UUA board seeks big changes from districts

UUA board seeks big changes from districts

Proposed bylaw changes would end district election of trustees; other changes would allow off-site General Assembly delegates.

Jane Greer


The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Board of Trustees will ask the UUA’s districts next month to transform their role in the denomination’s governance and service delivery.

At its October meeting in Boston, the board approved a “charge” to its representatives to the the District Presidents Association, which meets in November, that explains key changes the board is seeking. It explicitly states that the board will introduce bylaw changes to end the election of UUA trustees by the denomination’s 19 districts. It also calls the way district staff are co-employed by the districts and by the UUA “inequitable” and “counterproductive to achieving the Association’s Ends.” It urges district boards to envision their role “if trustees are no longer elected by districts” and if “the district is no longer the basic unit of service delivery.”

In other business at its October 15-17 meeting, the board approved a plan to allow off-site delegates to the General Assembly and endorsed a statement of purpose for the 2012 “Justice General Assembly” in Phoenix, Ariz. The board also heard UUA President Peter Morales’s programmatic priorities, resolved to improve its communications using a range of social media, met with Appreciative Inquiry mentor Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and welcomed the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of McMinnville, Ore., as a new member of the Association.

The board’s charge—formally, its instructions to the trustees who will represent the board at the District Presidents Association meeting in November—follows up on the board’s February 2010 resolution to transform UUA governance at the board, district, and General Assembly levels. In that resolution, the 25-member board vowed to reduce its own size, which it called expensive and ineffective.

Each of the UUA’s 19 districts elects a UUA trustee and co-employs staff to serve its congregations. The districts vary in size from about 40 square miles to over 700,000, with one district having 3,200 members and another 15,000. “District staff in these circumstances cannot offer services with anything approximating equality,” the charge says. It asks the district presidents to start thinking about a future in which districts are no longer the “basic unit of service delivery.”

The board “will be proposing bylaw changes to decouple the election of trustees from districts,” the charge says. A task force will present a specific proposal at the board’s January meeting about how trustees should be elected. Options range from “geographically based elections” to electing all trustees at large.

The UUA staff has already formed a system of five regions that currently co-exists with the districts, and individual districts have begun to share resources. The Massachusetts Bay District and the Clara Barton District, which serve congregations in Massachusetts and Connecticut, for example, have entered a two-year staff sharing arrangement. While the arrangement doesn’t save money, it broadens the range of staff expertise available to both districts.

The board began preparing for the 2012 General Assembly to be held in Phoenix by approving a plan to allow off-site participation, adopting a statement of purpose, and establishing an advisory group to work with the board and the General Assembly Planning Committee on safety, accessibility, programming, and plenary business.

The board had asked the 2010 General Assembly to pull the 2012 GA out of Arizona after the state passed its strict anti-illegal immigration law Senate Bill 1070. The General Assembly voted, however, to designate the 2012 General Assembly in Phoenix a “Justice General Assembly” dedicated to educating participants about immigration issues and giving them opportunities to oppose harsh immigration laws while limiting the amount of denominational business. (See UU World’s coverage of the decision to keep GA in Arizona.)

In a separate resolution, the 2010 GA asked that planners “recognize the voices of delegates who choose not to attend General Assembly 2012 for reasons of safety or personal ethics.” The board had already been considering the pros and cons of off-site participation. Linda Laskowski, trustee from the Pacific Central District, conducted an experiment at the 2010 GA in which eleven delegates from five different areas were allowed to attend GA “long distance” via streaming video. The delegates could watch, listen, and speak during plenaries, but were unable to vote because UUA bylaws mandate that delegates must be present in order to vote.

The board took steps at the October meeting to make official off-site attendance a reality by 2012. The board authorized the expenditure of up to $75,000 to support video streaming and other technological support for off-site delegates. The system, which will allow delegates to listen, speak, queue, and vote, will have a trial-run at the 2011 GA in Charlotte, N.C., although off-site delegates’ votes won’t be counted. The board will place a bylaw amendment on the 2011 GA agenda that will enable off-site delegates to attend—and vote—at General Assemblies. The bylaw change would require a two-thirds majority to pass and would go into effect at the 2012 GA.

Trustees approved a statement of purpose for the 2012 General Assembly pledging “to offer a General Assembly in 2012 that transforms individual and congregational capacity for effective public witness and influence on issues of justice.” The GA will “identify outcomes in collaboration with our internal and external partners and provide opportunities for participation by individuals of differing abilities and people with historically marginalized identities (including youth and young adults).” According to the statement, the groundwork for this justice GA will be initiated at the 2011 GA in Charlotte.

The board passed a motion authorizing the appointment of a “right relations monitoring team” for the 2012 GA to work on issues of safety, accessibility, programming, and plenary business. This group will include UUA trustees as well as representatives of Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries and the Latina/Latino Unitarian Universalist Networking Association, among others. The advisory group should be appointed by the beginning of December.

In his report to the board, UUA President Peter Morales emphasized three programmatic priorities, beginning with congregational growth. “Congregations have to learn from one another and inspire one another,” he said. The UUA is kicking off a new program called Leap of Faith that pairs dynamic and thriving congregations with congregations that have tremendous growth potential and are willing to rise to the next level. The program grew out of a ministerial consultation held in Louisville, Ky., in 2007, in which the ministers of some of the denomination’s fastest growing congregations shared best practices. The Leap of Faith program participants are meeting in New Orleans October 21–23.

Morales said that his second programmatic priority was a review of the UUA’s different means of communication. “Communication is the key to relationship,” he said. “We need to reevaluate as an association how we communicate.” The review will be all-encompassing, he said, ranging “from books to tweets.”

Public witness is Morales’s third priority. He emphasized that the UUA wants to continue working with and empowering congregations at the local level. He referred to the success of the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love Campaign, which has provided resources and support to congregations to address social justice issues arising in their own communities. “It’s empowered and released the energy and idealism in our congregations. We need to nurture that as we move forward.”

The board resolved to improve its own communications and approved a communication plan that had been submitted by a board sub-committee. “Our communications should reflect the Board’s priorities,” it reads. “Messages should include text, video, and other media as appropriate, and should go out through multiple communication channels: website, blog, Facebook, other social media and any other appropriate channels.” The board also authorized the formation of an ongoing team to support communications. (Individual trustees published a handful of videos and blog posts from the October meeting; see below for links.)

The board also approved policy changes concerning the treatment of personnel, employee benefits, and the protection of UUA assets.

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Correction 10.27.10: An earlier version of this article described a “charge” to the District Presidents Association, but the resolution approved by the Board of Trustees is entitled “Charge from the Board of Trustees to the Board Team that will participate in the District Presidents’ Association Meeting.”