Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tis the Gift to Be Simple

I don't often have the opportunity to attend court proceedings. Many years ago, I watched my sister serve as a federal prosecutor for a major drug bust in New Orleans. It was a fascinating process to observe.

This morning I heard equally gripping advocacy by attorney Michael McNabb. He did an admirable job in answering questions and presenting reasons for overturning the sale of WCAL by St. Olaf to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR).

Mr. McNabb must have felt like biblical David. Across the courtroom from him sat counsel for the Attorney General's Office, MPR, and St. Olaf.

I was most impressed by the judges in the case. They asked the type of questions that indicated they had done their homework. They seemed to be trying to understand the issues in a way that would help them to make a fair decision. Kudos to them for pushing on what appeared to be the critical issues for making a decision.

I won't give my recap of what happened since I am heavily biased in favor of the Save WCAL group. But I was very proud that our judicial system allows Mr. McNabb, who modestly describes himself as a country lawyer, to square off with what is collectively a very formidable group both politically and financially. He more than held his own.

Mr. McNabb concluded his remarks by quoting the old Shaker hymn:

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be...



If the reader is not familiar with this situation, I give a short summary from the Save WCAL website:

For 82 years radio station WCAL comforted, informed, inspired and entertained listeners from the college, community and church.

Listener support provided the basis for a broadcast service through years of peace, war, depression, prosperity and hope. That support created the entire value of WCAL. It built and equipped towers and studios, rewarded staff and enhanced St. Olaf College.

St. Olaf was the steward for tens of thousands of donors, many now deceased, who sacrificed and invested their earned dollars believing that their station's trustee would never fail its duty to continue WCAL's missions.

A charitable trust is created when a gift is accepted with the commitment to continuously support a charitable purpose as intended by the donor. A trustee must prudently manage the gift. The intentions, the value and the duty are inseparable.

Should circumstances so change that carrying out the purposes is no longer possible, the trustee remains obligated to as nearly as possible fulfill those purposes. A trustee that sells assets to use for unrelated purposes has breached the fiduciary duty required by Minnesota law, and may not benefit from the wrongdoing.

St. Olaf College failed its duty of trust and stewardship by liquidating WCAL trust assets with the intention to use them for unrelated purposes.

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