Board of Trustees approves Spokane, Washington, as site of Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2019 General Assembly.
The Audit Committee praised the UUA’s finance staff for their handling of the complex real estate transactions related to the UUA’s move to a new headquarters at 24 Farnsworth Street in Boston, shown here. (© Ganesh Ramachandran/Goody Clancy)
The Unitarian Universalist Association has received a clean bill of financial health from its Audit Committee.
Audit Committee chair Sean Rush said that outside auditors hired by the committee gave an “unqualified” or “clean” assessment of the UUA’s financial strength, an excellent rating, and said they had strong praise for the senior management at the UUA. Rush presented the committee’s report to the UUA Board of Trustees at its November meeting, held via teleconference on November 19. The board voted unanimously to accept the audit report.
The board also voted to accept Spokane, Washington, as the site for the 2019 General Assembly, as recommended by the GA Planning Committee, in part because hotel rooms are inexpensive. Although the board heard from ministers and laypeople hoping Baltimore would be chosen because 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of William Ellery Channing’s “Baltimore Sermon,” which galvanized the American Unitarian movement, the Baltimore Convention Center was not available during the week of GA and hotel rooms in the city were more expensive, said UUA Moderator Jim Key.
In explaining the UUA’s financial status, Rush noted that the UUA currently has about $300 million in assets and $123 million in total liabilities, resulting in about $176 million in net assets, which he described as similar to equity. Over a two-year period, from Fiscal Year 2013 to FY 2015, the UUA’s total net assets increased by $44 million, with unrestricted net assets increasing by $42 million. That increase is “a sign of great financial health in the organization,” said Rush, “so the state of the organization financially is quite healthy.”
Rush praised Treasurer and CFO Tim Brennan and his staff, in particular, for their recent handling of complex real estate transactions related to the sale of the UUA’s properties on Beacon Hill in Boston and its purchase and remodeling of the new headquarters at 24 Farnsworth Street in Boston.
The UUA has received a clean assessment from the Audit Committee for a number of years in a row, Brennan said, and continues on an upward trajectory. A few years ago, the committee gave the UUA seventeen suggestions for improvement; this year, it noted that all of those suggestions had been implemented, and it had only three new suggestions, Brennan said.
The Audit Committee, which meets at least three times a year, makes a formal annual report to the board. Rush said the committee is continuing to practice “Enterprise Risk Management,” focusing on areas that could present reputational or financial risks for the association. This past year, it focused on four potential risks: breaches of data security; the viability of the UUA Health Plan and its compliance with the Affordable Care Act; the financial health of Beacon Press, which represents a sizable portion of the UUA’s budget; and ministerial misconduct. Rush said the committee examined a variety of scenarios that might arise in these areas “and came away comfortable with how [the UUA] would handle” them.
Vice Moderator Susan Weaver told the board that the GA Planning Committee recommended Spokane over two other sites that were seriously considered: Long Beach, California, and Salt Lake City. Some large hotels in Long Beach are involved in labor disputes, she said, and hotels in Salt Lake City are more expensive than Spokane. Furthermore, GA has been held twice in Salt Lake City since the last GA in Spokane in 1995.
Trustee James Snell voiced concerns about the geographical remoteness of Spokane and the relative difficulty of getting flights into the city, which he worried would affect attendance. Key said that choosing sites for GA is an “incredibly complex” endeavor that the GA Planning Committee takes very seriously. By a majority vote, with three abstentions, the board approved Spokane for GA 2019.
The board will next meet by videoconference on December 17 at 8 p.m. EST, with the Annual Program Fund as the primary topic for discussion.
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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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