Dear Fellow Kings Pointers,
The USMMA-AAF Board writes you once again with a call to action. There has been a significant amount of misinformation distributed publicly and to Congress since our last email to you. This misinformation, which does the Academy, the Regiment, and the Foundation great harm should not be allowed to linger uncorrected. This is very important, so please take the time to read the lengthy summary below which corrects this misinformation, and then contact your Congressman and Senators and other individuals of influence and let them know that they have been misinformed (see ‘How you can help’ at the end of this email). Help us get the truth out, standing together for the good of the Academy and its charitable Foundation.
As you know, the Academy’s charitable Foundation, the USMMA-AAF, was recently evicted from our established Academy offices in Babson Center by the new Academy Superintendent, James Helis. After the Superintendent informed the Foundation of his intentions in November, 2012, the Foundation Board worked very hard to both understand the reason for such a punitive action against the Academy’s own charity, as well as to find a solution to the situation. We were unsuccessful; and the AAF was eventually forced to leave the Academy in early May, 2013 at great cost.
There does not appear to be any credible reason as to why the Superintendent took this action. His reasons changed at a dizzying pace as each was effectively refuted by the AAF; just as the reasons changed for suddenly moving the eviction date up from June 30 to April 30. The story changed again when the U.S. Attorney representing the Academy stated in Federal Court on April 29, 2013 that it was necessary for the AAF to vacate the premises “immediately” to allow the Academy “to adapt it to use as classrooms” immediately or lose “funding in place”. Words we knew then, as we do now, were not true.
Over three months later Babson still sits vacant; and, according to recent statements from the acting Maritime Administrator, will remain that way for at least another three months with no “funding in place” for reconstruction for the foreseeable future. Nor is Babson suitable in its current configuration (as anyone who ever visited Babson can attest) for classroom use. Any initiatives to fill the space now, with staff transferred all around the campus, simply appear as efforts to justify this ill-considered and destructive decision and create the appearance that the Babson space was needed.
With an abundance of unused facilities on campus, the Superintendent appears to be playing a form of whack a mole; and is unconvincing that, with approximately 300 employees, space cannot be found for the 8 Babson staff—or even 2 or 3 to give the AAF a presence on campus when it must cease the temporary use of the Lerner house.
The controversy the new Superintendent has created is unprecedented. We believe his actions have put the Academy and its reputation at risk; as well as risking the viability of the Academy’s Honor Code without a credible role model for the Midshipmen. The Superintendent has also put at risk the fund raising capabilities of the Foundation – a charitable organization which raises millions of dollars each year in private donor money, in support of the Academy and Midshipmen, by showing disrespect, in particular, to major donors and a general disdain for the value of all of our generosity.
Some of you have asked why we cannot sit down with the Superintendent and work this out. The Superintendent addressed this question himself in a meeting with two prominent graduates. His answer was that he could not discuss the eviction since the judge had not rejected the law suit entirely. However, if there is continuing litigation it is news to us. So the answer appears to be ‘no’.
In response to the outcry against the eviction, Superintendent Helis has made public and private statements concerning the events surrounding the eviction. These include postings he made on the Academy website, claims he has made at public meetings, and most significantly – letters he has sent to Congress.
As the Foundation’s Board, we have many roles and responsibilities, not the least of which is to ensure that our constituents and members, and in fact all Academy stakeholders, are provided with true and accurate statements. However, until this time we have not responded publicly to statements made by the Superintendent, which we believe are not accurate but are intended to undermine confidence in the AAF. We had hoped that our private initiatives would lead to retractions and a cessation of misinformation. Unfortunately, this effort has not been successful.
Instead, the misinformation campaign has now been expanded with letters to Congress (first letter, second letter, third letter) which have included the false claims that the AAF never offered to pay rent—and would have been permitted to stay on campus had it done so. That is untrue – the new Superintendent would not negotiate any option which included the Foundation remaining on board in any Academy space. The rent negotiations were for the six short months before the Foundation was forced off the campus – a point at which rent payments would no longer matter to the new Superintendent. These letters also highlight the fact that the AAF brought suit for a preliminary injunction to remain on campus—but without any mention that the expedited eviction date left the AAF with nowhere to go and no time to make plans; or that the Academy falsely represented that the AAF had to leave immediately or the Academy would lose funding for renovations that it falsely alleged had recently been appropriated; or that the locks to the doors would be changed on April 30; or that the AAF’s law firm was forced to withdraw its representation at the last minute.
Many of you have been asking, as one put it, “for a no-kidding full-on critique and publication of all the verifiable facts”; and we now feel compelled to do so and eliminate the confusion the Superintendent has created with the false narrative on his discussions with the AAF on the Academy’s web-site, “USMMA Response to Alumni Association & Foundation.”
