Re: Sarguis: Kibitzer

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Posted by Jeff from ( on Tuesday, June 25, 2002 at 11:48AM :

In Reply to: Sarguis: Kibitzer posted by Jeff from ( on Tuesday, June 25, 2002 at 11:30AM :

: Kibitzer has already received some predictable inquiries: What exactly does Mr. Adams me
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Kibitzer has already received some predictable inquiries: What exactly does Mr. Adams mean when he says "Assyrian children's schooling and education"; and what exactly does he mean when he says "Assyrian refugee assistance."

It is not known whether Mr. Adams had in fact discussed his intentions in more detail with representatives of the six organizations prior to his death. It is also not known whether the six organizations already have in place a specific mechanism for carrying out the wishes of Mr. Adams.

Certainly, any light which may be shed on this by any of our readers would be appreciated. In addition, we will make an effort to obtain answers to this question from each of the six organizations.

"Mirabile visu!". Yes, indeed, Mr. Adams' generosity is "wonderful to behold." And his bequest is a treasured opportunity on more than one count. Obviously, it provides a sizable sum to several Assyrian groups who can now address some serious needs. Perhaps just as importantly, it provides a rare occasion for at least these six Assyrian organizations to demonstrate their maturity in the proper management of cash.
Mr. Adams' intention regarding the remainder of his estate may well be the subject of endless speculation. The manner in which these funds are spent may also become the subject of some discussion.

In a future column, we shall take a further look at these questions.


Assyrian Kibitzer

By: Francis Sarguis

Benjamin the Munificent Part 3

"When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property"
Thomas Jefferson, 1807

There can be little doubt of Benjamin Sayad Adams? good intentions. In a gesture all too rare among Assyrians, he bequeathed a considerable part of his estate for the benefit of our people. We must not only salute his kindness, but we must also respect his wishes. Doing the latter may be easier said than done.
As we noted in Part 2 of this series, the Adams Will made a number of outright gifts. These were simple to deliver. On the other hand, he left a substantial part of his estate in the trust of an individual in Arizona, for distribution to six Assyrian organizations. The person entrusted by Mr. Adams to perform the tasks of Trustee was a long-time personal friend, Mr. Dusty Rhodes. Adams instructed the estate trustee "not to distribute any of the funds until he is satisfied ? that [these organizations] ? will use the funds for the purpose of Assyrians [sic] children?s schooling and education and Assyrian refugee assistance."
From the foregoing, we can see that there is a two-tiered issue of "trust". In the first instance, Mr. Rhodes must not hand over the funds to any of the six organizations until and unless these organizations satisfy him that they have made appropriate plans for their use in accordance with the Will". In other words, the trustee must do what is reasonable and necessary to assure that the Adams funds are not used for unintended purposes. Without such assurances, the trustee must not release any of the funds.
In the second instance, once the estate trustee turns the funds over to the six organizations, each of them is obligated by law to spend the funds in the manner specified by Mr. Adams, and for no other purpose. Obviously, it is "trust" at this level which is of greater interest to Assyrians in general.
It is important in this regard to understand the significance of the term "trust". The deceased is no longer present to enforce his will, hence it is the trustee who carries on the dead man?s wishes. Once Mr. Rhodes in good faith releases the funds, it is up to each of the six organizations to act lawfully.
The law holds a trustee accountable to a high standard in carrying out the duties he or she has accepted. No one is forced to serve as Trustee, and when a person chooses to accept this responsibility, he or she must discharge the responsibility beyond reproach. No one can disagree that the sanctity of a Last Will deserves protection at any cost.
Unfortunately, the instructions left by Mr. Adams for the use of this remainder are far from clear. Some would also argue that they are short-sighted, but that is a matter of opinion. What is important is that there are obvious ambiguities in Mr. Adams? bequest. In the preparation of his Will, Mr. Adams appears to have received some questionable advice.
Kibitzer inquiries to date have failed to reveal any linkage between Mr. Adams and any of the six organizations he nominated to receive his estate remainder. That he would name these six entities over any other, and that each of the six was left a portion which differs from the next (ranging from 25% to 10%), suggests that Mr. Adams relied on specific advice from other Assyrians. Mr. Adams would have been much better served if his advisors had also included someone skilled in the use of the English language. The wording of the Adams bequest is replete with ambiguities. For example, "Assyrian children?s schooling and education" ?
What exactly did Adams mean by this language? First of all, is he referring to Assyrian children in the diaspora, where all children already can benefit from the public school system regardless of the family?s financial standing or its station in life? Or is Adams referring to Assyrian children in the Middle East, where in many cases the family is in the most desperate financial bind, and where the child may not receive any schooling at all, unless there is some help provided from overseas Assyrians?
Second, is Adams referring to the general education of Assyrian children? Or does he have in mind more specifically the Assyrian education of Assyrian children? In other words, did Adams intend to provide assistance to students simply because they are Assyrian, even if their studies consist solely of practical subjects, such as math, biology, U.S. history, and the Spanish language? Or did Adams particularly intend to provide assistance to those students who, in addition to their normal courses, are also pursuing Assyrian studies (such as Assyrian history, language, etc.)?
Third, what did Adams mean by "children"? Does this mean students up to the age of 12? Or 14? Or older? Did Adams know that at common law, the term "children" generally refers to persons 14 years or younger? Did Adams have a particular grade or educational level in mind as a cut-off point?
Lastly, the double reference to "schooling and education" raises questions. Did Adams intend these two terms to be interchangeable equivalents? Or did he in fact have a different idea in mind for each term? If Adams meant to use these two words for different meanings, what is the difference he had in mind?
"Assyrian refugee assistance"?
Here too, we are not sure of Adams? intentions.
Those of us who have traveled overseas to meet with Assyrians have discovered their pathetic living conditions in such places as Istanbul, Ankara, Amman, Damascus and Athens (to say nothing of the refugee camps). For the most part, these refugees are unwanted and unwelcome in those countries. These are Assyrians at the very bottom of the economic ladder, and each day they find it a struggle to survive. Was Adams aware of these Assyrians, and did he have them in mind when he specified "refugee assistance"?

