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Board OKs search for new Boston headquarters

At April meeting, UUA trustees also prepare for Justice GA, change MFC appointment process, and approve all monitoring reports.
By Michelle Bates Deakin
Fall 2012 8.15.12

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UUA headquarters in Boston

The UUA Board of Trustees signaled its support of the sale of the association headquarters at 25 Beacon Street in Boston if a new headquarters site is located. (Christopher L. Walton)

Will 25 Beacon Street in Boston remain the headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association? It’s a question the UUA Board of Trustees contemplated at its April meeting at the Beacon Hill brownstone built by the American Unitarian Association in 1927, which, along with three nearby UUA properties, is increasingly seen as unable to meet the 21st-century needs of the association.

Board members considered a “Strategic Plan for Facilities” prepared by the association’s executive staff. Although the trustees stopped short of creating new board policy to govern the sale of the building or acquisition of new property, they signaled their willingness to consider proposals to sell the properties on Beacon Hill and to consider proposals for new headquarters space.

At its meeting, held April 19-22, the board also voted to create a separate legal entity for the UU Common Endowment Fund (UUCEF) in response to a concern raised by the Audit Committee that the fund should be separated from UUA funds to protect investments in the event of a lawsuit. And it agreed to transfer the responsibility for appointments to ministerial credentialing bodies from the board to the staff.

The board also addressed several questions concerning the upcoming Justice GA and finalized the GA business agenda. Because the “Justice GA” will have a limited amount of business, as required by a 2010 business resolution, the agenda is much smaller than usual. Delegates will be asked to vote on just four items.

The board accepted the FY 2013 budget and the Global Ends monitoring report submitted by the administration. In total, the trustees reviewed and accepted 30 monitoring reports. Trustees and staff also spent time discussing the operational definitions in the reports to try to create a mutual understanding of what trustees are looking for as they review the monitoring reports required by Policy Governance. The Rev. Harlan Limpert, the UUA’s vice president for Ministries and Congregational Support, said that UUA President Peter Morales had asked prior to the board meeting that, “in the interest of collaboration, we devote this time together to discuss operational definitions in the monitoring reports.” Limpert reported, “It was definitely helpful.”

Monitoring reports have been a source of considerable and ongoing tension between board members and Morales and the executive staff. Tensions were high at the prior board meeting in New Orleans, La., in January. Acknowledging his role in the difficult conversations, Morales opened his President’s Report with an apology to the board for not always being his “best self.” In her Moderator’s Report at the close of the meeting, Gini Courter thanked Morales for offering an “olive branch.” She said, “I think it allowed us to move forward with a lot of grace.”

New UUA headquarters?

Morales, Limpert, and UUA Treasurer and CFO Tim Brennan presented a strategic plan for the association’s facilities. Their report acknowledged the tradition associated with 25 Beacon Street. However, it explained that the headquarters building and three other UUA properties—the Pickett and Eliot guesthouses on Mt. Vernon Place and the office building at 41 Mt. Vernon Street—“are not suited to a modern organization.” Each is in need of substantial and extensive renovation, with capital expenditures for maintenance expected to require $9 million to $10 million over the next five to seven years.

The buildings are located in Boston’s expensive Beacon Hill residential neighborhood. “The financial analysis we have done shows that we can probably get far better space and add $10 million or more to our endowment,” the report said. “That would translate into more than $500,000 per year for our programs.”

Limpert and Brennan described ongoing conversations among the staff about what kinds of facilities might better enable them to do their jobs and also be more welcoming to visitors and volunteers. They envision a building that is environmentally friendly and helps staff and volunteers alike work together collaboratively in flexible space. “We’re not talking a Google headquarters,” Limpert said. “We’re talking about the desire to collaborate more to achieve the ends of the association.”

Past board conversations about the association’s headquarters have questioned whether the UUA should remain in Boston. The report acknowledged that Boston is an expensive city. The costs of moving would be substantial, however, including severance to staff who would not move and disruption to operations. Therefore, the administration determined it should focus on relocating in Greater Boston to a facility that is accessible by public transportation and at least 45,000 to 50,000 square feet in size.

The report asked the board to authorize the administration “to begin a focused and aggressive search for alternative property in the Boston metro area” and to “create a process that would enable the board to make a final decision . . . in a short amount of time.”

The board deemed it unnecessary to take an official vote on the matter or to create additional policy. It did however take several straw votes that reflected its agreement that the administration should seek new headquarters space in metro Boston and sell the properties on Beacon Hill.

The straw votes revealed that a majority of trustees believed the plan gave them adequate strategic information to vote on a real estate deal in the future. A vast majority signaled that they are basically supportive of selling the properties on Beacon Hill. Almost all indicated that they support seeking new property in the Boston area.

Board members also agreed that, if presented with a real estate proposal, they would respond as quickly as possible to keep the UUA in a competitive position to bid on new property.

Changes in making appointments

The office of the president will soon have the authority to appoint members of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC), following a motion the board passed. The motion instructs the president to draft bylaw changes necessary to give the president responsibility to make appointments to the MFC that are currently made by the board. (A related motion asks the president to recommend, for approval by the board, a slate of candidates for the MFC and its subcommittees until new bylaws have been adopted.)

The Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, trustee from the Ohio Meadville District, presented a report from the Credentialing Task Force, which recommended the bylaw changes. “We believe that transferring responsibility for appointments to ministerial credentialing bodies from board to staff not only does not impair the ability of the association to protect its interests, but that indeed, it represents a better way to serve them,” the report said. The move also reduces the large number of appointments the board needs to make, a task that could grow even more burdensome when the size of the board is reduced by nearly half in 2013.

Trustees also voted to create a new Appointments Committee of volunteers who are not on the board to recruit, vet, and recommend appointments to board committees that are currently handled by the board’s Committee on Committees. That is also expected to ease the burden on the smaller board. The Appointments Committee will have seven members plus a trustee liaison, and will recruit and recommend candidates for board-appointed committees, including: the Open UUA Committee, Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee, Election Campaign Practices Committee, Investment Committee, Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, Audit Committee, Retirement Plan Committee, Employee Benefits Trust, General Assembly Planning Committee, Commission on Social Witness, and Presidential Search Committee. People interested in a position on the committee can apply online.

The board also passed a motion asking the Committee on Committees to recommend to the larger board by Sept. 30 at least four trustees to serve two-year terms beginning in 2013.

General Assemblies

The board decided to present a Distinguished Service Award at the 2012 General Assembly, after wondering about the appropriateness of giving the award at the “Justice GA” in Phoenix. The award will be presented posthumously to the Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, a parish minister who also worked for the UUA and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. She was married to a current trustee-at-large, the Rev. Clyde Grubbs.

Attendance at the Phoenix GA is on track to be about 3,600 people, according to Jan Sneegas, the UUA’s director of General Assembly and conference services. That is approximately the same number of people who attended the 2009 GA in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Delegates to the 2012 GA will have four items to vote on. (The Tentative Agenda is online; the Final Agenda will be publicized at UUA.org/ga/.) Resolutions on the Final Agenda will include:

  1. A second-year vote on a bylaw change that would amend the process for changing the UUA’s “Principles and Purposes” (Article II).
  2. A second-year vote on a bylaw change that would replace the words “church” and “fellowship” in the bylaws with the more inclusive term “congregation.” The bylaw change would also eliminate the word “local” from the definition of a congregation, potentially opening the door to membership in the UUA for organizations that are not conventional local congregations.
  3. A responsive resolution repudiating the “Doctrine of Discovery.” UUA partner organizations in Arizona have requested that UUA delegates have an opportunity to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, the principle that European Christian explorers who “discovered” other lands had the authority to claim those lands and subdue, even enslave, peoples of those lands simply because they were not Christian.
  4. A policy that would entitle candidates for moderator or president of the association to be reimbursed for reasonable travel expenses for attending General Assemblies held one year prior to the election, in the year of the election, and to attend meetings of the board between the two GAs. Candidates would also be provided with a booth in the GA exhibit hall.

The trustees passed a motion regarding offsite GA delegates that will allow alternate delegates to attend if the primary delegate is unable to. The motion also requires that structures be created to ensure that the combination of onsite and offsite delegates from any one delegation does not exceed the number of delegates a single congregation should have.

The board also voted on locations for upcoming General Assemblies. It approved the recommendation of the GAPC to hold the 2016 GA in Columbus, Ohio, and the 2018 GA in Kansas City, Mo. (The General Assembly office is reportedly in negotiations with the convention bureaus in New Orleans, La., and Austin, Tex., for 2017.)

Some trustees were hesitant to approve the 2018 site, as there have been discussions about presenting delegates with a bylaw change to hold General Assemblies every other year, rather than every year. The soonest delegates could vote on such a proposal would be 2013, and it would require votes for two consecutive years. UUA Treasurer and CFO Tim Brennan consulted with Sneegas, who said that if delegates voted to move to a biennial GA, deposits for the 2018 meeting could be reallocated for a later year in Kansas City.

Connecting in Boston

At the start and end of its meeting, trustees reached out into the wider UU community in Boston. On the morning of Thursday, April 19, the majority of the board visited the UU Urban Ministry, an education, service, and advocacy group based in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.

Trustees met with the directors of the Urban Ministry and Renewal House, a domestic violence shelter run by the Urban Ministry. They also observed a school vacation camp for urban youth, with counselors from several local congregations. “It was an opportunity for board members to connect with something in our tradition that’s going on in the local community that they may not know about,” said the Rev. Catherine Cullen, trustee from the Ballou Channing District.

On Sunday, trustees paused from their meeting to attend worship at one of three Boston congregations: King’s Chapel, Arlington Street Church, and First Church.

During its January meeting, the trustees had volunteered in the New Orleans community and worshiped with area UUs. During the Boston meeting, the trustees reflected on their time in New Orleans and the UUA’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

At both meetings, Cullen appreciated the time to connect with local congregations. “It’s true linkage when you get your body out there,” she said. “I hope it’s a model for what we can do at every meeting.”


An abridged version of this article appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of UU World (“Board OKs search for new Boston HQ,” page 42). See sidebar for links to related resources.

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