In the wake of the Rev. Sue Phillips’s withdrawal as a candidate for president of the Unitarian Universalist Association just one month after her nomination by the Presidential Search Committee, UUA Moderator Jim Key announced that a second candidate will enter the race by petition.
In a separate announcement, the search committee said it will introduce the candidate on Sunday, March 6. The candidate will need approval from at least twenty-five congregational boards or congregational meetings to be a certified candidate. In his statement, Key urged congregations “to support the democratic process by supporting the petition of this candidate to ensure that we have a contested election for president.”
Shortly after Phillips’s unexpected decision to withdraw, UUA Secretary Rob Eller-Isaacs, who oversees elections, asked the UUA Presidential Search Committee to nominate a new candidate from among those it had interviewed. Key told UU World that he and Eller-Isaacs felt that it was essential to the UUA’s democratic process that another candidate enter the race as soon as possible.
However, UUA counsel Tom Bean subsequently informed Key and Eller-Isaacs that UUA Bylaw 9.5(a) sets a deadline of February 1 for the search committee to nominate any candidates for president.
Key and Eller-Isaacs then asked the committee to inquire if the new candidate they had identified would be willing to run by petition. (UUA bylaws allow candidates—including anyone not chosen by the search committee—to enter the presidential race by petition through February 1, 2017.) Key said the candidate vetted by the search committee had agreed to run by petition rather than as a committee nominee.
The search committee nominated two candidates for the UUA presidency on January 17: Phillips and the Rev. Alison Miller, minister of the Unitarian Fellowship in Morristown, New Jersey. On February 18, Phillips withdrew, citing irreconcilable conflicts between running for president and her role as regional lead for the UUA’s field staff in New England. Delegates to the UUA’s 2017 General Assembly in New Orleans will elect a new UUA president to a six-year term to succeed the Rev. Peter Morales.
On February 21, Miller’s campaign announced a “short break from public communications out of respect for, and to maintain the integrity of, the presidential search process.”
Key said he asked the UUA’s Elections Campaign Practices Committee to facilitate the petition process for the new candidate. “We are trying to minimize the disadvantage to the second candidate who has the hurdle of running by petition,” Key told UU World. In his public statement he said the Election Campaign Practices Committee would also assist any other would-be candidates in filing by petition.
His statement also notes that a congregation’s support of a candidate’s petition to run does not preclude the congregation from also supporting the petition of anyone else who chooses to run.
Key emphasized that the UUA Board of Trustees had not met or voted on this matter, and will discuss it for the first time at its regular monthly meeting, scheduled for February 25 at 8:00 p.m. EST. Bean will participate in the meeting to answer questions about the bylaw requirements.