In north Iraq, we have met hundreds of Assyrians who have fled from other parts of the country, and who are now dislocated, dispossessed and unemployed. These Assyrians are in dire need of outside assistance. Did Adams have in mind these displaced persons (who may have moved from Baghdad and Mosul, to live in Dohuk and Zakho)?
There are thousands of Assyrian refugees in Western countries. Some of them still have an undetermined status, usually in Western Europe. But most of them are now more or less permanent residents of these European countries. Did Adams mean to provide assistance to these resettled persons?
There are also a large number of Assyrians who have now settled in this country, as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They entered these countries as refugees, and while they do not enjoy a bed of roses, some would say they enjoy advantages and opportunities unequaled elsewhere (except Sweden). Did Adams mean to refer to these "refugees" in his generous bequest?
Some Assyrians claim that the only chance to preserve a "homeland" is for Assyrians to remain there, and for others to resettle there. Could Adams have meant to support those interested in "return migration" to the homeland? The Adams legacy is most generous, but it is also a good test for the six Assyrian organizations he has named. It will be interesting to see whether their actions reflect honorably on the Adams Will.
Kibitzer has asked the six organizations in question to let the Assyrian people know their plans and intentions. Kibitzer believes the Assyrian people have a right to know. But one month has passed since our inquiries, and the news is not good. To date, one of the six organizations has provided a very positive response, another has provided an imperious stonewall, and the other four have yet to demonstrate they can compose a any kind of letter. This should be distressing to Assyrians. Apparently, some of our groups believe they are accountable to no one but themselves. Perhaps they fail to consider the legal responsibilities associated with a charitable trust. This mindset will be the subject of a future Kibitzer essay.


