Why Having Phil Smith on the Discernment Committee is Good

By | February 19, 2020

There’s a bit of good news with Phil Smith’s appointment to the discernment committee. Not only is Phil proficient in dealing with human resources (HR) issues — a much-needed skill when navigating the discernment process — but he also has a bit of St. Dysfunction history under his belt that may both warrant and facilitate further discussion within the committee and possibly the vestry.

Specifically, I believe that Phil is one of the parishioners who can confirm that Bob Malm lied repeatedly to members of the executive committee and the vestry about HR issues within the parish. Based on information from reliable sources, I believe that, during his tenure as a warden, Phil surfaced his concerns with HR issues in the church office. His efforts went nowhere, however, as Bob allegedly brushed him off, adding, “Don’t worry about it. They’ll be retiring this year,” referring to issues with Charlotte and Beth.
What it telling is that this was not a one-off misstep. Several years later, Bob Malm told me exactly the same lie when I raised similar issues during my time as junior warden. When I shared my concerns with other parish leaders, I quickly learned that this was not Bob’s first use of this lie to avoid accountability for himself and for church staff.
I also raised my concerns directly with Bob Malm, who at no point denied having lied. Instead, when these issues came up in subsequent meetings, Bob volunteered, “I don’t know when  [Beth and Charlotte] will be retiring.” 
Nor is Bob’s lie minor. 
In addition to having told this lie repeatedly, healthy organizations of every ilk treat lying about HR issues to board members and others who serve in a fiduciary capacity to the organization as being a serious matter. Indeed, such conduct would normally be grounds for immediate termination, and creates some serious legal issues under Sarbanes-Oxley and other federal ethics statutes.
Of course, that brings us back to my usual rhetorical question, which is where but in The Episcopal Church is it okay for employees to behave like this? Such behavior doesn’t cut it in normal non-profits, nor does it work in for-profits. And that should be doubly the case when the lie is told by a member of the clergy.
So why is this okay?
And when will the parish publicly admit that Bob Malm is a liar. a perjurer and a bully?
And what steps will be taken going forward to ensure that future rectors don’t abuse their power, as Bob did in this case? My suggestion is that the vestry start by making clear that it represents the parish in such matters, not the rector, and that the rector does not get to interfere in vestry operations by appointing the executive committee. Episcopal churches should be representative democracies, not autocracies run by narcissistic clergy. And parishioners damn well have the right to expect the rector and all parish staff to do their jobs and to be accountable. That is a right established by church canon.

Keep in mind that, to this day, the parish has no strategic plan. To my knowledge, it still does not have a finance manual, as required by the denomination, nor does it have a personnel manual. Having spent 30 years at Grace, Bob had more than enough time and resources to get these done. And the parish paid Bob a $100,000 bonus, for what?

Feel free to quote me.

My final observation is that, much like Bob Malm himself, Grace Episcopal deals with conflict by lying, denying and equivocating. But if the parish tries that here, it will be sealing its fate, as no one wants to join a church where clergy perjury is shrugged off, where members urge others to commit suicide, and where the altar guild and choir think bullying is okay.

By the way, please remind me: Why did Bob Malm decide to expressly include Mike in his vendetta? Having been received into TEC only 16 months earlier, the fact that Bob decided to go after him tells you everything you need to know about Grace Church. And in fact, a review of Sugarland Chiow’s billing records confirms that Bob discussed trying to get a protective order against Mike.

Nice.