’s lack of attention to detail and self-serving selective forgetfulness.

Consider Bob’s assertion that there are two major capital expenditures remaining: Repairs to the parking lot and the original elevator. Yes, both are needed, but even just four years ago Bob recognized in writing that the faux slate roof over the “bridge” between the two original buildings needed to be replaced. (Note that he omitted the equally troubled roof over the new narthex, made of the same faulty materials.)

Here is his 2015 post:



And here is Dysfunctional Bob’s 2019 post:



So where did the roof go?

The answer, I suspect, lies in Bob’s statement to me that he has “neither the time nor the interest” to deal with building issues. That of course contradicts his written job description, which specifically gives him that responsibility, as do church canons. But hey—time indeed is limited when you spend a month at the beach every summer.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Official Church Reports Prove Grace Church In Crisis

Some time ago, Bob Malm and the Grace vestry decided to quietly hide evidence of the damage caused by Dysfunctional Bob’s and Sugarland Chiow’s antics. This included both the real reasons for Fanny Belanger’s departure, as well as the continuing decline in attendance and giving caused by their misconduct. Hiding this information, however, was foolish, as it’s readily available from other sources, and it underscores the ongoing lack of candor and transparency in the parish’s governance.

Among the information that has quietly disappered in the past year or so:
  1. Information in Grace Notes, the parish newslettter, about updates to the parish register. This information would have revealed that even long-time parish stalwarts, including people who have taken the three-year Education for Ministry course, have been departing the parish.
  2. Vestry minutes, which would have revealed serious budgetary challenges caused by Dysfunctional Bob’s and Sugarland Chiow’s conduct, as well as ongoing discussions about how to deal with these issues.
Of course, the parish has never exactly been a model of transparency and good governance, in light of its customary violations of church canons regarding elections and eligibility for parish offices, its failure to publicly release its annual report, the lack of information on the annual agreed-upon procedures financial review, and the carefully controlled information that the vestry is allowed to see.

Into this mix comes the annual parochial report, one of the oldest bits of denominational reporting in the Episcopal Church. Published on the national church website every August, the results cover the prior calendar year, meaning that 2018 data just went live.

This report, required of every parish, is a key barometer of organizational health, and tracks membership, giving and worship. Of these three, the latter two are most telling, for membership is defined as rolling through at least three times a year, and giving some money to the parish. Thus, membership is loosely defined, and a parish can be growing in membership, even as it’s collapsing on other fronts.

In Grace’s case, worship attendance and giving have dropped to their lowest levels in more than a decade. Indeed, worship attendance mirrors the decline that occurred following Bob’s accident, while giving dropped sharply for the first time since Bob’s arrival as rector. Particularly troubling is the drop in worship attendance, or average Sunday attendance (ASA), which once stood at more than 350, but has now dropped to 250. With an almost 1/3 decline, this shows that the most basic function of the parish, divine worship, is collapsing.

Three factors compound these problems:
  1. Lack of transparency has consistently been shown to erode church giving, and Bob Malm is permitting next to no meaningful information to reach church membership. Yes, vestry minutes are posted outside the church office, but the reality is that this affords little opportunity for meaningful review. Even Bob’s letter announcing his resignation is available by calling the church office for those who didn’t get a copy in the mail, which begs the question: Why isn’t it simply posted on the website? (I can assure readers that Bob’s efforts have done nothing to keep information from reaching me, so if that’s the issue, it’s been a total waste of time.)
  2. The $70,000 annual debt service the church has incurred leaves the parish unable to fully fund its ministries and adequately care for members. With far too much of the budget going into keeping the building running, the church is in danger of no longer being a church, but instead being a museum in which religious services are held.
  3. Bob’s departure, as in all cases where a rector of long standing leaves, will undoubtedly further erode giving and attendance.
Moreover, since the most recent report reflects 2018 data, the full effect of Dysfunctional Bob’s lawsuit and related perjury won’t be reported until August 2020. I anticipate that the results will be devastating.

At this point, I surely feel sympathy for the poor interim who inherits Bob Malm’s hot mess, as well as for loyal parishioners who are trying to ride out the storm.






Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Bob Malm’s Questionable “Confession”



Hurricane Alert: Bob Malm Rides a Storm Surge of BS Out the Door



In this month’s Grace Notes, Dysfunctional Bob’s last before retirement, he offers a short blurb about “things left undone,” during his tenure. True to form, it’s an utter piece of BS.