Assyrian Kibitzer

By: Francis Sarguis

"Don?t let the facts get in the way of a good story"
- Groucho Marx

Benjamin the Munificent Part 4

As a rule, Assyrian "leaders" and their organizations like to operate in secretive and autocratic fashion. With some exceptions, they bristle if the average person questions any of their actions.
This is clearly a throwback to the old days. In the Middle East, the common bloke generally would not question "authority". But immigrants who arrive West discover (some sooner than others) that respect is not to be confused with servility.
It has been several centuries since the West rejected the principle that "the King can do no wrong." Unfortunately, this reality is slow to sink in for many. Activist Assyrians in the diaspora are volunteers, not servants. Increasingly, they resent being treated as unquestioning minions. This issue is in fact at the heart of a heated debate currently on the Internet, especially on "Zenda" .
The crux of the criticism is the close-mouthed style of leadership exercised by the American head of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), and its non-profit offshoot, the A.A.S. Whatever the system was in the old days, it is no longer enough to say "Trust me", or "I am your leader". The activist rank and file expects and demands to know.
By now, it is apparent that the modest efforts of Kibitzer to inform the Assyrian people of a subject of public interest is seen by some of our "leaders" and some of our organizations as "a threat", an "interference", or a "sabotage". But on the contrary, it has been our purpose to document the process and the actions of six Assyrian organizations which happened to have been named by the late Mr. Adams. We have already named the six groups; together they will receive about one million dollars thanks to the Will of Mr. Adams. With his final words, Mr. Adams entrusted these funds to his trustee, to make sure that they would be used only for "Assyrian children?s schooling and education", and "Assyrian refugee assistance".
There is nothing sinister about the motives of Kibitzer. A one million dollar grant is substantial and, for Assyrians, it is also unprecedented. Can anyone argue that the average Assyrian man or woman should not be interested or informed on how this is spent? Can any one say that this is a "private affair", and not a matter for public disclosure? Incredibly, the answer to each of these questions is YES! Let us take the case of the Assyrian Aid Society of America, a non-membership, non-profit and tax-exempt spinoff of the ADM. Over two months ago, I wrote to the group?s President, to inquire exactly what A.A.S. planned to do with these funds. Unfortunately, the response I received back amounted to classic stonewalling. I had asked the basic questions any journalist might ask. The answer was to invite me to contribute funds to the A.A.S.
In a previous column, Kibitzer wrote that the most critical issue is whether the sanctity of a man?s Last Will will be respected or manipulated (not only the clear legal responsibility, but also the solemn moral responsibility). But other important issues also come into play. For example, do Assyrian Presidents and Boards of Directors have sufficient maturity to conduct their affairs openly, and do they have sufficient trust in the people to act above board, and to welcome public scrutiny? Or are they too arrogant or perhaps too insecure to make adequate disclosure to the Assyrian rank and file?
Are Assyrian Presidents and Boards of Directors sufficiently competent to take full advantage of singular opportunities such as the Adams bequest? Or are they satisfied to just carry on "business as usual", because they lack the ability and imagination to grasp the occasion and infuse it with fresh ideas?
As a part of the stonewall, the A.A.S. President wrote back that "until we receive such funds, it is entirely inappropriate to comment." The Greeks had a wonderful way with language, and in this case the word that comes to mind is sophistry. This kind of evasiveness would be ample justification for the Trustee of the Adams trust to suspend the payment of the funds in question. Mr. Dusty Rhodes, the Trustee, has a serious fiduciary obligation. He cannot be expected to settle for this gobbledygook.
The Assyrian Aid Society (A.A.S.) is an organization whose primary purpose is to deliver funds to northern Iraq. According to its own prospectus, it raises funds for the following seven purposes:
(1) Medical Relief ;
(2) Rebuilding Villages;
(3) Support of an Orphanage;
(4) Family Cash stipends to needy families where the breadwinner is deceased or a political prisoner;
(5) Supporting Agriculture;
(6) Student Aid; and
(7) Help develop cottage industries.
The immediate question is how the A.A.S. intends to obey the law and to follow the Adams instructions, in the context of this overall program. It is well known that the A.A.S. (like its parent organization, the A.D.M.) has little concern for or interest in refugees. This is not said by way of criticism, but as a matter of fact. The focus of A.A.S. is on the Assyrians who remain in Bet Nahrain, not those who leave it. Presumably, therefore, this limits the use of the Adams funds to "Assyrian childrens schooling and education".
I am sure Mr. Adams? trustee will demand to know specifics about this use, and they would be derelict to do otherwise. Many Assyrians are likewise interested to know these particulars. On a personal note, this columnist has previously visited North Iraq and Syria, where he has always been briefed in detail. In such places as Zakho and Dohuk, representatives of the A.A.S. were most eager for interested Assyrians to examine the books, past projects, current activities, and future funding plans.
They were kind enough to arrange for visits with Assyrian families in towns and in the countryside who spoke candidly about the role of A.A.S. and A.D.M. in their lives. Contrast this overseas approach to the arrogance displayed by the A.A.S. "leadership" in the U.S. Please note the irony. Assyrians in the homeland, living under oppressive circumstances, insist on candor and public disclosure. Here, in what is said to be the most democratic country in the world, the posture of the local A.A.S. leadership is diametrically the opposite. There must be an explanation for this cynical turnaround. Perhaps it shall be explained to us one day.
But all is not negative. In covering this story, Kibitzer has also had some positive encounters. For example, the Assyrian American Association of Southern California, which is one of the six groups on the Adams funding list, has adhered to a policy of totally open disclosure. A key question is this: What has caused one group to operate by stealth and surreptitiousness, while another group opts for candor and openness. Kibitzer will consider this dissimilarity in a future column.


