Freemasonry first came officially into the state of Alabama just as it did in Indiana - with a lodge chartered by the Grand Lodge of Kentucky, in 1811—one of what would eventually be nine states that Kentucky established lodges in as the country expanded westward. That first Alabama lodge (prior to statehood) was Kentucky's Madison Lodge 11 in Twickenham, a settlement that would eventually grow and turn into Huntsville. After statehood was granted to Alabama in 1819, Madison Lodge and two more lodges previously chartered by Tennessee all combined to become Huntsville's Helion Lodge No. 1 under the new Grand Lodge of Alabama.
Helion Lodge still thrives today, just shy of its 200th anniversary, in their historic 1917 temple building, Eunomia Hall. Today, it is home to York Rite bodies and youth groups. Or it was until about a month ago.
Early this year, Eunomia Hall had a very close call. On January 6th, a fire was discovered burning in the office of the building. Fortunately, a Rainbow International event was scheduled for the afternoon, and one of their advisors entered the building. She smelled smoke and immediately called firefighters, who rescued books and records from the office and put out the flames before they could spread to the rest of the irreplaceable building. Eunomia Hall was saved, but is heavily smoke and fire damaged, and they are currently holding their meetings at another local lodge while repairs are being carried out.
Investigators quickly determined that the fire was no accident and had been deliberately set. The biggest clue in the case had to do with where the fire started and what was burned: the recent paper financial records and receipts of the lodge.
Subsequently, Chad Evers Rodriguez, 39, was arrested Wednesday and charged with second-degree arson and theft by deception (stolen property, wire fraud). Rodriguez had been the lodge Secretary since 2015, and a substantial amount of the lodge's financial assets are missing and unaccounted for. Lodge members had been questioning Rodriguez about unusually expensive invoices in recent weeks, and the fire would have destroyed any financial trail.
As John Wooden once wrote, “The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching.” The overwhelming majority of us who have been elected as Secretaries and Treasurers would rather take a harpoon to the gut than cheat, wrong, or defraud the members of the organizations that trust us with their treasuries. But proper lodge management can be time consuming and tedious. It is sometimes tempting to cut corners when it comes to accurate record keeping between the Secretary and Treasurer — I know, I've been guilty of some of it myself over the years.
Pre-signing two-signature checks, or just letting the Secretary handle opening and paying the bills, or scanning over a list of warrant totals instead of the actual invoices for a few seconds while a stated meeting is being opened, or never seeing anything besides a Quicken monthly recapitulation or summary, and much more can so easily become "the usual way we do it here." The age of debit cards, online bill paying, paperless invoicing, and all of those time saving things that vendors and suppliers and banks want us to eagerly sign up for make modern lodge management even more fraught with potential sloppiness. And every once in a great while, sloppiness can lead to temptation for someone with less than pure motives, or with personal issues.
That's why it's our job to be our Brother's keeper, to take an interest in every one of our members, to pay attention to what's happening in his life, and help him before a problem becomes too big for him to handle. Or becomes a lodge problem.
Proper oversight of lodge finances by our own membership should be welcomed and encouraged at all times. Every Secretary and Treasurer should make it a reflex action to conclude their monthly reports with the phrase, "As always, my books and records are available at any time for complete inspection, should anyone wish to do so." They shouldn't be offended when somebody actually takes them up on that pledge, either. And every lodge needs to have a serious, annual, line-item audit of its financial records, by either qualified members of the lodge (and not the same faces every year), or better still, by an outside, independent accountant. A lodge needs to be run every bit as responsibly as any business, and rank and file members are the best check and balance against error. Or temptation. That's also why we have TWO officers through whom lodge finances pass, instead of just a combined Secretary/Treasurer.
A crusty Secretary or Treasurer who's been doing things the same way for 10 years might at first take offense at suddenly having his methods questioned. That's human nature. But use your best sense of tactfulness and explain that you're asking because you are trying to take an active interest in the well-being of the lodge. Explain it's as much for HIS protection as anything else, especially since the whiz-bang internet world of bill paying keeps demanding less and less oversight and care every year.
Meanwhile, when a Brother is having problems at home or in his business or is suddenly doing something unusual that seems out of character, take an interest. That's what this whole tree fort is supposed to be about in the first place.