Menlo Park: Elder Tells All – 2

Jason Cobb was one of the four elders serving in the Menlo Park (California) Kingdom Hall dismissed from their “theocratic assignments” effective July 1, 2010. For reasons of his own, Jason chose not to take part as a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed the following August by his father, Jonathan Cobb Sr., and fellow elder Walter Arlen St. Clair. (See San Francisco Federal District Court, case 3:10-cv-03907-MEJ).

Wanting to stay an active Jehovah’s Witness in good standing, Jason tried to keep a low profile as he continued to attend meetings and field service. But he also worked on the sidelines in support of his father and Arlen St. Clair as they fought to restore their reputations within the congregation.

In spite of his efforts, he soon found himself drawn into the battle. It was obvious that there was far more going on behind the scenes during the takeover of his Kingdom Hall. This was turning out to be more complicated than just a simple merger with the Redwood City congregation. Even though he was still confused about the real reasons for his dismissal as Coordinator of the Board of Elders (CoBOE), he knew that something was just not right about how the takeover was being handled.

As an elder, he’d served the congregation as an officer of the non-profit corporation holding the title to Kingdom Hall and the land it sat on. As a corporate officer, he and other elders were responsible for the maintenance of the building and protecting the monetary assets of the congregation. At regular intervals, he and the other officers would report to the members of the congregation on the status of bank accounts, the overall condition of the Kingdom Hall, and other corporate business.

Within weeks after his father and St. Clair filed the federal lawsuit, Jason Cobb had to begin a fight to save his own reputation. This forced him to file police reports and a parallel lawsuit in the California state courts.

That’s a little background to get you started. But I’m going to let Jason Cobb tell his side of the story in his own way. You get to read the transcripts of both of his depositions as a witness in the federal court case. I urge you to get comfortable, enlarge the documents on your computer screen (for most web browsers use “Ctrl +”), and settle in for a fascinating read. I’ll try to make it easier for you by putting the documents and exhibits in sequence when possible as the story progresses.

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Real Estate Magnates

The Watchtower Society is on the move! Long a fixture in Brooklyn, New York, the Watchtower is slowly and methodically selling off its vast property holdings and moving all of its operations north to Patterson and Wallkill.

Thanks to their mostly tax-free status as a “non-profit religious organization,” the officers of the Watchtower’s various corporations can sell properties they bought at fire-sale prices and then sell them off for huge profits – and keep the bulk of the money with minimal or no tax consequences.

The Watchtower Society sells its Brooklyn properties…
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJTqyMKNvyA&feature=related

It’s good to be a religion. We should all call ourselves “a religion.” The advantages are far too many to list here, but the evidence is clear that the Watchtower Society has educated itself on how to manipulate its assets for the greatest gain.

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Another View of a Kingdom Hall Takeover

By “MadSweeney”

[Edited transcript of a podcast first aired on June 11, 2011.]

Some time from late 2008 and throughout 2009, the circuit overseer that manages the Menlo Park and Redwood South congregations in California, named Koehler, began pushing the Menlo Park body of elders in several ways. One thing he wanted was for them to accept a renovation plan for their Kingdom Hall. But they, because they owned their Kingdom Hall outright, wanted to simply maintain their Hall “as is.”

Another thing he wanted was to merge the Redwood South congregation with Menlo Park. It isn’t clear when this came up, but it seems logical that with his cousin as an elder in Redwood South, bringing him and his friends over into the Menlo Park congregation could sway the vote enough to get the remodeling project he wanted passed.

Another move he made is less clear, but their reaction to it shows the kindness and pure motives of the Menlo Park body of elders. Circuit Overseer Koehler attempted to pressure a sister from Menlo Park to change congregations and attend a Kingdom Hall in Santa Rosa, California – apparently just because her job was nearer to that Hall. When she tried to refuse and exercise her constitutional right to worship where she pleased, the Menlo Park body of elders supported her.

I have been told that around this same time, the Menlo Park body of elders wrote a letter to the Watchtower Branch office outlining the oppressive and abusive manner Circuit Overseer Koehler had been conducting himself. As anyone who has ever been a Jehovah’s Witness knows, the chain of command is sacrosanct in the organization. I once criticized my local elders and was told that by doing that I was challenging the authority of Jesus Christ himself. And we don’t have to imagine the response of the Watchtower Society to this local body of elders criticizing one of their middle managers. The court documents lay it out for us loud and clear.

In February of 2010, the District Overseer was sent along with the Circuit Overseer to Menlo Park. They met with the body of elders there and after that meeting, they recommended the removal of the entire body.