Assyrian Kibitzer

By: Francis Sarguis

Benjamin the Munificent Part 5

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity" - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Contrary to some, the recent series on the Last Will of Mr. Adams is not intended to negate the wishes of this fine Assyrian. It is not intended to sully his memory. It is not intended to invade the prerogative of the six nominated Assyrian organizations. And it is not meant to cause the funds to be frozen or to be squandered in a legal morass. Very simply, the series is intended to inform and to educate. These are apparently unfamiliar concepts to some who claim to be our "Assyrian leaders".
A presentation on this subject at the Assyrian Community Networking Conference (ACNC) this past May revealed surprising support for the coverage we have provided, and for the right of the people to know. In the past, the biggest ally of our "leaders" was the people?s short attention span. Hence, if the "leader" could delay his answers, in the end the questioning would stop. But there are indications that in this age of cyberspace, information (and questions that it raises) reaches more people; the traditional stonewalling may no longer be effective. It was significant that at the ACNC not one voice was raised to challenge the Kibitzer series. Nevertheless, some of the questions from the audience suggested less than complete understanding of the issues. Hence, it is well to revisit some of the basics.
1. The Benjamin S. Adams Will named six Assyrian organizations by name, and entrusted each of them with a generous charitable bequest. The Kibitzer respects the nominations made by Mr. Adams. At no time was our series intended to disqualify any of these organizations. At no time was our series intended to abrogate the final authority of these organizations.
2. The Adams Will specified that the funds from these charitable bequests must be applied to two spheres of activity only, and to no other. The Kibitzer has written that, regardless of anyone else?s preference, the specific wishes of Mr. Adams expressed in his Will are sacrosanct. At no time has Kibitzer suggested that the funds be spent contrary to the Will. Most of the six organizations will understand and respect this. The unfortunate fact is that some of the organizations may take the Adams money, yet ignore his wishes. Receiving money under false pretenses amounts to fraud. Accepting funds on known conditionsbut without intending to obey the conditions of the Will is tantamount to theft.
The Kibitzer series has been premised on the idea that the best incoculation against misbehavior is the glare of public disclosure. 3. Mr. Adams was very serious about the way his funds were to be spent. So serious that he took specific measures:
First, he executed a Will rather than a Living Trust. If Mr. Adams did not care about compliance with his specific wishes, he could have executed a Living Trust. This would have left the estate with total privacy, and outside the public glare. Instead, Mr. Adams executed a Will, which is a public document. Like it or not, compliance with the Will is subject to public scrutiny. We assume that Mr. Adams and his lawyer were both cognizant of this.
Second, Mr. Adams did not express a "preference" or a "hope" for the way his funds should be used. He made it a condition, which means it is a firm requirement. While the six organizations can decide how they will carry out these specific instructions, they do not have the liberty to spend a single dollar outside the two categories Mr. Adams specified. Third, just a few weeks after executing the Will, Mr. Adams decided to also appoint a Trustee, so that he wouldn?t have to rely on the honesty and good faith of the six organizations in carrying out his intentions. The Trustee was named to make sure of compliance in how these six charitable bequests are spent. It would be highly irresponsible for the Trustee to release any funds without receiving convincing assurance that the intended use will be consistent with the Adams Will.