The Superintendent has made a number of assertions in this posting which we do not believe are accurate. In addition to the claim that we made no offer to pay rent, they include such claims as: ‘the AAF was asked to move off campus’; ‘the Federal government had subsidized the AAF’; ‘the payment of rent would have helped the Academy’; ‘the AAF declined to work in good faith to find an acceptable alternative’; ‘the Superintendent had set a deadline for a counterproposal which the AAF missed’; ‘the Academy had funding in place for the immediate conversion of Babson to classroom space’. We believe that with a careful review of the AAF Response you will conclude that a retraction of the Superintendent’s web-site posting should be made in deference to the Academy’s Honor Code.
Consequently, in the interests of full disclosure and transparency, you can find the “AAF Response” to 27 “Assertions” made by the Superintendent to which we take issue. Click here for eviction history. It is a long and compelling story (such is the extent of our issues with the “Assertions”). It is also very difficult to tell this story as it raises questions of honor, integrity, truth, compliance with Federal law and public trust as the AAF tried to make sense of a mindless vendetta which could only damage the Academy in the midst of continuing claims to make Kings Point the “jewel” of the Service Academies.
We provided the acting Maritime Administrator and the Executive Director of MARAD with this compilation (with respect only to the Superintendent’s involvement) to review it for accuracy. Only one section was disputed, which we have removed despite our belief that it is accurate. This compilation was initially drafted many months ago and held in abeyance in the hope that its publication would not be necessary. However, although MARAD does not disagree with our presentation of facts, it appears unwilling to set the record straight; and so the task is left to us.
Also attached are all relevant documents missing from the Superintendent’s posting, including all e-mail communication between the Superintendent and the AAF; the key letter from the Superintendent to the AAF, dated March 8, 2013; the 1980 legal opinion from MARAD explaining that it was in the government’s interest for the Academy to provide the AAF with rent-free space on campus; the 2004 Agreement stating that the AAF is the sole representative of the alumni and primary fund-raising entity and a sworn affidavit from former Superintendent Vice Admiral Joe Stewart, affirming the legitimacy and survivability of that Agreement; and the Academy’s Capital Improvement Program designating the renovation of Babson Center in its current office (not classroom) configuration to begin in 2018.
We strongly recommend that you read the full eviction history. Some examples of the assertions included in the link and a summary of our responses follow:
The Superintendent asserted that “the AAF declined to act in good faith”. The Superintendent began his “good faith” negotiations by deceiving the leadership of the AAF about the true purpose of the November 30, 2012 eviction meeting; and then continuing his “good faith” by stonewalling efforts by the AAF to obtain comparable rental information on other organizations on campus to ascertain a fair rental for the AAF to pay.
–The “eviction meeting” (see emails): The President of the AAF, Jim Tobin, arranged to meet with Superintendent Helis on November 30, 2012 to go over the itinerary for a planned trip with the Superintendent and was informed that there were several other matters which RADM Helis wished to discuss with the President and the Chairman, Charles Hill as well. In response to a written request from the President for an agenda and the reason for the planned participation of the Academy’s attorney, when the AAF had not invited its own attorney, Superintendent Helis wrote only: “We would like to discuss improving the relationship between the Academy and the USMMAAAF to ensure that we are working together to support the continued success of the Academy.” Instead, Superintendent Helis, with the participation of his attorney (and no legal representative with the AAF), used the meeting to demand that the AAF agree to vacate Babson Center by June 30, 2013, pay rent in the interim and void several longstanding agreements. Thus the reason given for the meeting was clearly false in the context of what he actually intended to discuss.
–“Stonewalling” (see emails and April 8, 2013 letter): The Superintendent was informed immediately that the AAF had a fiduciary responsibility to pay only fair market rent; but he then stonewalled every effort by the AAF to obtain comparable rentals for on-campus organizations. Moreover, he created false expectations by first stating that he would provide the needed information and then, after taking weeks to respond, declaring he would provide none of the requested information. We believe he did not want to reveal the much lower rates charged to other non-government operations on campus, including the $16,000 annual payment to be paid by any proposed operator of Melville Hall.
The Superintendent made the assertion that he had approached the AAF last November “to ask that they find new offices because the campus space…would be needed once classroom renovations begin.” However, RADM Helis did not “ask” the Foundation to find new offices; nor did he state that Babson Center would be needed for classrooms (which, given the office configuration of the space, is absurd).
–In his November 30, 2012 letter, posted on the Academy’s web-site, he stated only: “In order to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars and to avoid concerns regarding preferential treatment, we are requiring the USMMAAF to relocate…” It was only after the AAF provided the Superintendent with the 1980 MARAD legal opinion letter, which disposed of the “better stewards of taxpayer dollars” and “preferential treatment” issues (as well as the “rent free” innuendo) by explaining why the AAF must be on campus rent-free, that the Superintendent shifted his argument to the “need for classroom space”, apparently in order to create the impression that the AAF was selfish and unreasonable.