A few months later, the elders in Menlo Park received a letter dated May 24, 2010 from the “Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses” telling them about the “report” they received on March 9 from the CO and DO meeting recommending their removal as elders. The letter states in part:

“As you are aware, the circuit overseer and the district overseer have recommended your deletion as elders. After careful and prayerful consideration of this matter, we agree with those who have taken the difficult position that you are not qualified to serve as elders. Your deletion as elders will be effective July 1, 2010.

“Obviously, your deletion as elders will be a disappointment to you. However, there is still much you can do to be an encouragement to the congregation. Your whole-souled service to Jehovah is not dependent on an appointment in the congregation. The greatest privilege any human can have is sharing in the sanctification of Jehovah’s name and declaring the good news of God’s Kingdom. Therefore, do not let this turn of events overly discourage you or stumble you. We can learn a lesson from the steward of King Hezekiah named Shebnah. Though dismissed from serving as a steward, Shebnah was allowed to continue in the king’s service as a secretary to his replacement. Thus, even though we are removed from a position of responsibility in Jehovah’s organization for some reason, should we not continue to serve God in whatever capacity he permits?”

This stuff is truly offensive and it is amazing to me that these four brothers took it like men and have remained a part of the cult after experiencing such treatment. “Should we not continue to serve God in whatever capacity HE permits?” the letter asks. As if the decision to remove these men was made by God himself. Talk about hubris and putting on airs for themselves. What is worse, nobody ever signs these letters and this one is no exception. It is signed with a stamp that just says “Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” There is a code that indicates to those internal to the organization who in the Branch office wrote, stamped, and sent it out, but those receiving it are only told it comes from GOD through his organization.

Those guys had to know this was total baloney.

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Takeover: What really happened at Menlo Park?

On May 23, 2011 former elders of a California congregation filed two documents in Federal Court in San Francisco as part of their lawsuit against certain representatives of the Watchtower Society. The plaintiffs were elders of the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall prior to July 2010.

Because their court documents have been released and are in the public domain, we can present them here for your inspection and enlightenment.

Understand, of course, that the editor of Ex-JW.com can not guarantee that everything alleged in these two documents is factual and verifiable. Some statements seem to be sprinkled with a fair amount of conjecture and hearsay. Several items will likely be subject to court review and may face challenges to their veracity. Other statements might be deemed inadmissible by the court, stricken from the records, or not allowed as part of any testimony.

On the other hand, the plaintiffs surely understand that it’s considered extremely bad form to submit anything to any court, and especially to a federal level court, that is blatantly untrue and unsupportable. To do so might result in censure or possibly treated as committing perjury by the court. While you can present your side of a case and give evidence to support your position, you must never lie to the judge or a jury. Providing false evidence rarely wins a court case, but it will always piss off a judge.

Based on that understanding, we provide these documents exactly as they were filed with the court. We hope those who are following this case will gain a broader understanding of the issues that must be identified and resolved – as well as a closer look at who the real players are in this drama.

While the documents attached to this article were prepared by the plaintiffs and presents their side of the case, you can also refer to our earlier article “Fear and Loathing in Menlo Park” and read documents that were filed with the court by the defendants and their attorney.

We recommend that you read all the documents and closely review the exhibits. There are certain pages that you should not overlook. You’ll discover that there are factors in this case that go far beyond the communities of Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and Redwood City, California. Issues brought up in these documents affect nearly every Kingdom Hall in the United States and Canada – and perhaps even worldwide.

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Menlo Park Kingdom Hall – Updates

Since the previous article about the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall court case was published two weeks ago, I’ve received some updates and a few corrections.

Corrections

The city limits of East Palo Alto, CA: One writer pointed out that the city limits of East Palo Alto do extend a few blocks west of the Bayshore Freeway (US 101). In the article I wrote, “Its [Menlo Park’s] eastern edge, the Bayshore Freeway (US 101), separates it from the community of East Palo Alto.”

While I was making the point that the freeway separates the “cultures” and the “economic status” of the two cities, I should have made it clearer where the real city limits are. Those sections of East Palo Alto that do fall on the west side of the freeway are more akin to the cities of Menlo Park and Palo Alto. That does not change the fact that the freeway clearly acts as a wall between the two communities in more ways than simple geography. That’s why I added the line, “The Bayshore Freeway and Santa Clara County Airport act as effective barriers, separating a wealthier Palo Alto from its much poorer neighboring city.”

The Kingdom Halls of Redwood City: Redwood City lies directly north and west of Menlo Park. It now has two Kingdom Halls. One is in the northwest section of the city (631 Iris Street) that is the home to two congregations, “North Redwood City” and “South San Mateo.” Both have predominately white, English-speaking members.

Redwood City's Iris Street Kingdom Hall

The Circuit Overseer involved in this court case, Paul Koehler, lives in a home next to this Kingdom Hall. Donations from the congregations he serves probably cover most of his expenses while he lives in that home.

