At New Orleans board meeting, trustees also discuss deficit caused by severance packages.
UUA Interim Co-Presidents Leon Spencer, Sofía Betancourt, and William G. Sinkford listen as Acting Moderator Denise Rimes addresses the Board of Trustees in New Orleans on June 20, 2017. (© Nancy Pierce)
The Unitarian Universalist Board of Trustees voted Tuesday, June 20, to authorize a binding memorandum of understanding between the UUA and Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) to fulfill the board’s promise of $5.3 million in funding to the new organization.
The trustees unanimously supported the motion, which the Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, UUA secretary, described as a means to “guarantee the long-term commitment of the association to BLUU.” The board is meeting June 20 and 21 preceding the UUA General Assembly, which is being held June 21–24 in New Orleans.
The board broke into applause after the vote. The motion instructs the administration to draft a memo of understanding with BLUU that conforms to a plan drafted in January and revised June 2.
“We have a legally binding memorandum of understanding between the UUA and BLUU that the staff will now execute,” said Interim Co-President William G. Sinkford. He said the motion grew out of a meeting that he facilitated between BLUU leaders and UUA staff to clarify the specifics of the board’s October 2016 decision, which it reaffirmed in January.
Among other things, the UUA recommends that BLUU establish itself as a legal entity such as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit; that the UUA continue to serve as BLUU’s fiscal agent until it is legally organized; and that the funds committed to BLUU be accumulated in the UU Common Endowment Fund in a dedicated account. The memo anticipates quarterly payouts once BLUU is legally organized, which BLUU may spend at its discretion consistent with its mission and purpose. BLUU will not be required to provide accounting reports beyond those required by IRS rules, but there will be an annual in-person meeting between BLUU leaders and the UUA board. The memo also anticipates a five-year fundraising period to raise the $5 million, which is framed as a guarantee against unrestricted UUA endowment assets.
The memo’s recommendations came from the UUA Leadership Council’s BLUU Task Force in conversations with BLUU leaders, UUA General Counsel Tom Bean, UUA Financial Advisor Lucia Santini Field, and the executive committee of the UUA board.
In a continuing effort to use non-traditional means for making decisions, on Tuesday each board member not only stated their position on the motion but also gave a brief description of the reasons for their vote.
“I vote in favor because wearing a little rubber band around my wrist is not enough,” said trustee Sarah Dan Jones, referring to her Black Lives Matter bracelet.
“I support this as I believe it will it will both strengthen and enrich our faith and its impact in a world that so desperately needs it,” said Santini Field.
Acting Moderator Denise Rimes said there may be attempts at GA to roll back the board’s decision to fund BLUU, by introducing a responsive resolution. Bean, the UUA’s legal counsel, said a responsive resolution is not binding on the board.
In other business, Tim Brennan, the UUA’s treasurer and chief financial officer, reported that he expects a deficit of about $337,000 as the fiscal year ends this month. A recent bequest of $450,000 will help remove the sting of that deficit, he said. Because the bequest has some restrictions, it can’t be used to directly offset the expenses that are creating the deficit, he said, but the gift will nonetheless free up other monies that can be applied to the shortfall.
Trustee Christina Rivera then said, “I’m going to name elephant in the room, that we would not be looking at this [deficit] number without the severance packages that were funded.” Rivera was referring to the revelation last week that the UUA had granted severance packages totaling more than $500,000 to a handful of employees who voluntarily resigned after President Peter Morales stepped down April 1 in the wake of the UUA hiring practices controversy.
Saying that he was building on Rivera’s comment, Sinkford said, “The board should understand that we are making a recommendation on how to use the bequest which we believe is in the best interest of the association. It doesn’t change the fact that if we weren’t paying [the severance packages] out, the balance would be available for other uses for the mission of the association.” The board’s approval is not needed for the bequest to be used as the co-presidents feel is best, Sinkford said, but they wanted to bring the matter out in public in a continuing effort toward transparency “so the community can know how we are dealing with this financial issue.” Sinkford and fellow Co-Presidents Sofía Betancourt and Leon Spencer have criticized the severance packages, which were negotiated before they took office April 10.
The total costs for the recent transition in UUA leadership will reach about three-quarters of a million dollars, Brennan said, including the severance packages. If it weren’t for those costs, he said, the UUA would have a surplus of $200,000 to $300,000 instead of a deficit.
The board began discussion on what policy changes are needed to try to ensure that such a situation doesn’t occur again.
The board meeting continues on Wednesday, June 21. The board will meet again on Monday, June 26, with the new president and with new trustees, who will be elected June 24.
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Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.
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