–The Superintendent also declined to provide the AAF with a copy of the Capital Improvement Program (“CIP”) plan which would have put the matter to rest, claiming that it was “still being worked on”. [A CIP is a budget plan submitted to Congress for capital expenditures in advance of requests for appropriations.] We have since obtained a copy of the CIP submitted by MARAD to Congress in early May, 2013 and this 5-year plan showed no budget request to use or convert Babson for classrooms; nor did it provide for the use of Babson for “swing space”. The CIP request for Fitch/Babson is for money in 2017/18 for the design and renovation of the existing delivery, office, and administrative spaces but only in their present configuration. Speeches made by government officials to the contrary are simply not supported by the CIP plan submitted to Congress.
–Vice Admiral Joe Stewart, who honorably served as Superintendent of the Academy for over 10 years (1998-2008), stated in a sworn affidavit that “Babson Center… is unsuitable for any academic activities and it is inconceivable that same could be used as “swing space” for cadet midshipmen.” What could RADM Helis have been thinking on November 30, 2012 with only four months on the job?
Superintendent Helis asserted that the AAF uses campus space “rent free”; and that the “Foundation would” be “helping the Academy by paying rent and utilities.” By long standing agreement with the Academy, going back to 1957 “The Foundation occupies office space on the Academy’s premises at no rental cost in exchange for the support it provides the Academy.” Thus, such financial support has been treated by the Academy as payments in lieu of rent – which makes perfect sense. The 2009 GAO report stated that the Academy could only receive payments for the reimbursement of expenses. Any rental payments would go to the U.S. Treasury, not the Academy. Thus, the diversion of donor money from gifts to rent (it all comes from one pocket) would materially hurt the Academy not help it.
Superintendent Helis asserted that “…the AAF declined to…work with the Academy in good faith to find an acceptable alternative.” We are not aware of any effort by the Superintendent “to find an acceptable alternative”. In fact, at the April 2013 Spring AAF board meeting, he was asked if he had ever offered the AAF alternative space on board the Academy; and admitted that he had not. He then added that he would not offer the AAF any space on campus in the future. The Superintendent consequently confirmed the fact that the eviction of the AAF was not about space; but about his own, inexplicable, personal animosity towards the AAF and efforts to do it harm.
The Superintendent asserted that there were concerns over “preferential treatment” for the AAF, presumably meaning that no other “alumni organizations” were given space on campus. However, any such “concerns” or “charges” have never been articulated by any previous Superintendent (three of whom signed a letter in support of the AAF as did four former MARAD Administrators who supported the AAF to remain on campus); nor did the new Superintendent raise these “concerns” or “charges” prior to his November 30, 2012 notice of eviction.
–Since the Academy invited the AAF to move on campus in 1957, it has been agreed that the AAF would be given “preferential treatment” to carry out its charitable mission. This understanding was formally enshrined in three significant documents that directly contradict RADM Helis’ assertions: The 1980 MARAD legal opinion that recognized the need for the AAF to remain in close contact with the Midshipmen and Academy personnel; the 2004 Agreement that recognized the AAF as the “sole alumni affairs organization for its graduates and other supporters”; and the 2009 GAO report to Congress which defined the AAF as an “affiliate” of the Academy.
The Superintendent asserted that the AAF declined to pay rent. However, in two separate counter-proposals (first proposal, second proposal) the AAF agreed to pay rent, despite the fact that any rent paid would go directly to the U.S. Treasury and reduce the amount the AAF could afford to gift to the Academy. Most significantly – the eviction, of which the Superintendent would not negotiate, was happening on June 30th when the payment of rent would cease to be of any concern to him. Any delays were the direct result of stonewalling by the Superintendent on AAF requests for comparable rents on-campus as part of its due diligence as guardians of donor money. Moreover, the rental amount offered by the AAF was effectively what the Superintendent had allegedly demanded from the AAF based upon the actual space used by the AAF.
The Superintendent asserted that he moved up the eviction date from June 30 to April 30 because the Academy had “received additional appropriated funding for renovations under the continuing resolution for Fiscal Year 2013.” RADM Helis has not been forthcoming as to precisely where this money is coming from. However, we do understand that a “Continuing Resolution” is intended only to keep the government from running out of money by authorizing spending at the current levels and not to create windfalls; and that “maintenance” money may not be used for capital projects which have not been approved by Congress.
–The first the AAF heard about “this opportunity” of new appropriated funding was when it was posted on the Academy’s web-site on April 25, 2013, after the Signal Flags email announced the pending eviction. These “funds” were not included in the Superintendent’s April 8, 2013 letter or mentioned in the meeting on the same date. He also made several presentations on capital projects just prior to the web-site posting in which he made no mention of the “additional appropriations” or making the reconstruction of Babson Center his number one priority; and his recent (June 10, 2013) update on current capital projects, posted on the Academy’s web-site, failed to even mention the Babson space. Until he provides an explanation we will remain skeptical.
