2016 Grand Master of the MW GL F&AM of Arkansas, Billy Joe Holder
Word is slowly trickling out about the details of the meeting, and the principal message seems to have been "Don't believe what you read on the interwebs." It was suggested that Arkansas Masons should not read Facebook. But the major concentration of the meeting was to talk about purported cost savings within the Grand Lodge.
Meanwhile, an anonymous letter was circulated in recent days, reportedly to all lodges in Arkansas, blowing the whistle on some inside information from Little Rock that has previously gone unreported.
The most shocking allegation in the letter is the reporting of a thwarted five-year $100 assessment against all Masons in the state, amounting to a combined total of $500 per member. The fee was to be enacted last year by an edict issued by 2015 Grand Master Sam Lattin, co-written by Billy Joe Holder. Further, the edict would have suspended voting at the annual communication, and permitted the sitting Grand Master to remain in office indefinitely. According to the allegation, the edict had already been signed, sealed, and prepared for mailing. Only last-minute protestations by the Past Grand Masters prevented the letters from being sent out to lodges.
I am NOT a fan of anonymous letters in any institution, and especially not in Freemasonry. In the last year, anonymous letters have been sent in Kansas, Indiana, New Jersey, and more, in an attempt to inform Masons of what the nameless author claims to be skullduggery (usually within the ranks of their own grand lodge). I continue to think it is a terrible way to influence changes or right a wrong, and I have rarely posted them.
But in jurisdictions that forbid any discussion of Masonic matters outside of the confines of a tyled lodge, or in those that prevent open and honest discussions of contentious topics on the floor of their annual communications, I do understand the frustration of attempting to do things by the book. And in jurisdictions where grand masters pull the trigger on suspensions and expulsions at the drop of a hat instead of allowing members to air their grievances and addressing them, as a Brother is pledged to do, I sympathize with their terrible dilemma. In Arkansas, it is regular practice to send a Mason a summons to appear before a trial commission or just a hearing before the GM, accompanied by a letter to sign to waive proceedings and simply self-expel. Why must a Mason choose between complete silence in the face of injustice, versus voluntarily risking a lifetime suspension or expulsion from the fraternity he cares for so deeply, just for the offense of speaking up?
Not long ago, someone forwarded me a copy of the Digest of the Constitution and Laws of the MW Grand Lodge F&AM of Arkansas. As I read through it, I was struck by a curious feature of the book. I have read many such documents over the years, but I have never encountered a Masonic code that had more specific definitions of "un-Masonic conduct" in my entire Masonic career than this one. There are a full 243 specific definitions and clarifications of offenses and specifications relating to Masonic charges and trials, comprising Chapter 4 of the Digest.
In his famed masterwork The Prince, the author Niccolò Machiavelli wrote, "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
In light of the current state of affairs in Arkansas, I reluctantly post the letter that has been sent to the lodges. (Click images to enlarge.)
To more fully understand the plummeting statistics of membership in the GL of Arkansas, which dramatically exceed the national average of losses across the U.S., click the image below to enlarge a chart of stats between 1992 and 2015.
Take note that in 2012, there were no suspensions for un-Masonic conduct and 6 expulsions. By 2015, 12 had been suspended and 43 were expelled from the fraternity. That is a sobering statistic, under any circumstances.
An article was forwarded to me this morning that sheds some light on what the $500 assessment edict may have been in response to. It seems that the Grand Lodge of Arkansas lost a half-million dollars last year in an investment deal gone south.
From the Times Union website on October 20, 2015:
A Masonic grand lodge in Arkansas lost $500,000 it invested in a real estate fund run by the United Group in North Greenbush that collapsed last year when several of the company's student housing projects went into foreclosure.
The lodge, officially known as the The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Arkansas, sued United Group back in April in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, claiming that the organization was misled by United Group executives and Edgar Page, a Saratoga County investment adviser.
United Group created two real estate investment funds in 2008 to raise money for projects during a time when bank loans were scarce, recruiting financial advisers like Page to find wealthy investors, most of whom were from the Capital Region.
But the Arkansas case reveals that United Group and Page were traveling across the country in some cases to raise up to $50 million for the funds, which were created in partnership with a North Carolina firm called Davis Capital Group.
United Group student housing projects in Plattsburgh, Cortland and Brockport all fell into trouble with lenders last year, leading to heavy losses in the two funds.
Back in August 2014, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sought to bring civil penalties against Page, alleging he failed to disclose to his clients that he was negotiating the $3 million sale of his company to United Group at the same time he was recommending they put money in the funds. Page raised $15 million for the funds, SEC documents show.
United Group, which has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the case, has not spoken publicly about the funds or the failure of the student housing projects, which were built under the company's late founder Walter Uccellini, who died in a 2012 plane crash.
The United Group did not respond to questions by the Times Union in time for deadline. Page has denied wrongdoing, and his case remains pending.
A call to United Group's attorney in the Arkansas case, Little Rock attorney Chad Pekron, was not immediately returned Tuesday.
According to its lawsuit, the Arkansas Grand Lodge invested the $500,000 in the DCG/UGOC Equity Fund in 2010. But its members soon became worried about broken promises of distributions from the fund and worse-than-expected vacancy rates at the dorm projects.
In 2013, United Group executives cut off communication with lodge officials, the lawsuit claims, leading Robert Jackson, a member of the lodge's board of finance, to file an unspecified complaint against the United Group and Page with the SEC.
The Masons were notified early this year by their brokerage firm T.D. Ameritrade that their investment in the United fund "had no value."
In the wake of the losses, the Grand Lodge has made the decision to attempt to sue the investment fund in federal court (now adding legal costs to the fiasco, on top of the investment losses). The judge in the Arkansas Eastern District Court case has already thrown out much of the suit. The court case (Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Arkansas v. DCG/UGOC Equity Fund LLC et al: Case No. 4:15-cv-00219) may be followed online HERE.
Background on this situation:
3/13/10: Grand Lodge of Arkansas Pulls Charter, Files Charges Over Website
12/16/10: News From Arkansas
2/17/11: A Gathering Storm In Arkansas
2/18/11: More Sad News From Arkansas
11/9/12: Shrine Declared Clandestine in Arkansas
1/31/13: South Carolina Suspends Relations With Shriners Internationa
6/19/16: Arkansas Rumblings
6/26/16: Reprehend With Justice
8/23/16: GL of Arkansas Suspends Grand Senior Warden
8/28/16: Grand Lodge of Arkansas' Yezhovshchina: Grand Line Officers Purged
9/3/16: More Antics Out Of Arkansas
9/11/16: Arkansas: Floggings Continue, Yet Morale Doesn't Improve