4. Mr. Adams placed his ultimate trust in a Trustee. This individual must exercise responsible caution in any way he deems necessary. He can demand from each of the groups a detailed plan on how the funds will be spent. It is up to each of the groups to submit a statement which is specific and credible, rather than vague and suspect. In assessing the adequacy of any plan that is submitted to him, the Trustee cannot overlook each organization?s history and past experiences. The Trustee should also insist that any plan that is submitted to him is signed by the President and the Board members of the organization. If there is a later violation, the Trustee should be in a position to hold these persons responsible.
5. Even after acting with caution, the Trustee may find that he has distributed some funds which have been misspent. Such funds should be restored to the estate and the Trustee would certainly be justified in holding up the cash flow to the the offender. The more cautious course probably calls for the Trustee to make several partial distributions rather than a single outright distribution. This will provide a better opportunity for monitoring the ability and the good faith of the groups involved. 6. The six organizations must have no doubt about the limitations imposed on their bequests. It is not clear whether the Trustee has provided such a clear communication, in writing or otherwise. The Trustee has refused to answer this question when we have posed it, leading us to ask whether he may also have something to hide. In addition, it is unclear whether each of the six organizations, including all of their Board members, clearly understand the limiting language of the bequests. Except for the Southern California Association, five groups have declined to answer our questions. It is not clear whether these five groups are practicing the Mark Twain axiom that "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." But of one thing, there can be little doubt. Since the month of March the Kibitzer has elaborated on the issue with emphasis, and all six groups have been provided ample notice. Ignorance is not a defense, and in the present case, it clearly cannot be claimed. 7. The Assyrian people have a right to know, on two counts.
From the legal standpoint, two large classes of Assyrians are the potential beneficiaries of these six bequests. In legal terms, a "class" consists of individuals who have a direct (or indirect but substantial) interest. These people expect Will compliance, which means the funds must be applied to "Assyrian children?s schooling and education", or to "Assyrian refugee assistance." It is true that the Board of each organization has the sole discretion whether it will apply its funds to one of the two categories or to the other. And it is also true that within the two categories, each Board also has the sole discretion to decide on the kinds of projects it will pursue. However, the Board does not have the discretion to step outside these two categories. A breach of trust by the Board invites a class action claim.
From the practical, moral and political standpoint, the people have a right to know. Each of the six organizations has a charter which pledges it to serve the Assyrian people. It is not every day that $1 million is dropped in the lap of Assyrian organizations. To invoke secrecy on a matter of such public significance does not show much respect for the wisdom of the people. An enlightened Board recognizes it is not the fount of all wisdom. It will have the confidence and largesse of spirit to hear what others may have to say. This is not a sign of weakness, but of maturity. It does not relinquish any Board authority, it legitimizes it.
In a letter to the Kibitzer on March 30, 1997, the Assyrian American Association of Southern California wrote in part: " ? beyond the immediate question of fund application, there are important issues ? One of these is the importance of establishing confidence in the Assyrian public that its organizations are both honest and capable of carrying out their bequest. We want to do all that we can to encourage others to follow the example of Mr. Adams ?"
The AAASC letter added: "As regards the specific uses of the Adams funds, ? you are ? welcome to send us your ideas. This invitation is open to any other Assyrian."
Imagine for a moment the great leap forward if all of our organizations assumed the maturity and self-effacement of the AAASC. Here is a group that surely deserves our salute. If you have any specific suggestions, send them to AAASC, Education Committee, 5901 Cahuenga Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601. How refreshing it is to be trusted for a change.


