(HRM Catherine de la Rose)
5678 Yorkville Court
Indianapolis, IN 46254
I thought I might as well, while awaiting your letter, attempt to write out my responses to some of the points raised in our conversation. I will start with your objection to my expressing the opinion that Tim was acting dishonestly.
About twenty years ago, I was the prosecutor in a court of chivalry. A past King of the East was charged with deliberately lying to the assembled populace of one of the Eastern baronies. He had asserted that he had a letter from the Board instructing him to remove their Baron. The letter was not produced, the defendant offered no defense to that charge, and was convicted.
The then Board of Directors cancelled the result, without informing the populace of the Kingdom why; to this day I do not know. Angus later moved to Caid, where he was a second time tried and convicted, for different offenses. As you know, he is currently being tried in Florida by a mundane court on a more serious charge.
The point of this story is that, while I think it is proper to start, in the Society or elsewhere, by assuming that other people are honest, I also believe that persisting with that assumption however great the evidence to the contrary is foolish, irresponsible, and, in a situation like this, dishonorable. It is dishonorable both because it is a betrayal of my obligation to my fellow members of the Society to defend them as best I can--the knight's oath, as I wrote and took it, includes the obligation to serve as a shield to the weak--and because it is dishonest to pretend to believe someone when I fact I do not.
That said, let me restate a little more precisely my views concerning Tim's honesty. I believe that the author of the public letter he signed, and the earlier draft which A.J.'s squire posted (by mistake or by instruction, according to whose account you believe) to the Rialto, was deliberately dishonest in writing that letter. It is possible that the person immediately responsible was not Tim but someone else--perhaps A.J. (who obviously had a copy of the draft) or even Tony. If so, then Tim is to some degree a victim. I do not think, however, he can have any legitimate complaint over being held responsible for a letter that he signed. And if Tim is the victim and A.J. the villain, we are still being deliberately misled by a peer, just a different one.
I consider the letters dishonest for at least three reasons. First, they claim that required membership was introduced to balance the budget--in the words of the draft (which is somewhat more explicit on this than the final version) "The first choice was to increase membership rates for sustaining members up to $50 and accept that many members would no longer be able to afford membership. The second choice was to increase the membership rates to a much lower figure but have more individuals become members. This second choice was selected and universal membership became a reality for the first time in S.C.A. history." Second, as the same quote makes clear, the letter (and, by all accounts, the statements made at the Board meeting to other Directors) claimed that the alternative to required membership was doubling membership fees.
I am fairly sure that both claims are false. On my calculations, the latter requires that, while a $35 membership (what they have chosen) poses no problems, about half the members (exact numbers depending on detailed assumptions) would drop out if membership rose to $50. I very much doubt both that such an assumption is true and that they believed it to be true.
The third form of dishonesty is fuzzier. It seems clear to me that the letter, quite aside from any literal falsehoods, is designed to persuade rather than inform. One piece of evidence is the way in which the numbers were presented--no comparison figures from previous years, no listing of individual items, such as insurance, whose cost was relevant to the arguments being made.
Let me give you a specific example. The attachment to the official letter says: "Board Officers & Meetings -- In 1994, Board meeting expenses will continue to increase as in past years, due to increases in travel expenses and other meeting expenses."
Reading that, and with no information on previous levels of expenditure, it sounds as though there is a modest increase due to inflation in travel costs and growth--say about 15%. Alternatively, one might suppose that the increase was similar to that of the previous year--about 33%. The actual increase from the 1993 projection to the 1994 projection is almost 140%--from $40,000 to $95,000. The combination of that text and the omission of the numbers that contradict it--the figures for 93 and 92 ($29,000), would be considered deliberate dishonesty in any mundane context. I see no reason to apply a different standard here.
One of the more interesting responses to the letter, posted to the Rialto, was from the viceroy of Ostgardr, Baron Ian Mitchell of Clan Mitchell, who has been a CPA for twenty-four years. He dissected the financial statement in some detail. His initial summary of his results was that "The letter from Tim Moran, President and Chairman of the Society, dated January 27, 1994, sent to all members of the Society with a financial update of the 1994 budget is a waste of paper. It is, I believe, an attempt to snow the membership of the Society."
If I correctly understand the defense of the Board's actions which you got from A.J. and repeated in the conversation, it is that the books are in such bad shape that accurate numbers are not available. If this is correct, then the letter is dishonest in another way--it claims to give precise information about our financial situation when no such information exists.
While on that subject, two further points. The first is that, however bad our information about the details of recent finances, we cannot have been paying bills with money we did not have. So we at least know that, allowing for some possible change in our total assets, income has roughly covered expenses over the past few years. Indeed, if it is true that our previous exchequer embezzled $50,000, income has more than covered expenses by that amount. We then have a board which decides to increase expenditures by almost 40% without good information on our financial situation, and not only does not wait to make permanent decisions, such as a change in the bylaws, until it has such information, but cannot even wait another three months to consult the membership. Perhaps you can find an explanation for such behavior that does not involve either dishonesty or gross incompetence; I cannot.
The second point has to do with the strategy being followed by the Board, I think most specifically A.J., in giving out information. If I correctly understand your account, one explanation of what we are doing is given to the public, another is given privately to individuals such as yourself whose support he needs. You regard this as simply bad public relations. I suggest a different explanation.
Whatever the board puts out publicly, whether financial information or legal arguments, will be subject to public discussion. If A.J. claims publicly that we need required membership to protect against liability suits, he will have to defend that claim against criticism by a considerable number of attorneys who are members of the Society. If he is unable to do so successfully, he ends up looking worse than if he had never made the claim. This is precisely what is now happening with the financial reports. It is what happened when the draft copy of the letter was posted, containing the (false) claim that the cost of registering devices was paid by the corporation.
On the other hand, he can say anything to you that he thinks will persuade you. As long as it is not in an area where you happen to have expertise, you will be inclined to accept it--especially given your apparent view that we should always assume peers are telling the truth. I think that provides a better explanation for what is going on than the idea that A.J. was able to figure out which arguments would persuade you but somehow did not think of making the same arguments in the public letter which was produced, at considerable effort and cost, and sent to the entire membership.
Finally to another, and disturbing, issue. The Chronicler of the Middle Kingdom was, as I understand it, instructed not to publish either petitions for impeachment as paid ads, or arguments on the current controversy. The latter instruction she has, in turn, passed down to the local chroniclers. The explanation of this, as I understand it, was that the newsletters should not carry political contoversy.
I have just received my latest Pale. It contains a statement by the kingdom Seneschale which, in addition to being arrogant and patronizing (the basic message is that if you cannot afford membership you cannot afford the Society and should not play), is clearly intended as an argument in defense of required membership. Presenting one side of an argument and refusing to print the other is not "not politicizing the newsletter." It is, like the board letter, a use of the money of the membership to try to persuade the membership to support one side of a dispute.
Your Servant in Service to the Society
309 Mitchell St.
Ithaca, N.Y. 14850)
cc: His Majesty, Their Hignesses
encl: My public letter