Board finalizes bylaws for vote at General Assembly

Board finalizes bylaws for vote at General Assembly

Establishes committee to nominate next moderator; welcomes three new congregations.


Preparing for General Assembly 2011, the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association voted to add several bylaw amendments to the business agenda, which delegates will consider at the June meeting in Charlotte, N.C.

At its meeting, April 16–17 at UUA headquarters in Boston, the board approved bylaw amendments that would shrink the size of the board and change the terms of members of the board and the Nominating Committee, which selects candidates for election to the board and other denominational committees. The board voted to add an amendment that would reintroduce Actions of Immediate Witness at the 2013 GA; another bylaw amendment already on the GA agenda would eliminate AIWs from the 2012 GA.

The board also voted to admit three new congregations to the Association, and it approved the location of the 2015 General Assembly, which will be held in Portland, Ore.

The board first announced its intention to reduce its own size as part of broad-reaching governance reforms in January 2010. Since then, it has been crafting how to reduce the size of the board significantly, arguing that it “resembles a small town meeting more than a functioning board.” A smaller board would also cut the board’s sizable expenses.

Under the proposed bylaw, the board would shrink from its current 25 members to 13 members. It would also end the election of a UUA trustee by each of the UUA’s 19 districts.

The board currently has 19 district trustees, three at-large trustees and an at-large youth trustee elected by the General Assembly, the UUA moderator, and the UUA financial advisor. Under the new bylaws, there would be 11 at-large trustees, the moderator, and the financial advisor.

Though the board would be smaller if the bylaw is approved, trustees hope that it will also be more diverse through efforts of the Nominating Committee to balance the board’s composition. The bylaw amendment states that the Nominating Committee “shall endeavor to nominate individuals so that the membership of the Board of Trustees and each elected committee reflects the full diversity of the Association, especially in regard to historically marginalized communities, but also balancing amongst size of congregation, lay and ordained, geography, age (including youth and young adults), and gender among others.”

Terms of the trustees would also change. Rather than serving four-year terms, trustees would serve three-year terms. No trustee would be allowed to serve more than two consecutive terms. “We’ve recommended shorter terms so that we can balance and rebalance the board in a way that doesn’t take eight or twelve or sixteen years for the composition of the board to change,” the Rev. Susan Ritchie, trustee from the Ohio Meadville District and chair of the Board Restructuring Task Force, told the board before its vote. “We have to be able to structure and restructure in a nimble way.”

The board created a separate bylaw amendment that would change the length of the terms of members of the Nominating Committee. It had been developed as part of the proposal to change the size of the board, but trustees expressed concerns that if the decision to shorten the terms of the Nominating Committee members generated controversy, it could jeopardize their efforts to reduce the size of the board. The proposal would change the terms of Nominating Committee members from one six-year term to up to two three-year terms. Nominating Committee members have been elected by the General Assembly every odd year. The board’s motion, if approved, would result in one third of the Nominating Committee being elected by GA each year.

Two current members of the Nominating Committee, the Rev. Darrick Jackson, of the UU Fellowship of Storrs, Conn., and Lawrence Ladd, spoke to the board in an effort to persuade them to retain the single, six-year terms. The current system, Jackson said, “is a system that works. It takes two years to learn what you’re doing. With a three-year term, you will either just automatically renew people’s terms or they won’t have enough time to delve into the process.”

Though they expressed a preference for retaining the six-year terms, Ladd and Jackson agreed to endorse what the board passed. “The issue should just be the size and diversity of the board,” Ladd said. “The focus should not be on the Nominating Committee.”

The board made changes to the process for nominating the moderator as well, following up on bylaw changes approved by the General Assembly in 2010 related to the election of president and moderator. The moderator chairs the board and the General Assembly and is the chief governance office of the UUA. Moderator Gini Courter’s second term expires in 2013. The board approved a policy that established a Moderator Nominating Committee consisting of five people—including not more than two trustees—appointed by the board not later than 26 months prior to the GA at which the moderator will be elected. The committee is charged with issuing a call for nominations and recommending one or more possible candidates for moderator to the board.

The Committee on Committees is accepting applications to serve on the Moderator Nominating Committee through May 13, 2011.

Future of AIWs

The board approved a modified proposal to reintroduce Actions of Immediate Witness to the General Assembly agenda starting in 2013. AIWs are social witness resolutions brought to the GA by petition.

The board had already placed a bylaw amendment on the Tentative Agenda to eliminate AIWs after 2011, part of an effort to pare down the amount of official business the General Assembly must conduct at the 2012 “Justice GA” being planned for Phoenix. Eliminating AIWs and other plenary business from the General Assembly agenda would free up time for social witness activities, in keeping with a resolution passed by the 2010 General Assembly dedicating the Phoenix GA to “witnessing on immigration, racial, and economic justice.” That resolution also limited the amount of denominational business at the 2012 GA “to the minimum required by our bylaws.”

A second amendment on the Tentative Agenda that would have restored AIWs at the 2013 GA was found after the board’s March teleconference meeting to have been placed on the agenda improperly. However, at its meeting last week, the board voted to place a bylaw amendment on the Final Agenda stating that, starting with GA 2013, there may be no more than three AIWs at GA. In years past, up to six AIWs have been allowed to come before GA.

