Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

In a little over one hundred words, Percy Bysshe Shelley captured the inevitability of the decline of empires and leaders. 

"Ozymandias." You should have paid attention in high school. View the poem below.

Should Baptists find room for these incisive words in all of our grand buildings, in our churches, institutions?

Couldn't hurt. 

The Georgia Baptist Convention has a showpiece headquarters building in a high-dollar suburb of Atlanta. I don’t know of any state convention that has one to compare. I think one could describe the GBC building as superior to the Richmond headquarters of our flagship institution, the International Mission Board. Tax assessors agree, the IMB's Monument Avenue property being assessed at about ten million less than the GBC property.

The GBC moved into their building in the heady days of 2006 just a couple of years prior to the meltdown of 2008. The building cost $43.5 million and $26 million is still owed on it. Debt service is $141,000 per month. Ouch.

Here is a headline Southern Baptists aren't used to seeing: Ga. Baptists to explore property sale

How often do Baptists even think about this sort of move?


The GBC has cut the budget, pared the rolls of dozens of staff but they haven’t done anything about the building. I suppose mortgage holders expect to get their $141k check every month.

Not surprisingly, Baptists being a rather grumbling sort of people, the sparkling HQ building has been a magnet for gripes around the state.

[GBC Executive Director Robert] White said criticism of the building also led him to consider making the request of the Executive Committee, though it was not the driving factor. He said he knew the building had become a hindrance to some and did not want that to be a roadblock toward cooperation. 
He also said:
"We are not bankrupt and we are up to date on all our financial obligations," White emphasized to head off any speculation regarding the recommendation. Since the 2008 recession, the state convention has trimmed its budget by $11.8 million, or 22.56 percent. Staffing levels in the building, which peaked at 133 just three years ago, have been cut to 103. The latest round of cutbacks occurred in late January when 18 positions were eliminated statewide.

When a CEO feels compelled to use the “b” word it is not a good sign for the corporation.The GBC is current on their financial obligations only after some serious budget catch-up work late last year.

Does anyone besides me sense that the halcyon days of building greater buildings is past? Has the landscape changed and we are finally catching up with the change? Perhaps so. 

My generation loves their buildings. I'm not so sure our children's generation feel the same way.

The current fair market value assessment of the GBC's property is about $25 million, close to what is owed on it. I don't know if the tax assessor is lowballing the value here. No one expects the GBC to sell and not have cash to find a new location. We will see how serious a proposal this is.

I commend Dr. White and the Executive Committee for exploring the sale of this building which, as a Georgia Baptist, I had a part in creating. I make no judgment about motives, no charge of arrogance on anyone's part.

We are doing God’s business. We can do it with or without a magnificent edifice and most of us would admit that sometimes it is helpful to be humbled.

 I MET a Traveler from an antique land,
    Who said, "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    "My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings."
    Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!
    No thing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.


Anonymous said...

I commend Dr. White ... for exploring the sale of this building

Can he be commended for speaking for responsible stewardship of funds that would have precluded building the structure in the first place? If not, it is time for a leadership change.

Anonymous said...

Let's be honest about this. Everyone was pretty much on board for the sale of the old HQ and building this one.


Anonymous said...

It was expensive, seemingly far beyond anything resembling necessary, and the repayment fees would have then reduced funds that could have been available for: a) missions and programming budgets, and b) GBC's subsequent ability to retain many of its employees. It is doubtful that all of the employees released were unnecessary, patronage hires. If White did not speak out against the structure, must another GBC employee lose his or her job before the one that was given responsibility to envision a better course for GBC? That others favored the building is not the issue. Others were not given the leadership mantle. If trustees and convention decisions declined his objections, he may stay; if he did not voice dissent, he needs to retire, and absent that, released.

Anonymous said...

I lost my job because of that building.

Anonymous said...

I understand why more are not calling for White’s resignation, even if they assume he did not voice dissent over the GBC building. We didn’t voice dissent, thus why does it matter that he might not have done so? Why do I wish to be hypocritical? Fair enough. Even so, if he did not voice dissent, it was still an absence of leadership (yet there is no guarantee that dissent would have changed a thing) and the decision to go forward has had and will likely continue to have an adverse impact on the body. Leaders justify their now beyond bodywide knowledge salaries for the complexity of their responsibilities and the expertise needed to fulfill those responsibilities. Yet how often do we find that situations some say were not foreseeable were or could be reasonably foreseeable and understood (i.e., how much of $141K per month is really needed, even in a good economy!). Was leadership expertise/wisdom voiced, assuming it was actually present? But given it is often lucrative to go along rather than challenge, the greater incentive is to look as if one is leading but actually let powerful others drive the conversation and take the fall should the decision be problematic. Hold me responsible in the good times and reward me handsomely, but for goodness sake, cut me slack when it goes bad, and especially so if I was there for you. Tell that to the one above this post that perceived he/she lost a job due to the building financing. Tell that to the next one that receives a pink slip. Tell that to the one in the pew that is struggling to continue giving so that state mission programming continues. And the trust people have in leadership declines, as does giving, independent of greater economic influences.

What do the people need to hear about White from the Trustees? How about, “He was against the scope of this project and tried to convince us of the rightness of downsizing it. We did not take his advice or accept his wisdom.”

Can this be said?

Will it be said?

I hope so.