Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Lesson to Learn

As reported in the Star Tribune, Circle-Lex VFW Post 6583, based in Lino Lakes, MN, has lost both its new building and its 40 year old charter after a series of suspicious circumstances by its leadership, bank and contractor. In a deal that originally started as a plan to expand the bought and paid for Post building turned into a plan to tear down the old building and replacing it with a completely new building. Now, that building is owned by the bank and the VFW Post is bankrupt and without a charter.

Why did this happen? I believe that there was far too much trust paid to a group of people that did not deserve it and while some members used the construction project as a way to personally profit. The lesson to Freemasonry is obvious: be careful who you trust when it comes to your building, you may just lose it.

In Freemasonry, a Lodge does not need a Lodge hall to exist as long as the room can be properly tiled and the requisite number of brothers is present. That being said, Lodge halls not only enhance the practice of Freemasonry but give those brothers a local center to meet together on the level. Many cities have been blessed with beautiful structures dedicated to Freemasonry, buildings that have been ignored by the general public. Even if these buildings don’t affect the general public the way they do for brothers, once a Lodge has a hall, it becomes its most important asset, both financially and symbolically.

As I read this article, I began to understand just how important our buildings are to the Craft. We should question any deal that involves our real estate interests and all brothers should get involved in the discussion. I am fortunate enough to be a member of a Lodge that owns our building and it is my belief that we have to protect that building, no matter what. When I enter the small downtown and seethe Square and Compass illuminated in the dark, I know that this belongs to all my brothers and holds a very important place in all our hearts. It is the place that we are raised and are welcomed as brothers any time we enter.

We live in a different time when it comes to owning property. Property values, even post-housing bust values, are still more inflated than ever in history. We see cities in Minnesota having to raise property taxes as the Local Aid funds dry up from the Legislature. For a Lodge to purchase a hall now, they will have to find a way to increase revenues over and above dues, donations or any other internal source. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator, $5 paid in dues in 1913 equaled $107.29 in adjusted dollars today. Just to buy a semi-functioning piece of land would cost the Lodge hundreds of thousands of dollars and even then, the amount that would have to be paid over time could still bankrupt the Lodge.

Greed is also a factor and was ultimately the cause of the demise of VFW Post #6583. When the prospect of a contract that exceeded $1 million appeared, the forces of greed began to enter the fray as dishonest parties saw a way to make excessive profits from inside and outside the transaction. I should also note that at least according to the article, it would appear that a few of the members had interests to profit that contravened their duty to care for their Post leading to a major conflict of interest. We should remind ourselves of our obligations to our brothers and our Lodge when we think about this story and seek to avoid conflicts anytime we see them.

In the end, it is ultimately on the brothers to investigate any deal that involves their property. Every year, it seems, a few Masonic buildings are lost from disinterest, from fraud or from conditions outside the owning Lodge’s control. Lodges will need to come up with new methods of ownership to maintain their identity. We can only hope that stories like this one won’t happen to Lodges in the future. Now, the VFW Post’s new building sits empty and unused and the VFW members have lost all their hard work over the past 40 years for a set of seemingly preventable circumstances.

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