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Board may nominate only one moderator candidate

Also agrees not to release names of applicants for moderator position.
By Michelle Bates Deakin
1.2.12

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Qualifying a decision it made in October 2011 to nominate at least two candidates for moderator, the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees voted in December to adopt a policy that could allow it to nominate only one person for the position.

Following lengthy debate during its monthly conference call on Dec. 15, the board narrowly agreed that if members of the board vote overwhelmingly for one person for moderator, then the board will nominate only that person.

The term of current Moderator Gini Courter will end in June 2013, when the General Assembly will elect a new moderator. The moderator, the UUA’s highest volunteer position, presides at General Assemblies and at meetings of the Board of Trustees; the role is defined in the UUA bylaws as “chief governance officer.” The Moderator Nominating Committee (MNC), which had solicited applications for the position, received seven applications for the role by its Oct. 15 deadline.

The Moderator Nominating Committee reviewed and ranked the applicants, putting them into three categories: not ready, qualified but not recommended, and qualified and recommended. At the board’s request, the MNC forwarded to the board just the names of the three people the committee considered qualified and recommended.

At its January 2012 meeting, the board will vote on which applicants for moderator it will select to appear on the ballot at the 2013 GA.

Board members agreed that, to decide among the three recommended applicants at the January meeting, trustees will vote by secret ballot in executive session. Each trustee will rank applicants as their first, second, or third choice. At the conclusion of the voting, the top two candidates will be the nominees. However, if one candidate receives more than 75 percent of the first-choice votes, that candidate will be the board’s sole nominee.

Individuals can petition to have their names placed in nomination for moderator between March 1, 2012, and February 1, 2013.

The 2013 election will be the first after significant election reforms were approved by the 2010 General Assembly. The moderator elected in 2013 will be eligible for a single six-year term, whereas Courter will have served two four-year terms and part of her predecessor’s term. The bylaw changes approved in 2010 state that “the Board of Trustees shall submit one or more nominations for the office of Moderator.” (UUA President Peter Morales is eligible to run for a second four-year term in 2013, but future presidents will also serve single six-year terms. A separate Presidential Nominating Committee was set up in 2010, and is authorized to submit “no fewer than two nominations” for president.)

Although the board voted in October to put forth two candidates to ensure there was a contested election for moderator in 2013, many trustees expressed a belief that they shouldn’t be required to nominate two candidates. “Part of what swayed me for only putting forth one candidate was the weirdness that we might put forth a second candidate because we had to,” said Nancy Bartlett, trustee from the Mid-South District. “Our congregations look to us for leadership and guidance, and I believe that if the board feels that one candidate is that much more qualified, we shouldn’t be afraid to make that statement.”

As she had in the October meeting, the Rev. Sarah Stewart, trustee from the Northern New England District and minister of the Starr King UU Fellowship in Plymouth, N.H., expressed a strong preference that the board nominate two candidates. Stewart also expressed concern that the voting process could result in one nominee with 75 percent of the votes even if members didn’t hold a strong preference for one candidate.

UUA Financial Advisor Dan Brody noted that board members could discuss the process before they voted. “If, in fact, there are two candidates with considerable support of the board, it’s inconceivable that only one would end up with 75 percent of the vote,” he said. “There’s nothing to say we couldn’t do a little backroom dealing to make sure both candidates get through. I’d hate to put the board in a straitjacket that they have to nominate two candidates.”

Linda Laskowski, trustee from the Pacific Central District, said that although she had originally favored the “75 percent” rule, she changed her mind, “because the moderator position is a really public position,” and she believed that the public vetting process that occurs in a contested election was an important part of the process. “There’s wisdom in the public arena,” she said.

Joan Lund, Florida District trustee, also preferred that the board nominate two candidates. She noted that the MNC had done a great deal of work. “We owe it to our congregations and to the GA to put forth two people,” she said. “It would not look good to have one person after this entire process. It’s like saying we don’t have the respect for the moderator task force that we should.”

The board also deliberated over whether to make public the names of the applicants for the moderator position if they were not the final nominee or nominees. Board members weighed the privacy of candidates against the transparency of the board process.

The board voted not to reveal the names of the recommended candidates who were not nominated by the board.

President Morales expressed concern that the process was not open enough. “There is a danger that it looks like some insider decision around which there is no accountability, even though the process may have been very thoughtful,” he said after the meeting. “I’ve long been of the feeling that to keep something confidential you need compelling reasons, because openness is the best policy.”

The board will vote on the recommended candidates at its January meeting, to be held Jan. 21-22 in New Orleans, La.

In other business, the board approved a budget overrun to cover additional costs associated with holding the January meeting away from the UUA’s Boston headquarters.

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