Board discusses authorizing off-site GA delegates, reducing its own size, and reforming GA resolutions.
Although the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association has been at work on governance changes for several years, the UUA’s decision to conduct only a minimum of business at its 2012 General Assembly in Phoenix, Ariz., is generating a sense of urgency for reform.
At the board’s monthly teleconference meeting on Thursday, September 23, trustees discussed allowing delegates to participate in GA off-site, appointed a committee to look at ways to reduce the size of the board, and asked the Commission on Social Witness to take the lead in evaluating the function and future of Actions of Immediate Witness. Many of the changes that the board is hoping to make require bylaw changes that must first be approved by the General Assembly. For these changes to take effect in time for the 2012 GA in Phoenix, they would have to be adopted at the 2011 General Assembly in Charlotte, N.C.
Trustees considered, but did not vote on, a resolution that would ask the 2011 General Assembly to allow off-site voting.
The board has been exploring ways for delegates to participate in GA business off-site for more than a year. UUA bylaws mandate that delegates must attend General Assembly in order to vote. Linda Laskowski, trustee from the Pacific Central District, conducted an experiment at the 2010 GA in Minneapolis in which 11 off-site delegates in five different locations were able to participate in the plenary sessions, without voting. The results were positive, she told trustees at the board’s June 28 meeting immediately following the 2010 GA.
At the September 23 phone meeting, some trustees expressed reservations about moving ahead with an amendment to the bylaws enabling offsite participation without additional information. “I’m not sure we’re ready tonight to do this,” said UUA Secretary Tom Loughrey, trustee from the Pacific Southwest District. “I was under the impression that we’re still in the process of experimenting with how this works.”
Lew Phinney, trustee from the Mountain Desert District, said that the 2011 General Assembly would have to approve the bylaw amendment in order to allow delegates to participate long-distance at the 2012 GA in Phoenix. (In response to Arizona’s adoption of the controversial anti-illegal immigration law SB 1070, the 2010 General Assembly approved keeping the UUA’s 2012 convention in Arizona only if it were transformed into “a ‘Justice’ General Assembly in which business is limited to the minimum required by our bylaws.” In another resolution, the 2010 General Assembly specifically asked that “efforts [be] made to recognize the voices of delegates who choose not to attend General Assembly 2012 for reasons of safety or personal ethics.”) “Part of making 2012 a justice GA is that we need to be sensitive to people who can’t go for moral or safety reasons,” Phinney said.
The board will continue discussing off-site delegates at its October meeting in Boston, October 14–17.
The board also discussed reforming the General Assembly’s process for adopting Actions of Immediate Witness, which are social justice resolutions placed on the GA agenda by petition. Actions of Immediate Witness have drawn criticism for not being truly representative of the UUA’s member congregations, since they are not subject to congregational approval. Some critics complain that the AIW process at GA is too time consuming, while others charge that too little time is spent on any individual resolution. (The GA may pass up to six AIWs each year.)
UUA Moderator Gini Courter expressed concern that the AIW process could not be accommodated at the 2012 GA in Phoenix. “We’d have to be gathered at two plenaries,” she said, to follow the process currently laid out in the UUA’s bylaws. “That doesn’t allow us much flexibility. The specificity of the AIW process is different from anything else.”
The board moved to ask the Commission on Social Witness, which manages the social witness process at GA, to assume responsibility for investigating the problem and presenting recommendations for action. The CSW will be working on this issue with the General Assembly Planning Committee. Their report will be due at the January 2011 board meeting. However, the board asked to receive a preliminary version of the report at its November teleconference.
Earlier this year, the UUA board committed to reducing its own size by 2012. Several denominational task forces have described the 24-member board, which includes trustees elected by each of the UUA’s 19 districts, as too large and cumbersome. Trustees voted to reduce the size of the board as part of a resolution they adopted in February 2010 to transform UUA governance at the district, General Assembly, and UUA board levels. Any changes to the size of the board need to be made by amending the UUA bylaws.
John Blevins, trustee from the Prairie Star District, emphasized the importance of coordinating reducing the size of the board with reorganizing the UUA’s district structure. The UUA’s district employees have already begun exploring ways to work collaboratively in five regions, each made up of several districts. At the moment, regions co-exist with the current district system. “The direction we’re taking [with the board] feels so enmeshed with regionalization, it’s hard to think of them separately,” Blevins said.
Phinney proposed that the moderator appoint an ad hoc committee to recommend changes to the bylaws that would reduce the number of trustees and also come up with a plan for accomplishing this. Courter agreed, asking for volunteers to contact her. She also asked for board volunteers to attend the District Presidents Association meeting in November. (See UU World’s coverage of the trustees’ meeting in June 2010 with members of district boards, where they held an initial conversation about regionalization.)
In other business at its September teleconference, the board approved changes to the language of Board Policy 2.4 concerning the UUA president’s responsibility to employees in terms of compensation and benefits.
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Jane Greer is a former senior editor of UU World magazine.