PHOTO: The three men primarily responsible for the troubles of the Astoria Community, Fr. Nektarios, Nick Andriotis (middle) and the disgraced former editor of TNH A.Diamataris.
By Nick Stamatakis
After 16 months of constantly writing about the multiple “conflicts of interest” in St. Demetrios of Astoria – resulting in no action at all by the supervising authority (GOA) – I thought I would never see the day when GOA would intervene to correct the wrongdoings. Alas, I was wrong, and I am very happy to admit it… Today we learned that GOA took the first step in the right direction: Chancellor Fr. Andreas (Vythoulkas) sent a letter to Fr. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, the presiding priest of St. Demetrios Astoria, demanding action regarding the conflict of interest created by having Gary Sideris serving as parish council president.
The Uniform Parish Regulations (“UPR”) specify in detail the requirement that Parish Council Members have NO conflict of interest. (PLEASE SEE HERE THE SPECIFIC GOA POLICIES ON CONFLICT OF INTEREST). We note that Addendum A of the UPR provides, in relevant part, as follows:
The purpose of this Policy is to set forth procedures for properly disclosing and addressing conflicts of interest.
A “Conflict” exists when the financial or other interests of a Council Member, or a member of his/her immediate family, compete or conflict with the interests of the Archdiocese. For example, this includes situations in which an individual’s judgment is or may be influenced by considerations of personal gain or benefit to that individual, or his/her immediate family, or when participation in a decision creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, whether or not such a conflict actually exists.
Prior to or at the commencement of a new term of a Council, each Council Member shall be given a copy of this Conflicts Disclosure Policy and shall sign the applicable Conflicts Disclosure Statement….
As we have noted, Mr. Sideris’ wife, Betsy, is the Elementary School assistant principal (handling a budget of over $3 million!!), and their daughter is a teacher at the same school!
Fr. Andreas made the correct first step and his action injected some much-needed optimism to all those who care for the future of the troubled community. But whatever optimism there was, Fr. Nektarios has tried to suppress it by throwing cold water on any idea that Mr. Sideris be removed, immediately, not only as parish president but as a member. Fr. Nektarios is known for his complete attachment to the “Godfather”, Nikos Andriotis, whose 47-year “mafioso” activities have rendered the parish into a huge pile of problems. Why? Because he is hoping that Andriotis, who is pretending to have more influence inside GOA than he actual has, will help him to reach his goal – to become a Bishop…
Instead of taking the Chancellor’s letter seriously and proceeding to comply with the UPR’s requirements on conflicts of interest, Fr. Nektarios tried to find “escape” routes, using the most ridiculous excuses:
* “Mr. Sideris was president before and there was no problem at all.” This “logic” makes absolutely no sense. He concedes that the idea Mr. Sideris can serve as President is “wrong” but since nothing bad happened in the past, the parish can proceed with the same illegal course. This notion is akin to the fallacy that you cannot be punished for breaking the law if you got away with it in the past.
* Or, the even more ridiculous excuse, “When we established the new parish council in January, we agreed that he will be absent.” Did the parish council elect a figurehead to serve as president or is Mr. Sideris a “lame duck” president who will lead in absentia and allow Andriotis to run the show behind his puppet (Papamichael)?
* Or the unbelievable argument that “He will never sign checks regarding the elementary school where his wife and daughter are involved!” This “solution” insults the Community’s intelligence and makes those who sign checks “tools” to further the improprieties that come with conflicts of interest.
Are you kidding me? The president of the parish council is there to make and execute decisions for the parish. How can he perform his duties when about half of the total budget of the parish is controlled by his wife? Most decisions – and especially the financially important ones – concern the school of the Community. Following this logic, Gary Sideris should be absent or inactive all of the time!! Not surprisingly, this is exactly what he has been doing for the past 2-3 months, since I reported his name next to these magic words: “Conflict of Interest.”
The fact that he is absent is not bothering Fr. Nektarios at all. Why? Because this is what the “godfather” Andriotis wants, who was able (with the help of Fr. Nektarios) to install Andriotis’s employee at Alma Realty and relative, Fotis Papamichael, as the president of the School Board! Andriotis and Papamichael wanted a “straw man” as a parish president and they found him in Mr. Sideris. For example, if Mr. Sideris wanted to make a decision as parish president in conflict with the corrupt agenda of Andriotis, Mr. Sideris would be reminded that his wife’s and daughter’s jobs at the elementary school would be in jeopardy if he went against Andriotis and Papamichael. But, knowing that Mr. Sideris cannot ignore his “self-interest” in keeping his family members employed at the school, he sides with the “mafia” of Alma Realty, who have been exploiting the school and the community for decades! For them the fact that Mr. Sideris has a huge “conflict of interest” ensures that he will be a “good boy” and further Andriotis’s agenda. In their mind there is no “conflict of interest” because he is not making any decisions: The Alma Realty “mafia” is making all the decisions, for their own personal benefit… So where do you see the “conflict of interest”? I could laugh if this was not such a tragedy for all of us!
Notably, in at least the last ten years, the parish council has never distributed the Conflict Disclosure Policy to any of the parish council members. Fr. Nektarios feels that the UPR is beneath him and he can ignore the mandates of the GOA. There has never been a discussion about conflicts of interest at the parish council until last year when I wrote about the topic. But Fr. Nektarios totally ignored the UPR and the by-laws of the parish council are subordinate to the UPR. As I pointed out above, the UPR requires that the conflict must be disclosed “prior to or at the commencement of a new term of a Council and each Council Member be given a copy of this Conflict Disclosure Policy and shall sign the applicable Conflicts Disclosure Statement.” I have been told that Fr. Nektarios stifled any discussion at this year’s election on Mr. Sideris’s conflict of interest. For Fr. Nektarios, the UPR and the requirements of the GOA do not apply to him … he answers to a …shorter authority: Andriotis.
Will Fr. Nektarios finally come to his senses and adhere to the GOA policies concerning “conflicts of interest?” Will he act in the interest of the parish and the faithful or will he bless, ONCE AGAIN, the Andriotis “mafia?” When will he start behaving as a real priest and not as a pawn of the “Godfather”? When will he grow a spine? He is among the wealthiest GOA priests around, owning substantial income-producing real estate. What is he afraid of? Does he really think that by promoting the “mafia” he will ever become a Bishop? Our Church does not need one more spineless Bishop – we have many already! But we certainly need a fighter for the interests of the community – and he is not one!!
Finally, the real conflict of interest in Astoria has to do not only with the Sideris family, but with the Alma Realty “mafia!” (Those who need to refresh their memory please click here) Are they really going to stay in their positions ILLEGALLY, until, one sunny morning, the District Attorney arrives at the community? Do they really think that they will avoid punishment? This is their last warning and it has the imprimatur of the Chancellor… Time to go, gentlemen, if you want to avoid what’s coming… Your game is over…