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New board takes up antiracism, relationship building

New moderator, financial advisor, and five new members join smaller board.
By Michelle Bates Deakin
7.1.13

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A smaller Board of Trustees met for the first time after the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Louisville, Ky., with a new moderator, a new financial advisor, and five new members.

Six trustees returned from the old board. Along with UUA President Peter Morales, an ex officio member, they total 14—a reduction by nearly half from the previous board, which had 26 members, including one elected by each of the association’s 19 districts. Now all members are “at-large” trustees elected by the General Assembly.

“Well, here we are, new board,” said Moderator Jim Key, who narrowly defeated Tamara Payne-Alex by 40 votes in the only contested race this year.

Their first meeting, Monday, June 24, lasted less than two hours. Discussion centered on a responsive resolution passed the day before by GA delegates calling on the UUA to deepen its work on antioppression, antiracism, and multiculturalism.

Trustees also discussed how and when to hire a consultant to work with the board and the administration on connecting the administration’s strategy with the budget and the association’s Ends.

Anti-oppression resolution

Trustees considered what the responsive resolution passed by delegates directed the board to do.

The resolution states, in part:

We also call on the Board to ensure that [the] Board of Trustees and staff-appointed, board-appointed, and elected committees of the Association are empowered and encouraged to identify existing, and new, practices and structures that lead to greater diversity among participants in the work of those committees and that lead to a greater sense of inclusion among participants and provide for youth and young adult-led efforts.

The Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, co-minister of Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul, Minn., who was elected to a one-year term on the board, said it was his strong sense that reticence for antiracism work was not on the part of the administration “as much as it’s on the part of the congregations.”

“We still need to do everything we can to bring the voice of marginalized individuals who have found their way into our faith into the conversation,” Eller-Isaacs said. “The resolution ought to inspire a congregational process around the work rather than assuming there is something that the administration can do that it hasn’t been doing.”

The Rev. Clyde Grubbs of Boston, a returning trustee elected to a one-year term, observed that there is no longer staff support for groups such as DRUUMM (Diverse & Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries). “Because of low resourcing, these organizations are struggling to survive,” he said.

The most concrete recommendation, said the Rev. Sarah Stewart, was one that calls on the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee to assess the financial and staff resources currently devoted to this work.

The conversation will continue at the board’s September retreat. And the board is scheduled to monitor the implementation of the resolution in March. Eller-Isaacs said he found it refreshing that the first conversation of the new board was about antiracism and antioppression.

New positions

Some new board members expressed reservations that systems, schedules, and appointments had been put in place for the new board before new members took their seats.

Donna Harrison of San Antonio, Tex., is the first vice moderator. Stewart, minister of Starr King Unitarian Fellowship in Plymouth, N.H., is the finance chair. The Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, minister of North UU Congregation in Lewis Center, Ohio, is the secretary. All three were appointed to two-year positions.

Ed Merck of Providence, R.I., the newly elected financial advisor who will serve a three-year term, said he was concerned that “we have an agenda for the whole year around Policy Governance, we have a structure in place, and this is a brand new board, and we haven’t talked about what we want to be together. It seems to me we’ve got the cart in front of the horse.”

Returning trustee Lew Phinney of Anacortes, Wash., explained that the outgoing board determined there were some key positions that needed to be filled for continuity. But, he said, “Everything is open and if we want to change that structure, we can.”

Consultant conversation

UUA President Peter Morales, who was elected to a second four-year term, said he had concerns that plans were moving ahead too quickly to hire a consultant to work with the administration to produce a budget that demonstrates its connection to the “Ends,” or goals, of the association adopted by the board. Tension has hovered over budget talks for years, with trustees asking the administration to be explicit about how its programs are tied to the Ends and how progress toward meeting them can be measured. This past April, the board and administration agreed to hire a consultant to assist with creating the next budget, which will be submitted to the board for its April 2014 meeting.

Morales said he would like to see the board work together before a sequence for hiring the consultant is put in place. “We run a very high risk of being down the road on some things that the board might want to alter,” he said. He cautioned against “plowing ahead” too quickly to issue a request for proposals and retain a consultant.

Eller-Isaacs agreed. “I would like to get clarity about who we are as a board and what our role is going to be, before we make decisions about the quality and scope of consultation we need.” He added that while he recognizes the sense of urgency with which the board made its decision in April, “we need to bleed some of the urgency out of the system and recognize that to live into this work takes time. Relationships are central to the success.”

Stewart said she was concerned that Morales had agreed with the decision to hire a consultant, but might now be qualifying that support. “I want to trust that you meant what you said that we would go ahead with the consultant” and have one in place by the end of the summer, she said. She added that she did not see the hiring of the consultant as connected to any conflict.

Ritchie said, “The board is the board, regardless of which humans inhabit it. . . . It’s quite dangerous to imagine that because we have new bodies in the room” that previous board decisions would not be binding.

Harrison noted that the consultant would not be selected without the engagement of this board. A request for proposals to consultants interested in the work will be sent out in July. The full board will have an opportunity to give feedback, she said.

Eller-Isaacs said his concern was not over timing or speed. He said it was the perception that the board has not been in right relationship with the administration. “I feel that there has been a general breakdown in relationships and kindness.”

He said he believed that part of the relationship problem stemmed from a poor choice of consultant when the board first instituted Policy Governance, because the emphasis was on the executive limitations rather than beginning with the mission. “We need to pay attention to the history.”

Moderator Key emphasized that one of the purposes of the September retreat, which will include members of the administration, is to determine “how we will be together. We all want a new spirit of relationship building and being collegial, and I think we can do that.”

A new youth observer, Rosemary Dodd from Petaluma, Calif., attended the meeting as a representative chosen by UU youth in April.

Also around the table were two members of the UUA administration in new roles. The Rev. Harlan Limpert is now the chief operating officer of the association. He is assuming the duties of the board’s recording secretary, replacing Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery, who retired at the end of June. The Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, leader of the Office of Program and Strategy, will also represent the UUA staff at board meetings. “I’m really excited to be here and have the opportunity to help you understand what we are trying to accomplish at the UUA,” Cooley said.

After the board meeting, Morales and Key issued a joint statement, which said, in part:

Following a successful meeting today of the Board of Trustees, we can say with confidence that the Board and the Administration are committed to working in partnership to realize the vision, goals, and highest aspirations of our religious community. We are committed to building stronger, deeper relationships both within and outside of our community. We are committed to sharing the values and gifts of Unitarian Universalism with the wider world. With a renewed spirit of cooperation and collaboration, we are committed to standing on the side of love always.

Key and Morales also acknowledged Gini Courter’s ten years as moderator. And they thanked Tamara Payne-Alex for her moderator campaign and the issues she raised. “Our association is blessed with their profound engagement in our faith,” they said.


The newly configured, smaller board of the Unitarian Universalist Association held its first meeting after the 2013 General Assembly in Louisville, Ky. (Photo by Nancy Pierce) See sidebar for links to related resources.

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