John Livingston

The Corporate Soul

Over twenty years ago I served on a committee appointed by the Catholic Bishop of Idaho and Chaired by Sister Patricia Mulvaney whose purpose was to “decentralize the corporate soul” of the Bishop of Idaho, replacing the property rights—and legal liability from the Bishop to the local Parishes and in one case Bishop Kelly High School.

“The idea of “corporate soul” has ecclesiastical origins. The concept of corporation sole originated as a means for orderly transfer of ecclesiastical property, serving to keep the title within the denomination or religious society. In order to keep the religious property from being treated as the estate of the vicar of the church, the property was titled to the office of the corporation sole. In the case of the Catholic Church, ecclesiastical property is usually titled to the diocesan bishop, who serves in the office of the corporation sole. The LDS Church operates under a similar governance structure, but for a different reason.”

The concept of corporate soul recognizes that property is held “in trust” and that individuals, corporations, and even governments hold real property not for themselves but for present and future generations. They have a responsibility of “stewardship”. As assets and real property are leveraged in derivational transactions the stewardship responsibility becomes diluted. This is precisely what was about to happen with The River Club Special Area Permit (SAP) application in Garden City.

I was reminded of the idea of CORPORATE SOUL while listening to a presentation before the Garden City Council. The presenter who was representing a multinational developer was making the point that our Plantation Neighborhood wasn’t special or “unique”. The houses were mostly over 30 years old, and the value added to the houses was because of the golf course that was contiguous to at least 35 of the homes that would be immediately impacted by the 750 single-family homes on 22.5 acres of golf course property.

This agent of the developer looked at the property he was going to develop not through the eyes of “stewardship”, but solely as an asset to be leveraged. He did not recognize the concept of “human capital”, or the value added by neighbors to property they have developed and taken care of for in some cases over forty years. The Enlightenment concepts of private property rights grounded in Natural Law Principles was written about by Adam Smith in terms of stewardship responsibility. Feudalistic transfers of property within aristocratic families led to the decay of property. Property held in common also led to decay. The Economic and philosophic TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS speaks to the tragedy that occurs when responsibility and stewardship are no longer part of the equation. 

“The tragedy of the commons is a metaphoric label for a concept that is widely discussed in economics, ecology, and other sciences. According to the concept, if numerous independent individuals should enjoy unfettered access to a finite, valuable resource e.g., a pasture, they will tend to over-use it, and may end up destroying its value altogether. To exercise voluntary restraint is not a rational choice for any one individual – if he did, the others would merely supplant him – yet the predictable result is a tragedy for all.”

Then City Councilwoman Teresa Jorgenson spoke: She simply stated that the value of the neighborhood wasn’t derived from its proximity to the golf course, but rather the unique value of the neighborhood came from the neighbors themselves. It came from the way they have for many years supported each other, helped each other in hard times, celebrated achievements and the births of children and grandchildren; how they held outside on the street cocktail hours during Covid. Ms. Jorgenson recognized the value that individual people bring to a community. Human Capital is difficult to value, but it is the most important asset that any community or organization must develop, hold in trust, or leverage. Leaders who fail to recognize that simple fact will over time always fail.

The Ecclesiastical concept of “Corporate Soul” recognizes that property does not rest with the person holding the office of Bishop, but with “The Body of Christ” —WE THE PEOPLE. Our leaders in business, academia, the church, our military and in government many times act as though the people exist to serve them, and not the reverse.

How refreshing to watch a City Council member recognize that she works for the people, and to recognize the value that people as opposed to “things” adds to a community. That is precisely what the concept of corporate soul and corporate trust means.

Thank you, Teresa Jorgenson, for reaffirming what government service should look like. As you move forward in your political career you will have my support. The concept of CORPORATE SOUL exists within every organization—from the family to the highest levels of government. Those who chose to exploit “things” and not respect people are on a mission of “folly”. As the great man said, “Folly that succeeds is folly none the less” and in the end will always fail.

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