Good Works

Differing visions: Normally I wouldn't read an article as lengthy as "Fallen Angel" (December 4), but your story was filled with enough distortions that I couldn't wait to finish it. Great fiction! Besides, you were kind enough to mention my name several times, even though you didn't contact me for my input. Since I had no opportunity to correct the record before you printed the story, I'd like to do so now.

I was staff accountant at Cathedral of Hope for five years, and I still consider COH my church home. I was also a charter member of MCC Dallas in 1970. I've seen how the Dallas church grew while watching other MCCs flounder as the fellowship did little or nothing to help them. Even in the early years, Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) offered little assistance to the local churches. However, UFMCC's bureaucracy expanded greatly, funded by local churches through their 15 percent "tithes." Watching this waste, COH chose to spend a portion of this money more productively, helping other struggling congregations.

Your article attacks the Reverend Michael Piazza's character, yet any "dirt" concerning him pales when compared with that of some of his loudest detractors. But to bring that to light would be inconsistent with the religion taught at the Cathedral of Hope. Your article also suggests that the Reverend Piazza is an ogre. During my tenure I never once saw any staff member tremble around him. Yes, I've seen him unhappy, but never unreasonable.

Now to some of the financial issues raised. No church can afford to pay high wages to its staff. Fortunately, COH had many members who were willing to contribute their time and talents with minimal compensation. Yes, we had unpaid employees. They had their own job responsibilities, they attended staff meetings, and they were treated like any other staff member. They worked 30 or more hours each week and were covered with health insurance if they needed it. The church was doing nothing more than making sure that its staff remained healthy. As Christians we could do no less. Our insurance carrier required that staff members "work" at least 30 hours per week, and unpaid staff members worked as long and hard as did those receiving a salary.

The article also states that in the past "money was heaped upon the donation plates." Don't we wish! Never did I see money heaped in the donation plate. Each year the congregation passed a budget based on fixed expenses and ministry goals. It would have been nice if money rolled in as described, but it didn't. We always did the best we could with funds available. In order to balance income with outgo during the 1990s, we would sometimes borrow from the general fund for capital campaign expenses as needed. Now the reverse may be happening. There is nothing wrong with this; it is common practice, and the accounting always reflected it.

The Reverend Piazza is clearly a visionary and an inspiring preacher, but an extravagant spender of church funds he is not. I never saw anyone on staff spend church funds unnecessarily or "lavishly" in pursuit of donations. As church accountant, I most often saw the Reverend Piazza and other staff members traveling on airline passes or frequent-flyer miles and often doubling up on lodging.

Terri Frey is perhaps the most outspoken critic of the cathedral. She was a member of the board of directors during the time I was church accountant. She claims to have expressed serious concern about church finances at that time, but I don't recall her ever calling or coming to my office for information or to question the finances. If she had such great concerns at that time, she certainly never shared them with me.

The Dallas Observer may have interviewed more than a dozen former church members, yet it's odd that they chose primarily those who hold personal grudges against the Reverend Piazza. A dozen people out of a congregation of several thousand members clearly doesn't tell the whole story.

You might describe the Reverend Piazza as a fallen angel, and perhaps he is in some respects. But not one of the complaints lodged against Michael Piazza involves personal gain or reward. The reality is that some former staff and board members have turned on him because his grand visions have not yet come to reality and because he held the staff and board to a higher standard than they were willing to meet.

What your story neglected to mention was the good the Cathedral of Hope has done under the Reverend Piazza's leadership--aiding neighborhood schools and children, providing comfort and inspiration to thousands, providing food, shelter and counseling services for the community, and serving as a beacon of hope around the world. So what's the point of your story other than to provide a forum for a few bitter former church members who share a different vision?

Bruce Ehrhardt
Tucson, Arizona

Reporter J.D. Sparks responds: A church, regardless of its desire to help congregants or the community, is bound to operate within the confines of the law just like any other business. Operating transparently and legally is modeling a higher standard.

The Hole Story

Pulling strings: Kudos, Jim, on keeping us up-to-date on the realities of what our money is buying ("Puppet Samba," November 27), but even you have been further duped. The powers that be have already created the new lake. Drive north toward our fancy new arena and notice the quaint, publicly funded, fenced-off mud puddle where the fancy hotel and restaurants of Victory are supposed to be. I was somewhat reluctant to move into the apartments across the street from our new development until I realized that the backhoes that dug the hole haven't moved in two years and construction noise likely would not be a problem. Of course, most people probably don't notice it since the freeway alongside, which apparently desperately needs traffic relief, is moving quite well 95 percent of the time. Obviously no one on the council voting for this stupid new road commutes on Interstate 35. If you fix the mix-master, as already planned, all of the really slow traffic goes away.

Brian Potratz

Filling in: Another well-researched article to infuriate me! You are absolutely correct in stating that this whole fiasco is, indeed, a scam. I especially like the part where you asked Mayor Laura Miller why we need this road and she wouldn't tell you. About par for the course. We don't even need a lake anyway. Maybe it was feasible in 1998, but certainly not now, uncertain as times are. Let's take the bond money and put it into infrastructure so we can get rid of those damned potholes.

Richard Krause

To the point: The good article by Jim Schutze shows that Dallas city staff fails to justify building one or more lakes between the existing levees of the Trinity River alongside downtown Dallas. I add the following supports to the article:

A lake is not helpful because there is already one lake between the levees south of Sylvan Avenue, which is adequate.

The land between the levees is better for paths and walks than for boats. People from downtown and everywhere could enjoy walking there.

Dallas groups have walked between the levees and enjoyed numerous flowers, birds, animals and other beauties, even without paths.

Dallas would save many millions of dollars by preparing paths alongside the Trinity River instead of building a lake and the entry for boats on lakes.

The proposed lake was part of an inadequate bond issue that barely passed in 1998 by only 1.6 percent of voters, with proposals at that time which are different from now, and should be presented again and voted on again.

The new bond proposal should include information that providing a road between the levees would cause various problems and would be the first such highway in world history.

Edward C. Fritz

Faked Out

Time to move: Jim Schutze sure asks the right questions ("Fake Justice," December 11). If nothing else, he extends my thinking into the realm of "what else don't we know."

As in all cover-ups, the real answers are probably not as bad as what we imagine happened, but the fact that the actors don't admit their mistakes makes them look all the more guilty.

Surely all the obfuscation leads back to "if we tell the truth, they'll know we're stupid, and it will cost even more at lawsuit time." It's the political version of "taking the Fifth." Wonder what the level of confidence of our citizens is in a city where the police and council act this way with no consequence?

John White

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