The Board of Trustees met for the last time in its 25-member form for two days prior to the start of the 2013 General Assembly in Louisville, Ky. (© 2013 Nancy Pierce/UUA)
At its two-day meeting preceding the start of the General Assembly in Louisville, Ky., the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees said farewell to more than two-thirds of its members, including Moderator Gini Courter, who concludes ten years as moderator at the end of GA.
When the board reconvenes on Monday, June 24, a new moderator—to be elected by GA delegates on Saturday—will lead 12 other trustees in a significantly reconfigured board. Bylaw changes approved by the 2010 and 2011 General Assemblies created a smaller board and shorter terms for trustees, financial advisor, moderator, and president.
And so trustees brought a sense of ending to their June 18–19 meetings. When trustees introduced themselves to observers near the start of Tuesday’s meeting, many trustees who had been elected by UUA district assemblies described themselves as “the last trustee” from their district, because one of the bylaw changes ends the practice of electing trustees by districts. Going forward, all trustees will be elected by the General Assembly.
Much of the time at the pre-GA board meeting was dedicated to preparing for board-led conversations at GA, but the trustees also conducted some business. They approved the fiscal year 2014 budget, adopted a new Global Ends statement, and accepted a series of reports from the administration.
In a lengthy but notably warmer series of conversations about the UUA administration’s “monitoring reports,” the board accepted each report it considered. Trustees did ask the administration to make adjustments here and there, but in several cases expressed confidence that the administration understood and would act on their recommendations without having to submit revised reports. The administration—represented primarily by retiring Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery and her successor, soon-to-be Chief Operating Officer Harlan Limpert—asked questions about trustees’ concerns, proposed possible scenarios for resolving them, and offered quick adjustments. Trustees also acknowledged that their dissatisfaction with some reports was due not to misinterpretations by the administration but to poorly worded board policies.
Vice Moderator Jackie Shanti described the steps the board and administration have taken to find a consultant. (At the end of a tense meeting in Boston in April, the board had proposed drawing $100,000 from the endowment to hire a consultant to help connect the administration’s strategy and budget with the association’s “Ends.”) A small task force of trustees has held conference calls with representatives of the administration to draft a request for proposals and a list of possible consultants. The board will review the request for proposals at its post-General Assembly meeting June 24, with the expectation that it can be sent to potential consultants shortly after GA.
The board approved an addition to their policy on executive sessions that allows the board to go into executive session to discuss “governance issues involving the relationship between the Board and the President.”
The board approved a new statement of Global Ends, the association’s governing vision statement, following a year-long process of conversation with UU constituencies that the board calls its “Sources of Authority and Accountability.” Before approving the text, the trustees debated the way different sections of the draft statement referred to “congregations,” “congregations and communities,” and “our faith community.” They agreed that most of the references should be about “congregations and communities.”
UUA President Peter Morales reported on two initiatives. First, he commended a new tool for evaluating ministers developed by the Ministries and Professional Leadership staff group. The Fulfilling the Call report includes a grid that defines levels of competency in a range of tasks ministers perform. The tool is designed to help ministers assess areas for further professional development. Copies are being made available to all ministers by request, and are available for $6 to others from the UUA Bookstore.
Morales also described the current state of the UUA’s move into a new headquarters in Boston. He told trustees that that the administration has approved preliminary designs for the new space from the architectural firm Goody Clancy, which he will show delegates in his report on Thursday morning. He said the UUA has been receiving proposals from real estate agents and expects to put 25 Beacon Street and its office building at 41 Mount Vernon Street on the market in July.
The new headquarters is located in Boston’s Seaport District. UUA Treasurer Tim Brennan discussed questions that trustees had fielded from UUs who are concerned about rising sea levels due to global climate change. Some maps projecting flood zones into the future show sea levels rising into the Seaport District, but Brennan said these maps do not show the mean sea level. “The 100-year flood level is 9’8″, where Sandy would have hit at high tide,” Brennan said. “The grade at Farnsworth Street is 11′. The height of the first floor is at 17′.”
Brennan told the board that he expects the UUA to complete fiscal year 2013 with a deficit of $312,000. “When we made the difficult choice to downsize the staff [in March], it added severance costs that were unavoidable,” he said.
The Rev. Richard Nugent, director of Church Staff Finances, talked to the board about changes to the UUA Retirement Plan, which will go into effect in 2014 and which participating congregations will need to re-adopt. A key change will allow more part-time employees to participate in the program. The Office of Church Staff Finances will be sending documents about the revised plan to program participants and congregations.
As the trustees reached the end of their final meeting as a 25-member body, Gini Courter told her colleagues, “Never again will there a board so big it needs its own bus or train. And yet it has been so wonderful to be with you.”
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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.