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Bylaw changes would shrink UUA Board

Board of Trustees will present proposal for 13-member board at 2011 General Assembly.
By Christopher L. Walton
3.14.11

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The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Board of Trustees will ask delegates to the 2011 General Assembly to approve changes that would reduce the size of the board dramatically starting in 2013.

At its February 24 monthly teleconference, the board voted to proceed with a proposal that would transform the Board of Trustees and the Nominating Committee, which selects candidates for the board and other UUA committees. The proposal would shrink the 25-member* board to a 13-member board and would end the election of a UUA trustee by each of the UUA’s 19 districts.

The board will endorse a final draft of the proposed bylaw changes at its April meeting and place those changes on the General Assembly’s Final Agenda. A 15-page tentative agenda, which includes other unrelated bylaw changes and a draft Statement of Conscience on “ethical eating,” was mailed to congregations February 25.

The board first announced its intention to reduce its own size as part of broad-reaching governance reforms in January 2010. One month later, the board vowed to bring bylaw changes to the 2011 General Assembly “to significantly reduce the size of the board,” arguing that “with 24 members, the board resembles a small town meeting more than a functioning board. Additionally, the expense of such a board is unacceptable.”

If the General Assembly approves the bylaw changes, then the terms of current trustees and trustees elected later this year would end in 2013. (The General Assembly will elect a trustee-at-large and a youth trustee in 2011, and several districts are also electing trustees this year.) The board would select four current trustees to serve two-year terms on the new board. The Nominating Committee would nominate four people to serve one-year terms and four people to serve three-year terms. After that, four trustees would be elected by the General Assembly each year. Trustees will be eligible to serve two three-year terms.

The board would consist of eleven trustees, the financial advisor, and the moderator. Changes to the election of UUA moderator were approved by the 2010 General Assembly.

The proposal eliminates a distinction between at-large trustees (who are elected by the General Assembly) and district trustees (who are elected by district assemblies). It also does away with a designated at-large youth trustee. Instead, according to a vision statement prepared by the board’s Task Force on Board Restructuring and Representation, the Nominating Committee will identify “leaders from unexpected places and previously unrepresented/under-represented groups, recognizing that organizations are not transformed until their leaders are transformed.” The Nominating Committee “will be a centripetal force, drawing energy and talent from the margins of the Association into the Center,” the vision statement says.

The task force’s proposal would also change the Nominating Committee. The nine-member committee, which is elected by the General Assembly, nominates candidates for at-large positions and elected committees. Under the new proposal, the UUA president and the Board of Trustees would be authorized to name candidates for spots on the Nominating Committee. The task force initially proposed that the president and board would directly appoint new members of the Nominating Committee, but trustees at the January 2011 board meeting raised concerns about “self-replicating leadership.” An alternate proposal, introduced at the February teleconference, would bring nominations from the president, board, and Nominating Committee to the General Assembly for a vote.

The Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, trustee from the Ohio-Meadville District and chair of the task force, said that the board will decide at its April meeting which approach to include in the final proposal.


In other business at its February teleconference, the board discussed the role of the General Assembly Accountability Group, which it set up to monitor the Association’s compliance with several General Assembly resolutions designating the 2012 GA a “Justice General Assembly.” Linda Laskowski, trustee from the Pacific Central District, summarized concerns about what accountability means: “Some people think holding us accountable means having veto power. . . . Who has the final decision,” she asked, if the GA Planning Committee and the Accountability Group, for example, disagree about what should happen?

The Rev. Clyde Grubbs, a member of the Accountability Group, responded, “Our understanding is that certain promises were made, but the decision-making bodies are the administration, the board, and the Planning Committee. We would audit those decisions and give feedback. It’s a feedback role, not a decision-making role.”

Paul Rickter, trustee from the Massachusetts Bay District and chair of the Finance Committee, proposed a $552,669 budget for board and volunteer leaders for fiscal year 2012, which funds the elected and appointed committees of the Association. The finance committee proposed adding $37,700 to the board and volunteer leaders budget, which would include $30,000 for the GA Accountability Group and additional funding for the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, the Religious Education Credentialing Committee, and the Nominating Committee. The proposal recommends a $10,000 cut to the budget of the Commission on Appraisal, however, which challenged proposed cuts to its budget last year. Rickter explained that the full Commission on Appraisal will not need to attend the 2012 “Justice General Assembly,” since it “won’t be a business-as-usual GA.”

The board selected New Orleans as the site of its January 2012 meeting and approved a policy that will limit the expense of board meetings held outside of Boston to no more than $10,000 over the cost of meeting in Boston. The board has held its January meetings in cities other than Boston for the past two years.


Correction 4.5.11: As originally published, this article misstated the number of voting members on the Board of Trustees. There are currently 25: one from each of the UUA’s 19 districts, three at-large trustees and one at-large youth trustee elected by the General Assembly, one moderator, and one financial advisor. (The president also sits on the board, without a vote.) Click here to return to the corrected paragraph.

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