The Superintendent asserted that the AAF missed the “deadline” in submitting a counter-proposal. However, he never set any “deadlines” and did not even use the word in any written or verbal communications with the AAF; nor did he state in any written or verbal communications that he was rejecting a counter –proposal because of a missed deadline.
The Superintendent asserted that “The lease inadvertently stated $29/square foot per month.” In view of the previous acts of bad faith, beginning with the November 30, 2012 meeting; the importance of the provision; the alleged extensive review of the document by the Government; and discussions with the Superintendent and MARAD/DOT officials, the Superintendent’s explanation does not make sense to us. MARAD officials were advised of our concern and the Superintendent declined to discuss the terms of the lease when approached. Moreover, the Superintendent failed to disclose that he had insisted on a clause which gave him the right to expel the AAF without cause with only ten days notice (effectively making it a 10-day lease) and insisted on charging the AAF for over twice the amount of space that they were using.
The Superintendent asserted that “the Academy deeply values its relationship with all Kings Point alumni” and this is not “a punitive effort coming from the Academy and Department of Transportation.” There can be no question that these actions have been anything other than punitive. No other plausible explanation can be found. Tactics have included ensuring that the AAF was deprived of its normal legal representation (raising issues of compliance with Federal law and abuse of power) and refusing to support, much less assist, the AAF with its proposed permanent move to the Lerner house.
–In addition, the Superintendent has ignored the advice of Congress, at the risk of biting the hand that feeds the Academy. Two prominent Congressmen, with key roles in the future of the Academy, described his “dispute” with the AAF as “an unwelcome distraction from Kings Point’s mission”; and offered to mediate. The Congressmen were, however, rebuffed despite their “hope that the academy has not lost its appreciation for the value of a resource like the AAF on campus or its recognition that it serves the best interests of the institution as a whole”; and pointed advice that it is through the AAF “how we in Congress connect with the MMA as we support its mission”.
The Superintendent has refused to provide any assistance to the AAF in obtaining approval from the Village of Kings Point to convert the Lerner house into an Alumni house and Visitors Center. And, despite assertions to the contrary, he has dismissed the proposal for the AAF to donate the property to the Academy and lease it back. This position was clearly articulated by a U.S. Attorney in front of a Federal judge with the statement on April 29, 2013: “oh, that [a donation and lease back] was also discussed and it was a non-starter. It would put us into the middle of a dispute between them and the Town”. There, of course, would be no ‘dispute’ with ownership of the property by the Federal government.
These are but a few examples of the facts behind the eviction of the AAF from the campus, our efforts to reach a resolution and the continuing inexplicable efforts by the Superintendent to undermine the Foundation’s mission to provide support for the Academy and Midshipmen. For more information and a more complete understanding of events to this point, please read the eviction history.
We continue to investigate the reasons behind the new Superintendent’s punitive actions against this charity. Since being evicted from the Academy, the Foundation has been working out of temporary make-shift space in a private house (the Lerner house). What school and school leadership treats their own charity in this manner? We need the help of all Kings Pointers to work on behalf of the Midshipmen and the Academy to get the Academy’s charity back on board the campus where it can fulfill its critical mission of raising millions of dollars for the Academy’s “margin of excellence”.
How you can help: We encourage you to once again contact your Senators and Congressman (http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml) to voice your support for the Academy, the Midshipmen, and the Academy’s charitable foundation, the USMMA-AAF. Advise them that the controversy is damaging the Academy and the Midshipmen and is not in the public interest; that the eviction of the AAF from Academy grounds was not driven by any need for space; that four former Maritime Administrators and three former Academy Superintendents publicly opposed this eviction; that the 1980 MARAD opinion letter, defining the government’s interest in having the Academy provide rent-free offices on campus, remains the only official legal guidance; and that Congress has been the target of a misinformation campaign…
Let us conclude by stating that in every communication, whether with the government or the alumni or other constituencies, we endeavor to give tribute to the Academy’s Honor Code.
“A Midshipman Will Not Lie, Cheat, or Steal.”
“A lie is considered a deliberate attempt to present an oral or written untruth, quibble, or make a non-verbal communication with the intent of misleading another person.”
Midshipman Honor Manual – U. S. Merchant Marine Academy
It has been the guiding light in our personal lives and an ideal that the AAF will never compromise in the interests of political correctness, expediency or conflict resolution.
The Board appreciates all of the support and outreach of Kings Pointers from around the world. As Kings Pointers who share a deep love and respect for the Academy, we will all be here supporting the institution for years and years to come. We look forward to the time when the Foundation is back on board the Academy, working to serve the midshipmen and the institution as we have for over sixty years.
The USMMA-AAF Board of Directors