Tamara Payne-Alex and Jim Key. © 2013 Nancy Pierce/UUA
In their final appearance together before the election on Saturday that will make one of them the next moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Jim Key and Tamara Payne-Alex drew distinctions between their backgrounds and approaches to governance. Thursday night’s Candidates Forum began in front of a small crowd but eventually attracted several hundred delegates.
Some votes have already been cast. Don Plante, from the UUA’s General Assembly and Conference Services staff, said 385 absentee ballots were received for this year’s race—compared to approximately 1,800 absentee ballots in the contested race for president four years ago. On-site delegates will cast their ballots until 4:00 tomorrow, and the winner will be announced just prior to the start of Saturday night’s Service of the Living Tradition at 8:30. The race for moderator is the only contested race this year.
Tamara Payne-Alex repeatedly emphasized her background as a lifelong Unitarian Universalist. A member of First Unitarian Church of San Jose, Calif., and a former member of the Board of Trustees, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, and the Black Affairs Working Group, she told delegates in her opening statement, “Being a lifelong Unitarian Universalist . . . means I can bring thirty years of UU leadership experience to the moderator role, and still be in my forties.”
Key emphasized Unitarian Universalism’s appeal to religious liberals and seekers who have not found a religious home. “I was converted to a life of justice and love and community in my childhood, but I was a grown man before I found my religious home. Too many of us have to wait too long before we hear the good news of Unitarian Universalism,” said Key, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Beaufort, S.C., a member of the UUA Audit Committee, and a former president of the Southeast District and the District Presidents Association.
Referring to recent tensions between the UUA administration and Board of Trustees, Key said, “I have not been a part of the traditional governing history of our association, and I believe that is an asset. At this moment in our history of governance, I believe that a fresh approach is necessary as we go forward to restore all the covenantal relationships among us that are damaged.”
Payne-Alex, who has a professional background as an educational administrator and a corporate diversity consultant, and who also has experience in Policy Governance at the congregational level, said, “I will leverage my knowledge and experience of our association and the board to ensure the smoothest possible transition.”
The Rev. Ken Sawyer, who moderated the candidates forum, asked Key and Payne-Alex what they would do first after taking office. Payne-Alex said, “I would call Harlan [Limpert] and ask how the board is going to be supported.” The Rev. Harlan Limpert will become the UUA’s Chief Operating Officer in July, replacing retiring Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery, who is the functional liaison between the board and administration.
Key pointed out that one or the other of them will be chairing a board meeting on Monday morning, but he added, “The next step would be to talk to Peter, and say, ‘You were elected, I was elected. How are we going to be in right relationship? Here’s my vision of accountability; what’s yours? How do we proceed?’”
Key, who founded a leads a firm that provides consulting internationally on governance, risk management, and compliance, said he had the experience to repair strained relationships between the administration and board.
Payne-Alex took a different tack. “It’s not about the relationships,” she said. “People like each other. That tells you that something else is going on. So I approach it with curiosity: What’s underlying the conflict? Does it tell us something important about a conversation that needs to be had? So that’s the way I approach conflict, is to be intrigued.”
Learn more about the candidates. Read UU World‘s profiles of Jim Key and Tamara Payne-Alex.
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Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.