  1. Bob only addresses “those things undone” during his so-called “ministry.” While items on that list are myriad, Dysfunctional Bob blithely says he’s tried to make visiting members a priority. Coming from someone who has pretty much been “out of town” any time he has felt like it, who takes six weeks a year of leave and then some, and who has plenty of time for golf, running, and traveling, let’s just say I’m not feeling it.
  2. Dysfunctional Bob conveniently overlooks the other side of sin, which is those things he has done. Bullying the vestry into an insanely generous compensation plan, pushing Mike out of the church/Christian faith, refusing to address misfeasance, nonfeasance and bullying among parishioners and staff, committing perjury, trying to drag a dying woman into court — the list of things Bob has done even surpasses the many areas of his nonfeasance. Nor do I see any sign that Bob will address any of these issues on the way out the door. Being the bully and coward he is, Bob clearly hopes to leave those issues to his successor. And yes, anyone who goes after a dying woman, or Mike, is a bully and a coward, as well as a lowlife.
  3. As to Dysfunctional Bob’s hopes for the Legacy Society, few will leave anything to the parish if the rector is free to unilaterally terminate their membership. The parish belongs to parishioners — those who pay the bills and provide the labor that makes things happen. The rector is there to serve the parish, not the other way around. Until the unbridled clericalism of  Planet Malm is addressed, all I can say is “don’t hold your breath.” And nowhere do I see any sign that Bob has left money to the parish in his will. Res ipsa loquitur.
  4. True to form, Bob’s list of outstanding major building projects is much too short. The faux slate roof still needs to be replaced, there’s tons of rotting wood trim, the nave needs adequate air conditioning, the 1989 double-pane windows need to be replaced, the pole lamps in the parking lot are overdue for replacement , inefficient lighting needs to go, basement windows need to be replaced, and water lines in the original building are at end of life. In short, there’s a ton of work to be done and major bills to go with it.
  5. Bob asserts that people have forgiven him for those things left undone. While folks at Grace are generally good in that department, it’s also fair to say that, being unable to effect change, members in many cases are more resigned that forgiving. That’s in keeping with Dysfunctional Bob’s modus operandi: Do whatever the hell he wants/ignore things, apologize on the way out the door, give a hug, and keep right on trucking. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt to prove it. Don’t need another.
  6. The key thing missing from Bob’s article is the elephant in the room. Being the narcissist that he is, Bob has focused attention and adulation on himself, not God. Like all narcissists, he is toxic, and through thought, word, and deed has taught the parish to be be an organizational narcissist. In short, he has created a toxic parish in which it’s okay to lie, bully others (even the dying) commit perjury, encourage others to commit suicide and more. Indeed, in the midst of his efforts to portray me as a “domestic terrorist” and mentally ill, the one thing that never came up anywhere in the parish was any love or concern for my mother, Mike, or me. The Jean Reeds and Kemp Williams of the parish may bloviate about their Christian faith and being “servants of Christ,” but their lack of concern for others puts the lie to their words. And I have plenty of internal church emails that prove my point. Yes, Bob can be friendly and charismatic, but friendly and faithful are not the same thing, and Bob’s faith is nominal, at best. Moreover, if you doubt Bob is a narcissist, just look at his narcissistic rages—those over-the-top explosions that happen when he feels threatened. I’ve seen several, and they are utterly contrary to any standard of Christian conduct, as well as strongly suggestive of narcissism. Please quote me on that.
At this point, I primarily feel sorry for folks at Grace Church. Bob Malm played them, and he is leaving a huge mess behind. Worst of all, many in the church still have absolutely no clue that the parish is a mess. Indeed, many regard the toxic morass at the parish as normative, which is a sorry state of affairs on multiple fronts.

So, as a counterpoint to Bob’s empty triumphalism and BS about how Grace represents “true religion,” and “taking part of Grace with you,” I offer up this question:

If Grace is such a slice of paradise, why the current state of decline? 

PS Lisa Medley claims the church is “thriving.” If that’s the case, why did Fanny Belanger walk out two years early? Why have more than 1/3 of pledging units left? As I stated previously, lying has become normative for many parishioners and underscores the fact that the church is toxic.

Monday, September 2, 2019

See for Yourself: Member of Grace Episcopal Alexandria Urges Me to Commit Suicide

Want to see just how toxic Grace Episcopal is under Bob Malm? Here’s a social media post in which a college-aged member of the parish urges me to commit suicide.

