Board, president question Commission on Appraisal’s role

Board, president question Commission on Appraisal’s role

UUA Board of Trustees partially restores Commission’s budget, but is reviewing ‘accountability’ of elected UUA committees.
Jane Greer


At its April meeting, the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association continued working to reform the governance of the UUA by turning its attention to the committees elected by the UUA’s General Assembly.

The board voted to partially restore steep budget cuts to the Commission on Appraisal, but questioned whether the Commission still played a needed role in the Association. The nine-member Commission, elected by delegates to the General Assembly, conducts independent reviews of aspects of the Association’s life, which it presents to the General Assembly every three years.

The board had also prepared a bylaw amendment that would have transformed the elected General Assembly Planning Committee into an appointed committee and given much of its work to the UUA staff. The Planning Committee convinced the board to wait, and proposed a more modest bylaw amendment in its place, which the 2010 General Assembly will vote on.

In other business at its April 16–18 meeting in Boston, the board heard why the UUA Compensation, Benefits, and Pension Committee is recommending that the board approve the Committee’s decision to transfer management of its retirement plan to TIAA-CREF from Fidelity Investments. The board will vote on the change in May. The board and administration also expressed frustration about the monitoring reports that administration is required to submit to the board as part of Policy Governance, the new governance model the board adopted in 2009.

The role of elected committees

The UUA board voted to accept a budget for fiscal year 2011 that reduced spending for board and volunteer leadership by about 20 percent. The cuts could have been much deeper, especially for the Commission on Appraisal.

In the proposed budget the UUA administration submitted to the board, the Commission’s budget was cut from $34,000 to $5,000. After the board met with Commission leaders, the board increased the COA’s budget to $24,000. The board also made smaller cuts to the Commission on Social Witness’s budget than the administration had proposed.

The depth of the cuts prompted a discussion about the COA’s mission and usefulness, especially within the framework of the board’s new Policy Governance system. UUA President Peter Morales told the board that the Commission on Appraisal’s budget was slashed as a way of initiating a conversation about the committee.

Morales said that the COA presents two problems, the first of which is that there is no clear line of organizational accountability. “The COA doesn’t report to the General Assembly, or to an administration or board committee,” he told UU World. Secondly, the committee has been over budget for years, he said.

The Commission on Appraisal is charged with reviewing “any function or activity of the Association which in its judgment will benefit from an independent review and report its conclusions to a regular General Assembly.” The COA has presented reports on theological diversity within Unitarian Universalism (PDF; 195 pages), the quality of religious life in UU congregations (PDF; 51 pages), and the meaning of congregational membership (PDF; 166 pages). Its most recent project was undertaking a review of Article II, the UUA’s “Principles and Purposes.”

The Commission on Appraisal is one of five standing committees elected by the General Assembly, along with the Commission on Social Witness, the Nominating Committee, the General Assembly Planning Committee, and the Board of Review. A proposed sixth standing committee, the Presidential Search Committee, will be voted on at the 2010 General Assembly.

The Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, trustee from the Ohio Meadville District, gave a presentation on the COA’s history. Started in 1934, the Commission was established by a group of ministers and laypeople to examine what could be done to revitalize the Unitarian movement. At the time, Unitarianism was in decline, she said, and many people felt that the American Unitarian Association, as a bureaucracy, was incapable of meeting the challenges of the times. Many also believed that the AUA was becoming too powerful at the expense of the congregations.

The COA did a comprehensive study and, in 1936, released its first report advocating many changes, including the revitalization of General Assembly and bringing back the position of moderator. The report also advocated a decentralization of power, establishing regional centers that would be completely independent of the AUA.

At the conclusion of her presentation, Ritchie raised the question of whether the COA was still necessary, since it no longer performed its original function of monitoring the balance of power between UUA headquarters in Boston and outlying congregations. “The original commission operated out of an assumption that the board couldn’t be counted on,” she said.

The Rev. Barbara Child, chair of the Commission on Appraisal and interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis, Ind., defended the COA at the board meeting. “Recent reports of this commission have been used over and over again by seminaries, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, and congregations on all kinds of issues and matters of spiritual development within congregations.”

Child also expressed regret that the COA undertook the review of Article II, which the board asked it to do in 2006. “It made sense at the time,” she said, “but as the process went on, we found out time and time again, how it put us in a world of conflicting bylaws. It muddied things up and gave people some assumptions that are not true.”

Former COA treasurer Jacqui Williams, who attended the board meeting, addressed Morales’s financial concerns about the organization. She blamed poor communication for the commission’s overage. “We attempted to get budget figures,” she said. “We were told to do the job as we saw fit. After asking about numbers, we weren’t given a figure. Were we advised? No.” More conversation about COA’s future would be forthcoming, President Morales told UU World. “It’s clearly the board’s intent to take a comprehensive look [at the COA] in the next year or two. They’re looking at a whole array of things that are in the bylaws. This will be one of them.”

