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EC increases allocation for legal fees, Guidepost investigation

Archie Mason, chair of the SBC EC committee on convention finances and stewardship development, presents a report to trustees on Feb. 22 in Nashville. (Baptist Press/Brandon Porter)

NASHVILLE (BP) – Executive Committee trustees approved two recommendations from the Committee on Convention Finances and Stewardship Development Feb. 22 to increase allocations up to $2 million each for legal fees and the ongoing investigation regarding claims of sexual abuse. 

Committee chair Archie Mason brought both recommendations, explaining that the amounts will come out of operating reserves generated from allocations from Cooperative Program funds to the Executive Committee. Those reserves have been built over the years through investments and are currently approaching $15 million, with $12.2 million in unrestricted funds.

The allocation for legal fees will be monitored monthly by the Finances and Stewardship Committee. Permission to exceed $2 million would require further discussion and approval by the full Executive Committee. The recommendation passed unanimously.

The recommendation for the investigation itself reflected a needed increase as requested by Guidepost, replacing the $1.6 million allocation voted through last fall by the EC. North Carolina EC member Joe Knott was the only vote opposing its passage.

Mason said there was confusion among EC members after the vote last June regarding the funding for the third-party independent investigation. The motion submitted by Tennessee messenger Grant Gaines reads: “The review shall be funded by allocations from the Cooperative Program.” Some trustees understood that to mean it would come from “off the top” of CP giving while others took it to refer to operating reserves.

Former Executive Committee CFO Jeff Pearson worked through projections on the cost of the investigation in helping the Finance team, noted Mason. The group includes both those who voted for and against waiving attorney-client privilege last fall, but all have “come together unanimously to make this recommendation.”

Pearson resigned effective Feb. 15, saying he had “no choice” but to do so after receiving advice and professional counsel from multiple attorneys regarding a “landscape” at the EC that had changed dramatically since his arrival in October 2020.

While the Guidepost Solutions report will be released prior to the Anaheim SBC gathering, bills connected to it and legal fees will continue to arrive throughout the summer. The expenditure amounts passed Tuesday are expected to cover those projections. If not, the recommendation allowed for coverage of any other direct expenses without further approval.

The dollar amounts can cause a stir, but addressing the matter of sexual abuse thoroughly is worth it, Mason stated.

“I don’t know about you but I think we’d all agree – we want this to be done the right way,” he said. “Reach the right conclusion. Deal with what we gotta deal with. Turn over the rocks. Let’s get it right.”