The fact that Bob Malm, Jeff Chiow, the vestry, the diocese, and the members of this church try to defend this conduct tells you everything you need to know. And let’s not forget that the Diocese of Virginia says it fully supports Bob Malm and the parish. So clearly the diocese thinks this sort of thing is okay. That’s no surprise, though, since the diocese also thinks perjury is acceptable conduct for clergy as long as they aren’t criminally convicted.

If that’s your idea of a healthy church, or the Christian faith, no thanks. You can keep it.



Sunday, September 1, 2019

Disgraceful Waste: Bob Malm Flushes $2 Million of Church Funds Down the Toilet on His Personal Residence

Speaking of dysfunction, in 2014 the Grace vestry decided to write off half of the value of a loan it had made 10 years earlier to Bob Malm. The loan had been provided so that Bob could purchase a private residence. But writing off half the loan, especially at a time when the church was in relatively dismal financial condition, was a bad and irresponsible decision, as we’ll see below. And before you ask, as a vestry member, I was the sole person to vote no on the forgiveness, which amounted to $100,000 of a $200,000 loan.

But there’s more to it than just the loan. As we’ll see below, the loan is just the tip of the iceberg in a series of spectacularly ill-advised business decisions made by the vestry at Bob Malm’s urging. In this matter, Bob placed his perceived personal interests ahead of those of the parish he claims to serve, while the vestry lost sight of its fiduciary obligations.

First, an important disclaimer, which is that a loan for a personal residence is the one exception to the canonical prohibition on churches lending money to their clergy. Thus, there is nothing inherently wrong about a church lending its rector money for the down payment for a personal residence.

That said, it is important to note that, at the time Bob decided to buy a personal residence, he resided in a perfectly livable rectory, much larger than his current home. Yes, it needed work, perhaps as much as $200,000 worth, but it was comfortable, convenient, and owned free and clear by the church.

But Bob appears to have had it in his head that if he had his own place it would be a nest egg for retirement. That of course, presupposes adequate maintenance and upkeep—neither of which has happened in practice. Thus, Bob traded a large, poorly maintained home for a small, poorly maintained home, all while spending a small mountain of donated cash. Nice move, Bob. 



So, despite considerable misgivings and resistance on the part of the vestry, Bob bludgeoned a proposal through the vestry to help him buy a private residence. This he did by dint of much noisy argument, and by remaining present during the vestry vote on the matter, with the result that more than one vestry member feared that, if they voted no, they would face retaliation. Yes, imagine that.

But the proposal went further. At Bob’s urging, the church tore down the rectory, an asset with a value of roughly $700,000, at an all-in demolition cost of about $200,000. (Such projects are surprisingly costly.) Thus, the parish was down about $900,000, of which roughly $200,000 was a wash versus the cost of updating the rectory.

To get Bob into his new residence, the parish extended what was then a $100,000 loan for the down payment, and boosted Bob’s total compensation via a housing allowance and other perks from a little more than $70,000 a year, plus the use of the rectory, to a total well more than double the original figure.

To make matters worse, the original loan amortized accrued interest. In other words, the loan just sat there like Jabba the Hut, getting bigger and bigger over time, with no payments or interest due. Thus, Bob’s personal residence needed to increase in value by 7% every year if the loan was not to erode any potential profit that Bob would make at the time he resold the house. Hardly a done deal in the best of times, and a very tall order indeed for a small, older home with few updates and much deferred maintenance.



Jabba would look better with a hair transplant, don’t you think?

When the note first matured in 2009, Bob already had signaled that he would likely seek another position, one in a different church. But it appears that Bob did not find another church willing to match his insanely generous compensation package, nor provide a laissez-faire governance regime in which, to closely paraphrase one of Bob’s former assistant rectors, “Bob could get away with murder.” So, in true Grace Church fashion, the vestry decided to add insult to injury for all parties and kick the can down the road. The maturation date on the loan was set back another five years, conveniently ignoring the deferred maintenance and interest that was piling up on Bob’s personal residence and thus eroding the parties’ equity in the property.

By this time, Bob still had made not a single payment of interest or principal. Making monthly payments, regardless of the imprudent terms of the loan, would of course have been sensible, but Bob has never been one to let such niceties intrude. As a result, when the loan matured in 2014, the value of the loan had ballooned to $200,000, double its original size.