While the board was asking questions about the purpose of one elected committee, it was prepared to ask the General Assembly to disband another. The board had drafted proposed bylaw changes (PDF; 7 pages) that would remove the General Assembly Planning Committee from the UUA’s list of elected standing committees, which would have appeared on the 2010 GA agenda. But the Planning Committee convinced the board to slow down and offered an alternate amendment instead.

The Planning Committee selects GA sites, sets the program schedule, and oversees major events; the bylaws authorize it to set the business agenda, too, although the board has handled the business agenda for many years. The board’s proposal would have handed many of the Planning Committee’s tasks to the UUA staff and reconstituted the committee as an appointed body.

John Blevins, the trustee from the Prairie Star District, said the board had considered making these changes because, under Policy Governance, the committee’s work could be considered “operational.” “The Governance model tells us that if the work exists to support the board in its work, then it would be board work supported by board committees,” he said. “If the output is not to help the board be more effective, but to run the business, it’s generally staff work, or what we’re beginning to call operational work or operational support.”

“The Planning Committee does not help the board to do its job as a governing body,” he added. “The principle would say this belongs as an operational matter to be overseen by the staff.”

The Planning Committee met before the board meeting. “We do not feel that the Planning Committee should be removed from the Bylaws as an elected standing committee,” they wrote, “until and unless such action is taken in an overall context of thoughtfully planned governance change, and until or unless a defined role, purview, selection process, and accountability for a successor entity has been established and a transition planned.”

The board voted to keep the Planning Committee as an elected committee, but will ask the 2010 General Assembly to approve a bylaw amendment that explicitly gives the board the authority to set the General Assembly agenda, which it has been doing.

Frustration with monitoring reports

The board dedicated a lot of time during its April meeting to Policy Governance issues. Policy Governance is a governance model in which the board is charged with formulating policy, while the staff is responsible for executing it. The system, adopted in July 2009, entails the setting of goals, or “Ends,” for the organization by the board. The board evaluates the staff’s progress toward the Ends by receiving periodic monitoring reports from the administration.

Since Policy Governance was instituted, the board has only conditionally accepted most of the monitoring reports submitted by the administration, prompting the UUA’s senior staff to express some frustration about the process.

The board voted to accept UUA President Peter Morales’ April monitoring report on “Global Ends” (PDF), with the qualification that the report didn’t specifically link proposed actions with the Association’s “Ends” (PDF).

“The trustees had trouble linking the president’s report to the actual governance Ends document,” said Blevins, head of the board’s Governance Working Group. “We believe the intent is there and that we’re quite close to what we’re trying to accomplish, but we need more clarity.”

Several senior staff expressed frustration that the criteria used by the monitoring reports were difficult to understand. Executive vice president Kay Mongtomery said that the learning curve was a steep one for both staff and board. “Policy Governance is a big shift,” she said. “Getting some common agreements and naming some things is going to be key, but we haven’t gotten there yet.”

At the request of the president, the board voted to make a consulting team available to work with the staff to prepare reports that more clearly demonstrate the connection between the president’s plans and the UUA’s Ends. The team will consist of Linda Laskowski, trustee from the Pacific Central District; Donna Harrison, trustee from the Southwestern Conference; and Nancy Bartlett, trustee from the Mid-South District.

Retirement plan changes and other news

UUA treasurer and chief financial officer Tim Brennan announced to the board that the UUA Compensation, Benefits, and Pension Committee (CBPC) was recommending that the UUA use TIAA-CREF as the manager of its retirement plan, leaving Fidelity Investments. The decision was made after extensive research and the use of consultants hired to evaluate proposals. Brennan said that TIAA-CREF was chosen for three reasons: the firm’s capability to provide excellent service; its fund selection, performance, and fees; and its alignment with UU values. The board will be asked to approve the decision at a May 20 board meeting, which will be held by phone.

In other actions, the board:

  • Approved the budgets for fiscal year 2011 and received the budget for fiscal year 2012.

  • Welcomed the Heartland UU Church in Indianapolis, Ind., as a new member of the Association;

  • Voted to ask the GA Planning Committee to approve a fundraising opportunity at GA to support of the Katie Tyson Memorial Fund for Young Adult and Campus Ministry, named in honor of a UU young adult who was killed last year in a car accident returning from GA;

  • Voted to change the name of the Anti-Racism Assessment and Monitoring Team to the Right Relationship Monitoring Committee; and

  • Heard a presentation by John Hurley, director of Communications, urging the board to make greater use of the UUA website and social networking tools.

The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, trustee from the Metro New York District, resigned from the board and has been replaced by John Hawkins.

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