The second Kingdom Hall is known as “South Redwood City.” I wrote: “[South] is now the home for two or three Spanish-speaking congregations.” I’ve been told that it actually services four Spanish-speaking congregations. It’s at 681 2nd Avenue.

Threats to a former Menlo Park elder: I wrote: “Jon Cobb Sr., one of the plaintiffs, allegedly received threats against himself and his family. It’s been reported that he has moved his family several hundred miles away…” Actually, the elder receiving those reported threats was Jason Cobb, the son of Jon Cobb Sr. and the CEO of the existing Menlo Park corporation.

It was also reported to me that Jason Cobb has refused to give up original copies of the corporation papers. He has allegedly received threats via email and possibly other means that have implied that he and his family are at risk.

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Fear and Loathing in Menlo Park

Editor’s Note: Although I have been able to accumulate a great deal of information from various sources, and have managed to make contact with several individuals familiar with the details and status of this case, I want to make it absolutely clear that I have had no personal contact with the plaintiffs or their legal assistant, either directly or indirectly. That’s not to say I haven’t tried – I have – but they have refused to communicate with me in any way. They’ve made it clear, because of the fact that I was a Jehovah’s Witness at one time and left of my own free will, that they must consider me an “apostate” and avoid any contact with me. I do not take this personally and I understand why they must take that stand.

All other contacts have either been unbaptized persons who are familiar with the situation and those involved in it, or former members of the congregations involved who have also left the religion.

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Menlo Park Kingdom Hall

Menlo Park is a small California city in San Mateo County, located between San Francisco on the north and San Jose on the south.  Its eastern edge, the Bayshore Freeway (US 101), separates it from the community of East Palo Alto.

It’s a nice little town of about 35,000 people with a population that is predominantly white (62%) and Hispanic (23%). For most of its existence, the city has been made up of middle and upper middle class families. The average income per family has been reported to be around $125,000 (USD), and the city enjoys a relatively low crime rate. Child movie star Shirley Temple Black, author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and singers Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac) and Joan Baez have all lived in Menlo Park. Perhaps its most famous resident has been Sergey Brin, founder of Google.

On the other side of the Bayshore Freeway from Menlo Park, snugged up against the western edge of San Francisco Bay, lies the City of East Palo Alto. No two cities could be so close to each other (literally a few hundred meters), and yet be so completely different.

. . .When it was announced that the Menlo Park Elders were being removed (all of them) there were audible gasps in the audience. Of course, the assumption is that they did something wrong, and it’s very hard to get the story out. One of the sisters is elderly and in a wheel chair. The announcement nearly gave her a heart attack and she is now in bad health. – Anonymous caller

East Palo Alto IS NOT part of Palo Alto, the home of world renowned Stanford University. Actually East Palo Alto is not “east” of Palo Alto, it is “north” of Palo Alto. It is “east” of Menlo Park. The Bayshore Freeway and Santa Clara County Airport act as effective barriers, separating a wealthier Palo Alto from its much poorer neighboring city. Palo Alto is also part of Santa Clara County, while East Palo Alto is part of San Mateo County along with Menlo Park.

Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and US 101 (click on photo for full-sized version) - Google Maps

Unlike Menlo Park or Palo Alto, East Palo Alto has for much of its existence found itself at the lower end of the economic scale. Prior to World War 2, much of the land was made up of family farms owned by Japanese-Americans.  During the war, most Japanese families were sent to internment camps and lost everything, including their homes and land. After the war, the city was populated by African-Americans, brought to the area during the war to work in the ship building and defense industries. By the 1960s, the city was so predominately African-American, that there was actually a movement that urged its name be changed to “Nairobi.”

Due to its high minority population and extremely low economic base, crime became a major problem for the community.  In 1992, it had the highest homicide rate in the USA on a per capita basis. It has been so economically disadvantaged that for several years there wasn’t a single major supermarket within the city limits.

. . .The elders don’t feel comfortable going [to the Kingdom Hall] as a lot of the people named in the law suit as defendants attend the meetings. This whole thing has alienated the [previous] elders from their life long religion. – Anonymous non-JW contact

Like its neighbor to the west, East Palo Alto has a population of about 35,000. African-Americans have in recent years become a minority again at about 20%. The vast majority are Hispanics, but there is also a small but significant population of Pacific Islanders, including Samoans and Fijians. Whites make up less than 4% of the city’s population. The city has not prospered as its neighbors to the west and south have, and the recent economic downturn has only complicated its existence.

The Menlo Park Kingdom Hall

For nearly fifty years, a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses has existed at 811 Bay Drive, Menlo Park. The Kingdom Hall building is just a few dozen meters from a busy southbound off-ramp of the Bayshore Freeway, separated from the highway by chain-link fencing and a stand of trees. East Palo Alto is directly across the highway.

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