So, in 2014, the vestry decided to “solve” things by writing off $100,000 of the loan, in recognition of Bob’s years of “service,” and requiring repayment of the original loan over a five-year period. That’s right—the church walked away from the original deal and gave Bob a $100,000 bonus. Keep in mind, too, Bob is far from stupid. He knew full well what he was getting into. So, why should he not have been held to the terms and conditions to which he agreed?

There are, of course, circumstances under which this may have been appropriate. For example, if the parish were awash in a sea of cash. Or if Bob’s job performance were exemplary. As in, if he adhered to the terms of his letter of agreement. Or grew the parish. Or had regular mutual ministry reviews. But the reality is that, while Bob can be engaging on an interpersonal level, he views being a priest as, in the words of someone close to him, “Just a job.” So no need to get too caught up in notions of Christian charity—that’s not part of Bob’s worldview, and I can tell you firsthand he doesn’t extend that approach to others.

Bob Malm’s Mediocre Job Performance

Moreover, Bob’s attitude towards being a priest is reflected in his work performance. Consider:
  1. For years, parish business records were a hot mess. 
  2. One of the parish registers has gone missing. 
  3. For more than a decade, church financial records were facially disorganized, and no audit was done, nor was any meaningful effort made to clean up the books. (The parish does an agreed-upon procedures review, which has no external attestation value. In other words, it doesn’t prove anything, but instead recites information provided by the client.) 
  4. Staff has often behaved badly, and one staff member was a hoarder. Bob consistently refused to address these issues.
  5. There still is no strategic plan.
  6. Bob comes and goes pretty much as he pleases; there have been times when he has taken leave far in excess of that permitted under his letter of agreement, and without vestry approval.
  7. Basic canonical requirements, such as a written finance manual, are still not in place, more than 25 years after Bob started his job. (See the Manual of Methods in Church Business Affairs for this and other requirements that Bob has conveniently ignored.)
  8. Even his sermons have become pointedly short, and more than one parishioner has said that Bob seems thoroughly burned out. Bob has become both increasingly lackadaisical and autocratic, while appearing convinced that he is somehow special. Yes, he can turn on the superficial charm when he chooses to, but that’s all it is — superficial charm. I mean, if Bob really cares about the church and its people, as some members claim, why the dysfunction and the indifference? And it’s not like there’s any dearth of folks who’d be willing to help fix things; many parishioners are both intelligent and highly skilled.
Where does that leave things? As things stand, Bob is paid better than a great many Episcopal bishops. For example, below are 2017 salaries for bishops on the staff of the presiding bishop, including Todd Ousley, the bishop in charge of pastoral development:

Nor does locality account for Bob’s overly generous compensation. See, for example, data below for priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which has some of the highest salaries in the country:


Another data point is reflected below, which is the Church Pension Group’s (CPG) 2016 salary survey of Episcopal churches of Province III, which reveals that Bob is compensated at annual rate more than 40 percent higher than comparable clergy in the region (look at the Program category)—and that is without factoring in his $100000 bonus in 2014! (CPG’s numbers include housing and any bonuses paid; the imputed value of a rectory is included).



Bob has about another year of payments left on the original $100,000 loan; meanwhile, the church (including its component entity, the school) is preparing to spend $1.2 million on HVAC improvements that will primarily benefit the school, with half the money coming from the church. The faux slate roof needs to be replaced, the stained glass windows need costly restoration, the parking lot needs repaved, and the original elevator needs to be overhauled.

The Debacle by the Numbers

Total Loss to Grace Episcopal Church, 2004-2018
Total
-$2,000,000.00
ItemCost
Loss of equity, rectory$700,000.00
Write-off, accrued interest$100,000.00
Total compensation increase, 14 years$1,200,000.00
Avoided costs, rectory repairs$200,000.00
Rectory tear-down costs$200,000.00

These numbers become particularly compelling when we look at the capital expenses and extraordinary costs the church will face in the next few years:

Anticipated Capital and Extraordinary Expenses, 2018-2021
Total
-$1,137,500.00
ItemCost
Miscellaneous HVAC repairs$45,000.00
HVAC replacement, church share$600,000.00
Elevator refurbishment, church share$30,000.00
Stained glass restoration$60,000.00
Parking lot repaving, church share$25,000.00
HVAC blueprints, church share$22,500.00
Faux slate roof replacement$60,000.00
Replace failed double-pane windows$40,000.00
Replace exterior rotted wood trim and rake boards$40,000.00
Replace obsolete fire alarm control panel$15,000.00
Contingency funds (needed for HVAC replacement and other major projects in light of facility age)$200,000.00

