JERSEY CITY, N.J. (ABP) — The North American Mission Board has canceled four controversial contracts initiated by former president Bob Reccord that critics said were wasting Southern Baptist missions money.
The cancellations, which reportedly will save millions of dollars, were among the steps reported to trustees May 2 in an attempt to rebuild the agency's credibility after Reccord resigned under pressure April 17.
During their recent meeting, trustees canceled consulting contracts with two public relations firms, ended NAMB's relationship with 316 Networks to sell broadband services to churches, and bought out of the contract for use of a private jet.
“We are not flying that plane anymore,” Carlos Ferrer, interim chief operating officer, told trustees May 2, reflecting criticism directed at NAMB over the arrangement. “I want to be sure all of our supporters hear that loud and clear. We are not flying that plane anymore.”
The contracts came to light during a trustee investigation of charges raised by the Christian Index newspaper. The 19-page investigation report, released March 23, eventually prompted Reccord's resignation after nine years at the helm of the Southern Baptist agency.
The report faulted the missions leader for poor management, autocratic decision-making, extravagant spending on failed ministry projects, apparent conflicts of interest in no-bid contracts for a friend, and creating a “culture of fear” that prevented staffers from questioning the abuses.
NAMB will end its relationship with InovaOne Aviation, immediately saving $40,000 in unused pilot hours and aircraft maintenance. The agency was committed to a four-year contract with InovaOne, which is run by a friend of Reccord's, that obligated NAMB to purchase 45 flight hours annually for use of a corporate jet.
NAMB was only 18 months into that contract, which already had cost the agency $142,000. Officials thought it was best to buy it out and not be liable for future expenses. Trustee Tim Patterson of Jacksonville, Fla., said he and others were not even aware that the agency had entered into such a relationship. NAMB said the agency was unable to resell the hours to another company.
NAMB will begin saving $12,000 monthly through termination of its relationship with two public relations firms that were hired without trustee knowledge. The firms were asked to place Reccord on broadcast and cable TV shows and promote NAMB's disaster-relief work.
The agency already has a two-person public relations office at its Alpharetta, Ga., headquarters.
As of April 28, NAMB terminated its relationship with 316 Networks, a broadband Internet site that had cost the agency $1.4 million but only generated $30,000. Trustees said it would have cost an additional $2 million, with little hope of ever becoming profitable.
The 316 Networks, launched by Reccord last year, was billed as “the leading Internet broadcast platform for ministries who wish to extend their reach, reward and return through community and streaming media.” But it went head-to-head against Streaming Faith, a nearly identical website which was first on the scene with a leading presence in that market.
The site was a three-way business relationship between NAMB, InovaOne and MultiCast, an Atlanta business that hosted the network. Under the new relationship, 316 Networks will continue to host NAMB's video products, but the agency “will be a paying customer just like churches and associations and will have no financial interest in its success or failure,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer said NAMB will continue to outsource media projects to InovaOne Studios through a contract that expires in early 2008 but will be more active in soliciting work from other vendors. Under that adjustment, InovaOne will cease to be a primary vendor and will compete with others on a more level playing field, he added.
Ferrer informed trustees that the agency will be implementing 10 recommendations suggested by an accounting firm that conducted an audit of financial issues raised by the Christian Index.
The recommendations include a more clear policy on honorariums and soliciting bids, as well as a more thorough protection of intellectual property, such as the writing of books and other materials, to alleviate any conflict of interest. Several personal business ventures by Reccord and other employees were considered by some trustees to be competitive with NAMB.
A “whistle-blower” policy will also be implemented as part of the recommendations. Trustees acknowledged “a culture of fear” had taken root at the agency and prevented employees from questioning irregularities such as the corporate jet contract.
“Employee morale at NAMB is improving,” Ferrer told the trustees. “We need stability in our building so that our staff know they are valued, trusted and that we care for them.
“Outside the board, we need credibility. We need to rebuild credibility with our state convention and association partners, with our missionaries, and with Southern Baptists,” he said. “They need to know that we are trustworthy and will do what we say we will do. And we are committed to doing everything in our power to do that.”
In other business, the board approved a motion to increase overall funding for church planting and evangelism and approved 74 new missionaries and 63 SBC-endorsed chaplains.
— Based on reporting by Joe Westbury of the Christian Index.