Assyrian Kibitzer

By: Francis Sarguis

Benjamin the Munificent Part 6

"The duty of a citizen is to keep his mouth open"
- Gunter Grass

Dear Claudia,
Thanks for your note to the Kibitzer which arrived while I was visiting France. You asked for the latest developments on the Ben Adams Will. Other question have also been posed. I will address some of them here. By the way, the reference below to the "ACNC" is to the 3rd annual "Assyrian Community Networking Conference" (May 25, 1997).
Claudia asks: Before he paid funds to the six organizations, did the trustee require some written proposal or plan from each of them, to satisfy him that they would spend the money as required by Mr. Adams and his Will?
The Kibitzer answers: I don?t know. I have never been in touch with the Trustee, either by mail or by telephone, even though I have addressed questions to him several times. But I have communicated with him through his attorney, and by now he is aware that this is a newsmaking event which interests the Assyrian community, and he is also aware of the discussion that we have had on the subject.
ACNC Participant: If any of the six organizations has misapplied any of these funds, is it possible they did it out of ignorance? Why don?t you notify each of them of these specific conditions?
The Kibitzer: The Trustee is obligated by law to notify each of these six organizations about the specific conditions. I must assume that he did so. Beyond this, the trustee cannot be expected to be in constant surveillance. For example, if an organization avers to the Trustee that it intends to use the funds for a project which falls within the authorization, the Trustee is entitled to accept that assurance at face value. Of course, if the Trustee finds out that a partial distribution has not been applied according to assurances, then he will be more cautious with any further distribution to that group.
As for the Kibitzer notifying these groups, we did exactly that. Some of the six groups confirmed our notice, others ignored us or replied it is none of our business.
Question in E-mail: How much of the funds has already been distributed to the six organizations? How can we find this out?
The Kibitzer: I have heard second hand that the ASSYRIAN WELFARE COUNCIL OF CHICAGO received $30,000 in late 1996. If so, we need to know how these funds were spent in the area of education or of refugees. This group has refused to even acknowledge receiving my questions. Rumors that the ASSYRIAN AID SOCIETY (San Francisco) may have received a partial distribution have never been confirmed. As previously mentioned, the Assyrian Aid Society has answered us by stonewalling our questions. Two different approaches, but the same result.
Another Inquiring E-mailer: If I want to find out some answers, is it better to contact the Attorney, or the Trustee?
The Kibitzer: Technically, it is the Trustee who is responsible for the administration of the trusts left by remainder. However, the Trustee has been kept under wraps; in any case, he acts pursuant to legal advice. Although you can contact either party for this purpose, I only have the attorney?s address: "Ron Allen, Esq, 6245 East Broadway, Suite 510, Tucson AZ 85711", TEL (520) 790-4061; Fax (520) 571-8148.
Questioner: Who does the Trustee represent? Who does the Estate Attorney represent?
The Kibitzer: The Trustee represents Mr. Adams (literally, he represents the Will of Mr. Adams) in connection with distribution of the remainder. The Attorney for the estate also represents Mr. Adams, but for purposes of the entire administration of the estate (ranging from proper distribution, to payment of taxes, etc.).
Although it is not so clear from their failure to answer our questions, neither the Estate Attorney, nor the Truste [snip - maximum size exceeded]

-- Jeff
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