The Final Agenda, which will reflect these new proposed bylaw amendments and those already on the Tentative Agenda, is expected to be published by the end of May.

New congregations

The board’s Congregations Working Group presented applications from three congregations that were seeking acceptance as members of the UUA. The board voted to accept two of those congregations unanimously and without discussion. Those new members are the Unitarian Universalists of Blue Ridge in Rappahannock, Va., and the UU Fellowship of Lake Norman, N.C.

The application by the third congregation, All Faiths Unitarian Congregation in Fort Myers, Fla., engendered some controversy. Though the board ultimately voted to admit All Faiths to the UUA, the vote was not unanimous and it was preceded by lengthy discussion among the board.

All Faiths was founded in 2001 by the Rev. Dr. Wayne Robinson, who had previously been the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers, about 10 miles away. A few years after leaving the Fort Myers church in a negotiated resignation, Robinson returned to Fort Myers, contacted members of his previous church, and began to start up a new congregation.

Members who remained with the Fort Myers church were bitter, and the church opposed the application of the All Faiths to join the UUA. During the controversy, Robinson’s membership in the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association was suspended. (He does remain a minister in final fellowship with the UUA.) Another congregation, the UU Fellowship of Charlotte County in Port Charlotte, Fla., supported All Faith’s application to join the UUA.

Board members were divided over whether to accept the congregation. The Rev. Will Saunders, trustee from the Northern New England District, said the application felt “too raw, and not cooked enough for me.”

In support of the application, Joan Lund, trustee of the Florida District, said that she hoped the Association would reach out to All Faiths and provide them with education and resources to help them be successful. “We can build the strength of the congregation so that irrespective of the problems that might have occurred, they can move forward in strength,” she said.

Other board members hoped that by accepting All Faiths into the UUA, staff from the Boston office and within the Florida District could help both congregations reconcile and be in right relationship with one another.

The board voted to accept the application of All Faiths. As the trustees moved on to other business, members passed around three copies of the UUA hymnal Singing the Living Tradition to sign as a gift of welcome for each of the new congregations.

Reached after the board meeting, the Rev. Kenneth Hurto, district executive of the UUA’s Florida District, said that he will continue challenging both congregations to reconcile into shared ministry. “I follow my Universalist teachings to always reach out in love to one another,” Hurto said. “My prayer is for even greater strength for Unitarian Universalism in southwest Florida.”

Property policy

In other business, the board voted to adopt a policy to guide future property or relocation decisions. John Hawkins, trustee from the Metropolitan New York District, and the Rev. Jeanne Pupke, trustee at large, of Richmond, Va., were charged at the board’s March meeting to draft the policy in light of the December 7 announcement by UUA President Peter Morales that the administration was considering the purchase of a building from Hebrew College in Newton, Mass. The building is adjacent to Andover Newton Theological School and about eight miles west of the UUA’s Boston headquarters.

As the administration conducts due diligence about the Newton property and about its own holdings in Boston, the board created a policy to guide its evaluation of any proposals that might come before them. The policy includes a series of “Broad Concerns” that asks how any purchase or sale would promote the “Shared Vision” of the UUA. It asks the board to take into account how a transaction would affect concerns about justice, antiracism, antioppression, and multiculturalism. Other questions asses the financial impact, symbolic value, and impact upon stakeholders, including staff, board members, congregations, lay leaders, ministers, youth, and young adults. Additional concerns surround accessibility and environmental impact.

Upcoming GAs

The board discussed several matters concerning future General Assemblies. Planning continues for the 2012 Justice GA in Phoenix. The board voted to approve a policy that would allow the 2012 GA to generate up to a $600,000 deficit. Under UUA policy, GAs are not permitted to run a deficit.

Although the administration does not anticipate that the Phoenix GA will run a $600,000 deficit, the motion was designed to take the emphasis off how much money is made at the Phoenix GA and keep it on the quality of the programming. “It emphasizes the importance that GA 2012 be the absolute best moment for us,” said Paul Rickter, trustee of the Massachusetts Bay District. “The concern about how much money it might lose is a lesser concern.”

The $600,000 figure was chosen as a ceiling because that is about the amount of money the UUA had paid in hotel commitments in Phoenix, and therefore the amount it would have forfeited had the Association chosen to boycott Phoenix in 2012 because of the state’s restrictive immigration laws.

The board also approved a motion to hold a collection at the 2011 GA in Charlotte to support the Arizona Immigration Ministry “and other racial, immigration, and economic justice related work in preparation for Justice GA 2012 and thereafter.”

The General Assembly Planning Committee recommended to the board that the UUA’s 2015 GA be held in Portland, Ore., and the board agreed.

The UUA held its GA in Portland four years ago. In introducing the motion, board member Eva Marx of the Ballou Channing District, noted that Portland had been a very successful site in 2007, with the second largest attendance of any GA to date, drawing nearly 5,700 attendees.

see below for links to related resources.

Related Stories

Related Resources