Board proposes changes to UUA elections

Board proposes changes to UUA elections

Search committee would nominate candidates for president for a six-year term; board would nominate candidates for moderator.
Jane Greer


The Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association is proposing significant changes in the way the UUA elects its president and moderator.

At its April 2009 meeting, the board approved bylaw changes that would replace the current elections system of self-selected candidates for president and moderator with a committee-nominated slate of candidates. The new bylaws would also limit time in office to a single six-year term. Although the board will present its proposal to the 2009 General Assembly, the proposed changes will not be brought to a vote until the 2010 General Assembly.

In other business at its April 17–19 meeting in Boston, the board approved a whistle-blower policy, a conflict of interest policy, and a board code of conduct policy; received reports from the Youth Ministry Working Group and the Mosaic Project; approved the fiscal year 2010 operating budget; and welcomed one new congregation, Unitarian Universalists of Central Delaware, into the UUA.

Discussion at the April board meeting focused on upcoming changes: the election of a new UUA president in June 2009; the departure of seven trustees in June; proposed changes to the way that the UUA president and moderator are elected, including the possibility that the moderator (a volunteer position) would be compensated; proposed new models for youth and young adult ministry; and the anticipated July 2009 adoption of Policy Governance as a way of governing the Association.

Under the proposed changes to the elections process, the UUA would establish a Presidential Search Committee, which would choose two candidates for the presidency. The search committee would consist of seven members, with five elected by the General Assembly, one appointed by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, and one appointed by the Board of Trustees.

The search committee would become the UUA’s sixth standing committee, alongside the Nominating Committee, the General Assembly Planning Committee, the Commission on Appraisal, the Commission on Social Witness, and the Board of Review.

Other individuals could run for the presidency by petition.

Tamara Payne-Alex, trustee-at-large from San Jose, Calif., chaired the working group that wrote the proposed changes. “Congregations are not present in the current process,” she said, because self-selected presidential candidates begin the process of seeking endorsements and fund-raising largely behind the scenes. “Congregations find out who the candidates are only after the slate has been presented. We wanted to make it more like a ministerial search process. We want to use this as an opportunity to energize and engage the electorate.”

Payne-Alex said that only ministers from large congregations can run for president in the current system because large congregations have a ministerial staff that can cover a candidate’s campaign absences. This narrows the field considerably.

According to the proposed bylaws, candidates will be announced at the General Assembly one year prior to the election.

The Board of Trustees will form a separate committee to nominate at least one candidate for moderator. The moderator chairs the board, presides at General Assembly, and on occasion, travels on behalf of the Association. According to a bylaw passed last year, the moderator is also now the chief governance officer, a designation that has special significance under Policy Governance, a system that the UUA will be adopting this summer.

Familiarity with Policy Governance is an important attribute in a moderator, Payne-Alex said. “There’s a lot of technical and content knowledge required. We want to make sure that one or more candidates definitely has the knowledge and skill set.” At least one candidate should have recent board experience, she said.

Under the new bylaws, the president’s and moderator’s terms would be shortened from a maximum of eight years (two four-year terms) to one six-year term.

Several trustees argued that a single term would eliminate the time and expense of running a re-election campaign. They also discussed whether eight years was simply too long a term. (All UUA presidents since the 1961 merger have served two terms, with the exception of the Rev. Paul Carnes, who died in office.) UUA President William G. Sinkford, who was present at the board meeting, said, “Six years is enough time for the presidency.”

Even as the board was envisioning a new elections process, a subcommittee formed in January 2009 was discussing whether the moderator should be paid.

The primary reason for compensating the moderator would be to make the position available to people who depend on an income and who can’t afford to commit themselves to such a demanding volunteer position. “The bottom line is that if we want the best qualified person, we may well have to compensate them,” said Lyn Conley, trustee of the Mid-South District and chair of the board’s finance committee. “It’s a huge commitment of time.” The job has also grown in complexity over the years, Conley said.

“The days when people don’t work are pretty much over,” said the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, trustee from the Metropolitan New York District. “I am disturbed by the belief that everybody’s got time to do things for free. It’s a matter of what’s economically fair and feasible.”

Other trustees cautioned that keeping the job a volunteer position would help keep the moderator independent of staff.

“I’m of two minds about this,” said Gini Courter, the current moderator. “I like that I’m serving in the same way as congregational presidents.” On the other hand, she noted, she needed an income. She said that while income might not necessarily be compromised for all volunteers with demanding jobs, “they trade off time with families.”

The board received reports from the Youth Ministry Working Group and the Mosaic Project Group.

The Youth Ministry Working Group, formed in October 2008 to continue the work of the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth, submitted a report to the board recommending that the UUA decentralize its services to youth by hiring five regional youth ministry consultants who would be able to support local congregational staff working with youth. The report advocates that each congregation (or cluster of congregations) have a paid youth ministry coordinator or director. The report also emphasizes the importance of integrating youth into the life of the church from worship to governance.

The Mosaic Project, launched by the Identity Based Ministry office in cooperation with the Youth Ministry office and the Young Adult and Campus Ministry office, focuses on the ministry needs of youth and young adults of color. The report stressed the need for creating more multicultural UU communities; the development of healthy racial identity among all UUs, with particular attention to the specific needs of people of color; and connecting with communities of color at the local, regional, and continental levels and helping UU youth and young adults of color form relationships with them.

The board approved a whistle-blower policy and a conflict of interest policy at the recommendation of the Audit Committee, which monitors the UUA’s financial management.

The whistle-blower policy offers trustees, volunteers, staff, and others a means of reporting improper activities, guaranteeing that all complaints will be documented and followed up on, and that those reporting misconduct will not suffer retaliation. The policy outlines how a report can be submitted, how it will be handled, and the degree of confidentiality that it will be accorded.

The conflict of interest policy describes the conflicts of interest that trustees, employees, and officers might have between their personal, professional, and business interests—including membership on the boards of other organizations—and the UUA. The policy describes the procedures for reporting conflicts of interest and the means that will be used to resolve these issues.

The board also passed a code of conduct policy that prohibits board members from abusing their power in any way.

Thirteen policies were approved for inclusion in the UUA’s Policy Governance manual, the main reference tool being assembled in preparation for the board’s changeover to Policy Governance in July 2009.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved the fiscal year 2010 operating budget, and received the fiscal year 2011 operating budget;
  • Approved plans to take a collection at the General Assembly that will be split between the President’s Freedom to Marry Fund and the Sinkford Fund (which supports seminarians of color);
  • Welcomed Unitarian Universalists of Central Delaware in Dover, Del., as a new member congregation;
  • Approved Louisville, Ky., as the site of the 2013 General Assembly;
  • Said good-bye to departing trustees Tamara Payne-Alex, trustee-at-large; Lyn Conley, Mid-South District trustee; Lyda Adair, Mountain Desert District trustee; the Rev. Burton Carley, Southwestern Conference trustee; Roger Comstock, Northern New England District trustee; Pat Solomon, Ohio Meadville District trustee; and Charlie Burke, youth trustee. Six new trustees will be joining the board in June.

Related Resources

  • April 2009 Board Agenda.Includes supporting documents and additional information. (
  • The Mosaic Project.An assessment of UU ministry to youth and young adults of color and Latina/o and Hispanic and multiracial/multiethnic descent. (
  • Recommendations for Youth Ministry.March 2009 report of the Youth Ministry Working Group makes specific proposals for the future of UU youth ministry. (pdf;
  • General Assembly 2009.The UUA’s annual business meeting, held this year in Salt Lake City from June 24-28. (
  • Listen to an audio recording.Right click to download or click link to open audio file. (

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