Procedural error takes one AIW resolution off GA agenda

Procedural error takes one AIW resolution off GA agenda

UUA Board of Trustees also prepares policy for acquisition or sale of real estate.


The Tentative Agenda for the 2011 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association has arrived in congregations’ mailboxes. However, the Board of Trustees discovered that one item related to the future of Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) appears there in violation of the UUA’s bylaws.

One proposal, which would eliminate AIWs so that minimal business will need to be conducted at the “Justice GA” in Phoenix in 2012, is in order. A second proposal, however, which would restore AIWs for the 2013 GA, was placed on the agenda improperly.

During its monthly teleconference on March 24, 2011, the board agreed to review the procedural glitch that allowed the motion to appear improperly on the GA agenda. At its April meeting, the board will determine whether to put a similar motion on the Final Agenda for the UUA’s annual convention, in Charlotte, N.C., June 22 to 26.

The board also agreed to draft a policy that would express the board’s values about and procedures for evaluating the UUA’s acquisition or sale of real estate. The board also discussed changes to policies regarding youth leadership and a proposed change to the board itself, which would reduce the size of the board from 25 to 13 voting members. The board will vote on those policies at its April 14–17 meeting in Boston.

The fate of AIWs has been under discussion for more than a year. Moderator Gini Courter and others have expressed concerns that AIWs—social witness resolutions brought to the General Assembly by petition—were not appropriate for the 2012 “Justice GA” being planned for Phoenix because they require at least two plenary sessions and multiple miniassemblies. 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.”

At its January meeting, the board approved a proposal from the GA Planning Committee to ask the 2011 General Assembly to eliminate AIWs altogether. This proposal appears on pages 23–24 of the Tentative Agenda. After the board meeting, the GA Planning Committee—in consultation with the Commission on Social Witness, which manages the AIW process at GA—agreed to put another bylaw amendment on the 2011 GA agenda that would restore AIWs as a form of social justice resolution after 2012. This second proposal, which appears on pages 24–25 of the Tentative Agenda, did not go to the board before being placed on the agenda.

However, UUA Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery reported at the March meeting that a bylaw change approved by the General Assembly last year removed the Planning Committee’s authority to put resolutions on the GA agenda. As a result of amendments at the 2010 GA to sections 4.11 (Tentative Agenda) and 4.14 (Final Agenda) of the bylaws, only the Board of Trustees can place proposed bylaw amendments on the GA agenda. (The deadline for congregations or districts to put items on the agenda for the 2011 GA was February 1, according to UUA bylaws.)

So, even though bylaw amendments that would restore AIWs to the 2013 GA are currently listed on the Tentative Agenda that has been printed and mailed to congregations, they are there improperly, according to the UUA’s legal counsel.

At the board meeting, Courter said that the board has three options to address the oversight. One option would be to create a bylaw amendment for GA that resembles the one that had been submitted by the Planning Committee. Another option would be not to put anything related to AIWs on the agenda, which would mean there would be no AIWs until at least 2014. A third option would be for the board to rewrite the AIW proposal it has already placed on the agenda—which would remove AIWs entirely—and create an omnibus bylaw that would also reinstate them in some form in 2012.

The board created a task force to examine these and other possible options. The board will vote on the matter at its April meeting in Boston.

“I think that there has been a building understanding among many folks that it’s a good time to really take a look at the AIW process and ask if it best reflects our values,” Courter said in a phone interview after the board meeting. “We spend more time on the AIW process [at GA] than we do any other piece of business, and it’s a very individual process. Our other resolutions are grounded in congregational life and study. I often don’t see the voice of congregations in the AIW process.”

David May, chair of the Commission on Social Witness, is hopeful that the board will create a single bylaw amendment for the Final Agenda that would combine the proposal to remove AIWs from the Phoenix GA with the proposal to reinstate them in a modified form in 2013. The CSW’s proposal, which had been incorporated in the Planning Committee’s amendment, would reduce the maximum number of AIWs from six to three.

May cites a risk that, in putting up two separate amendments, only one might pass. That could create a scenario in which the 2012 GA might still need to vote on six AIWs. Or it could create a scenario in which there was no AIW process at all in 2012 or in future years.

Creating a real estate policy

In other business, the board assigned a subset of board members to draft a policy to express the board’s values about the acquisition or disposition of capital assets. Board members John Hawkins of Westfield, N.J., trustee from the Metropolitan New York District, and the Rev. Jeanne Pupke of Richmond, Va., trustee at large, are putting together a policy for discussion by the board at its April meeting.

“A policy needs to be pretty clear about what kind of case the administration needs to make so the board can approve a proposal,” Hawkins told the board. He and Pupke are distilling board members’ concerns into a single document to inform future decisions about possible purchases as well as decisions about present properties and long-term leases.

The discussions follow 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.

According to Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and chief financial officer, the UUA is conducting due diligence with regard to a possible purchase of the 70,000-square-foot building, designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie. The UUA has retained a real estate consultant, a property appraiser, and an architect. Those professionals are assessing the value of the UUA’s Beacon Hill properties, which include the UUA headquarters at 25 Beacon St., a nearby office building at 41 Mt. Vernon St., and the Eliot and Pickett Houses at 6 and 7 Mount Vernon Place, a bed and breakfast immediately behind the headquarters building. They are also evaluating how the Hebrew College site might be adapted to the UUA’s needs.

No exact timeline has been announced for the sale of the Hebrew College building, according to Brennan, who notes that the UUA administration cannot buy or sell real estate without the approval of the Board of Trustees. The board’s creation of a policy to evaluate real estate decisions is “good and legitimate, and it’s their job,” Brennan said.

In April the board will tackle several other highly anticipated issues. The board is scheduled to finalize its proposal for a bylaw change—to be voted on at the GA in Charlotte, N.C., in June—that would shrink the size of the UUA board to 13 members from the current 25 members. It would also end the election of a UUA trustee by each of the UUA’s 19 districts. The board will endorse a final draft of the proposed bylaw changes at its April meeting and place those changes on the General Assembly’s Final Agenda.

In April the board is also expected to finalize its governance policy on youth leadership. The policy is intended to ensure that there is a “definable group of youth leaders” in the UUA that could inform the board’s work, according to board documents.

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Correction 4.5.11: As originally published, this article misstated the number of voting members on the Board of Trustees. There are currently 25: one from each of the UUA’s 19 districts, three at-large trustees and one at-large youth trustee elected by the General Assembly, one moderator, and one financial advisor. (The president also sits on the board, without a vote.)

Correction 4.4.11: As originally published, this article misidentified one of the trustees assigned to a subcommittee to draft policy concerning real estate transactions.