Discusses eliminating Commission on Appraisal; will discuss funding for theological education in March.
The board voted to place on the tentative GA agenda a proposed bylaw change that would place a $100,000 limit on campaign spending by any candidate for UUA president, with a $5,000 cap on individual donations, including from the candidates themselves. The next UUA president will be elected in 2017, but the Presidential Search Committee is
actively recruiting candidates now.
Bylaws can only be changed by delegates at GA; a final agenda will be set before GA, which will be held June 24–28, in Portland, Ore.
A controversial item at the January board meeting was the future of the independently elected Commission on Appraisal (COA). Trustees discussed a range of possible futures—whether it should continue as is, be abolished, or be re-designed in some way, such as being appointed by the board rather than elected by GA. The board decided to continue the conversation at its February conference call.
The nine-person COA, which studies and reports on major issues in denominational life, has been a subject of debate in recent years, and the board has cut its budget. In its December 2014 conference call, the board voted unanimously to recommend a bylaw change that would sunset the commission.
However, that suggestion engendered significant opposition, especially online, from COA supporters who find its reports invaluable or who see it as an independent observer of the UUA that serves as a prophetic voice. COA member John Hawkins, project manager for its current study topic, on class, urged the board to make a decision in time for the Portland GA.
Regarding another controversial issue, on the first morning of the board meeting UUA President Peter Morales and Moderator Jim Key read a statement they crafted together about the ongoing controversy at Starr King School for the Ministry (SKSM). They said they were “profoundly dismayed by the heated rhetoric and broken relationships that this situation has produced. . . . This situation does not reflect who we aspire to be as religious people.” They insisted that the UUA administration and board have no authority over the school.
Because the board meeting was live-streamed, their statement engendered near-immediate response on social media, including condemnation by former UUA Moderator Gini Courter, who, on her Facebook page, criticized the statement as indicative that “our UUA leadership continues to side with the powerful and oppressive in the SKSM matter.”
Although the board did not discuss the statement from Morales and Key, the Rev. Sarah Stewart, chair of the Finance Committee, said she will place on the agenda for the next board meeting a discussion of the UUA’s financial support of theological education, with an emphasis on becoming familiar with the 2013 memorandum of understanding between the UUA’s Panel on Theological Education and the two UU-identity schools, Starr King and Meadville Lombard Theological School.
The Rev. Kurt Kuhwald, one of four faculty and staff who have resigned from Starr King over the school’s handling of an investigation into leaked documents from the search for a new seminary president, has asked the UUA board to consider withholding funding from the school until it changes course. The Panel on Theological Education currently provides a $200,000 annual grant to each school. The agenda time will provide an opportunity for board members to ask questions about the panel’s work, the memorandum, and the role the UUA plays in funding seminaries, Stewart said.
In an effort to save money and trustee time, the board experimented this time with a shorter meeting than usual. It met for less than two-and-a-half days, on Jan. 16–18. While trustees praised Key and Vice Moderator Donna Harrison for their efficiency and the various working groups for their efforts in preparation for the board meeting, some said the pace was too fast. Key said they will continue to adjust the schedule to find the right balance.
The board will next meet in March, in Selma, Ala., where they will participate in the Living Legacy Project’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Selma Voting Rights Campaign. The board will conduct some of the business it would normally take up at its April meeting while in Selma, and will not meet in person in April.
UUA fundraising efforts are going well, reported the Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, director of Stewardship and Development. Major gift fundraising is ahead of schedule, she said. Participation by UUA staff in the Friends donor program has doubled over last year, with over 50 percent pledging to support the association. The board has 100 percent participation.
While the Annual Program Fund is within 1 percent of budget, it is still down $77,000, Morn said. Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and chief financial officer, said the UUA also earned $125,000 less from interest on investments related to the sale of the UUA’s four Beacon Hill buildings than anticipated. With the drop in Annual Program Fund income, this means the contingency fund is exhausted for the rest of the fiscal year, Morn said, and the UUA will have to be very careful with spending.
Morn and her staff have instituted procedures to avoid a problem that arose last year when expected major gifts did not materialize and left the operating budget with a significant deficit. Among other things, they are securing more multiyear pledges through the Life’s Calling campaign, she said.
In part due to last year’s financial problems, this year’s board committed itself to taking a deeper and more active interest in financial matters rather than leaving them to the Finance Committee, noted Stewart. The board agreed that this approach serves the UUA better, and Stewart recommended that the Finance Committee be dissolved. The board approved adding a proposed bylaw change to the tentative GA agenda that would formally place Finance Committee duties onto the full board. A finance secretary would be appointed from among the trustees to act as point person directing the board’s timely and appropriate attention to financial matters.
The board also approved rules changes proposed by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) related to handling complaints about ministerial performance. In addition to the minister being asked to meet with the MFC’s Executive Committee, the rules now say that the person filing the complaint also will be invited to meet with the MFC, accompanied by an advocate designated by the Office of Congregational Ethics and Safety. The complainant may choose to appear in person or by secure teleconferencing software, and all travel and related expenses for the complainant “or individual representatives of classes of victims,” will be paid by the MFC. The new rules also say that information from the complainant about other victims or classes of victims will be included in the process.
Susan Weaver, chair of the Congregational Boundaries Working Group, noted that the MFC has no intent to open its proceedings to legal counsel, and doesn't interpret the phrase "individual representative of classes of victims" to refer to legal counsel. However, the MFC did not provide language regarding a role for lawyers, apparently out of a concern that doing so would suggest an inappropriate equivalency between a credentialing and civil or criminal proceeding. Weaver wants to discuss that clarification again with the MFC in her group’s upcoming best practices report around the process of bringing complaints for ministerial misconduct.
In an effort to increase diversity among delegates to General Assembly,
Key proposed a $50,000 scholarship fund to help defray the cost of attending for those who might not otherwise be able to make it.
Financial Advisor Larry Ladd wanted to know where the money would come from. “It’s very important that the board and administration assess priorities carefully, not have a good idea and then say, ‘Oh, let’s find money outside the budget.’”
But trustee Christina Rivera countered, “We need to increase our diversity at GA. I fully support it. It says we have found the money to do something really, really important to our governance and our representation.”
To demonstrate his support, trustee James Snell reached into his pocket and handed over $100—all he had in cash—to Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and chief financial officer, and promised to give more. Benji Janapol, the board’s youth observer, offered a $50 donation from her college fund, saying, “That’s how strongly I feel about this.”
As the board had many questions about how the scholarship fund would operate, Key promised to work on the idea and get back to them.
In other business, the board:
Photograph (above): Vice-Moderator Donna Harrison leads the UUA Board of Trustees in a conversation about making the General Assembly more affordable to delegates (Christopher L. Walton).
Please note: newsletter on hiatus
Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.