Outcomes

Keep in mind that, when all this work is done, there still will be major challenges with the building. For instance:
  • The nave still will not be able to maintain temperature during hot summer days or major events. 
  • Plumbing will still be obsolete, with piping in original parts of the building at actuarial end of life (for the record, copper pipes, which comprise most of the plumbing in the building, do not have an indefinite lifespan). 
  • Neither elevator will meet modern Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. 
  • There still will be no ADA-acessible entrance. That means not just a ramp, but Braille signage and an electro-mechanical door opening system to assist wheelchair users and others of limited mobility.
  • Interior directional signage will remain crude and non-ADA compliant.
  • Interior finish, notably much of the 1994 renovations, will still be at end of life. 
  • The commercial kitchen will still be obsolete.
  • Several local HVAC units will remain out, including the one in the rear fire tower.
  • The lower hallway under the original narthex will still lack adequate HVAC.
  • Humidity and temperature control in the undercroft will remain spotty at best due to poor air flow control and the oversized, 20-ton unit that services the space. As a result, summer humidity levels routinely exceed 70 percent, which is neither healthy, nor good for the grand piano and other musical instruments in the choir room.
Nor is the HVAC work likely to come in under budget. Builders are doing well right now, and with the third floor of the building out of service, it will be clear to bidders that the church has little leverage. Further, older buildings such as Grace’s physical plant have one consistent characteristic, and that is their ability to throw curve balls into the path of anyone doing capital improvements. In short, procurement under duress rarely is the most cost-effective procurement, and even more so in a building that is now more than 60 years old.

Nor do things look much better for Bob Malm. Although comparable homes in the area have appreciated by about $200,000 since the date of this purchase, the extent of deferred maintenance on Bob’s private residence, the antiquated layout, the very small size, the perilous exterior steps, the lack of landscaping, the original windows and the obsolete bathrooms leave Bob in a position where he will be lucky to break even. Moreover, despite the influx of donated cash, Bob’s penchant for lengthy vacations, expensive private schools for his children, cosmetic procedures, and other indicia of keeping up with the Hillers left the family in precarious financial condition for many years. See, for example, the judgment recorded in 2010 by Suntrust Bank,  now a matter of public record, six years after the church’s original loan, against Bob’s wife Leslie, for what appears to be an unpaid personal loan; it appears the default occurred on August 2009. (Source: Alexandria General District Court public records)



Similarly, public records reveal what appear to be unpaid dental bills for two of Bob’s children at about the same time; the cases were scheduled for hearing on 12/15/10, but the cases dismissed. My opinion: Getting your kids sued for medical bills is not cool. Actually, it’s pretty damned dysfunctional.  (Source: Fairfax County General District Court public records)


Rising interest rates, bad credit history, and the fact that the original mortgage has an adjustable interest rate also suggest that the house will get more costly over time. A re-fi may take some finagling, and terms for a new loan likely will not be great. So the entire transaction winds up looking even worse with the passage of time, not better.

At the end of the day, Bob engaged in a highly speculative real estate transaction, and now has been bailed out by the church for his remarkably bad business decision. It also is troubling that the loan to Bob was recorded off the books, not showing in the financial reports, for the first ten years. This raises some disturbing issues concerning financial transparency, candor, and accuracy of financial reports. If nothing else, why did the church’s “auditors” not insist that the underlying receivable be reflected in the financials? It is a basic premise of good governance that insider deals such as this be reported publicly. Again, why was this allowed to happen?

Summary

In summary, the church’s current financial posture is best described as a hot mess. Over time, Bob has increased the church’s carrying costs, while reducing its assets and eroding both giving and attendance. Yet the decline in the church’s financial position would be more than adequate to pay cash and carry for upcoming expenses, and even more so had the cash involved in underwriting Bob’s desired lifestyle been appropriately invested.

Meanwhile, the church is placing itself in existential peril, for its continuing declines in giving and attendance could well result in its being unable to meet its financial obligations as this wave of capital expenses hits in the coming years. And regardless of the ultimate outcome, the parish is out more than $2 million dollars as a result of Bob’s self-serving lack of business acumen. At the same time, it is shocking, appalling, and outrageous that Bob Malm should get both a 2014 bonus of $100,000, and annual compensation that exceeds that of many Episcopal bishops, given his feckless job performance. Even his decision to pursue a personal residence, at a time when he couldn’t so much as come up with a down payment, shows a remarkable lack of concern for the wellbeing of the parish and a dearth of common sense.