In a meeting that was strikingly different in tone than those of the recent past, the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees met October 13–14 in Boston, where the UUA’s new leadership team and its twelve-member board discussed the importance of transparency in decision-making and continued to build on a new model of shared leadership.
Since August, the board has been led by two co-moderators, Elandria Williams and Mr. Barb Greve, who will alternate facilitating board meetings. Williams led the October meeting. The meeting was also the first in which President Susan Frederick-Gray, who was elected in June, was joined by Carey McDonald, acting chief operating officer. (The board has one vacancy.)
Williams introduced a few changes to the conduct of the meeting, splitting up the board into a several small breakout groups for participants to discuss topics in-depth before returning to the full board for further discussion. In another break from tradition, Williams invited observers—whom she called “fellow UUs” rather than “observers”—to join in the breakout groups with trustees.
“Overall, it was one of the best board meetings I’ve had the privilege to participate in or observe as a UUA staff member,” said McDonald, who described it as “really rich and warm.” He said the meeting “was a really positive foundation of relationship for Susan and me and Barb and Elandria and the board as a whole, a real theme of wanting to move beyond the crisis stance of the spring and find ways to work in faithful and collegial relationship” as the board and UUA continue to decenter whiteness and undo white supremacy within the UUA.
Trustee Sarah Dan Jones said at the end of the first day, “Before I left home I said to my wife Abby, ‘I’m not sure I’m going to continue on the board,’ because last year was not what I needed it to be and not how I hold my faith and I don’t have a lot of time. But I don’t feel that way right now, I actually feel like that for me it is worth it.”
The October meeting was a day shorter than usual, with the board in a closed retreat for much of Friday, October 13. During their retreat, trustees analyzed the processes the board used last spring in making a series of decisions following the resignation of UUA President Peter Morales amid controversy over UUA hiring practices, which critics described as perpetuating white supremacy.
While the details of discussion at the board’s retreat were not made public, transparency was a theme throughout the open portion of the meeting. Among other things, the board agreed that it should not make decisions via email except for consent agenda items and other perfunctory things, and all decisions should be recorded in the minutes.
Board announcements and other formal communications will be made through the co-moderators and the UUA, the board decided. When individual board members make comments on social media or in other public forums, they will recognize that observers may still view them as speaking in their official capacity even if they note they are speaking only for themselves. Trustees did not adopt a new policy about public comments by individual trustees, however.
The board agreed that its Executive Committee—a subset of board officers—should not make board-level decisions. Trustees will continue to discuss the role of the Executive Committee, including whether it is needed at all. The board ran out of time to discuss its conflict of interest policy and will do so in a future meeting.
Trustees discussed better ways for the administration to prepare reports the board requires—called “monitoring reports”—about the staff’s progress toward policy goals, or “ends,” that the board sets. Both Frederick-Gray and McDonald described this and other board actions as moves away from strict Policy Governance “orthodoxy” under the Carver model to a customized system that works best for the UUA.
The board did not address proposed changes to Article II of the bylaws—the UUA’s Principles, Sources, and Purposes—but will do so in its November and December meetings. In June, the General Assembly debated two proposed amendments to Article II, tabling a change to the First Principle and approving a change to the Second Source. Delegates also passed a responsive resolution urging the board to create a study commission to propose broader changes to Article II, including adding an explicitly antiracist “Eighth Principle.”
The board voted to approve a two-year budget of $488,640 for the Commission on Institutional Change, with the first year’s funds coming from unspent, unrestricted bequests to the UUA. The board has not yet decided how to fund the commission’s second-year budget. Created by the board in April in response to controversy over UUA hiring practices, the commission will, among other things, conduct a racism audit of practices and policies and make recommendations for anti-oppressive strategies in hiring, personnel practices, and governance. The commission will present quarterly reports to the board and the UUA.
In other business, the board voted to:
• Approve spending $150,000 from the capital budget to develop a unified computer database for all UUA staff groups, which will be more effective than the variety of uncoordinated databases currently in use, said Tim Brennan, treasurer and chief financial officer; and
• Approve an increase in full-time registration fees for the 2018 General Assembly, in Kansas City, by $35 per person, bringing the fee to $395. The increase will fund more GA scholarships, with a priority for people of color. The board also approved an increase in daily childcare fees for GA 2018 from $35 to $55 per child.