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July 09, 2008


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Jeff Trexler

Folly is the price of wisdom in a free society--folks all too often make the mistake of thinking that if we get rid of the bad we'll have more good, when in fact one does not follow from the other.

I also find this Helmsley dogs controversy a bit overheated. Here are the key paragraphs from the original NY Times story:

Another provision of the mission statement says Mrs. Helmsley’s trustees may use their discretion in distributing the money, and some lawyers say the statement may not mean much anyway, given that its directions were not incorporated into Mrs. Helmsley’s will or the trust documents.

“The statement is an expression of her wishes that is not necessarily legally binding,” said William Josephson, a lawyer who was the chief of the Charities Bureau in the New York State attorney general’s office from 1999 to 2004.

Given that the trustees have the discretion to apply the funds to whatever charitable purposes they choose, focusing on the unenforceable dog directive manufactures needless outrage.

And even if they didn't, savvy trustees could actually use that money in ways that benefit society--and local governments--such as by boosting $$$ for humane societies and improving the system for managing strays. I mean, if our tax dollars already go for such things, why isn't it a public purpose for private funds to serve the same ends?


I agree. Yet, how do we, at the planning table, influence the wisdom and insight that major donors bring to the work? Do we have the courage and skills to challenge the donor's vision, as well as to serve it? Can we Courtiers learn to play the Fool, and still get paid?

JJ Commoner

Do we have the courage and skills to challenge the donor's vision, as well as to serve it? Can we Courtiers learn to play the Fool, and still get paid?

In my experience (as a Courtier) clients get very uncomfortable very quickly with anything that does not resemble a solution or a question that they recognize as part of the formula that drives towards an accepted form of solution. Nothing philosophic, and no thorny questions that aren't easy to answer about values, etc.

You can get paid as long as the piece on the game board is recognizable as such. Fools introduce silly non-game pieces onto the board, and that upsets the whole rhythm of the thing.


Agreed. Leona's advisors served her well. Maybe, though, they confused their role with that of a lapdog?


I love dogs and all, but it's just unfortunate to see that money not help people in need or feed the hungry or for research for a major disease. But if that was her passion, she shouldn't be faulted for it.


Faulted, yes, but not prevented? You have to remember, though, that the statue in honor of Diogenes showed his dog. I hope that someone took care of the mutt after his Master was gone.


If the pooch reads the NY Times, it might want to have its caretakers check out this doghouse.


This is where the Trustee in Charge of the Legacy keeps the pets?

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