UUA 'highly unlikely' to purchase Hebrew College

UUA 'highly unlikely' to purchase Hebrew College

Board discusses Justice GA; differs on whether to make its audio recordings public.


The Unitarian Universalist Association will not be leaving its Beacon Hill headquarters in Boston anytime soon. UUA Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Tim Brennan reported to the Board of Trustees that it is “highly unlikely” that the association will pursue purchasing the Hebrew College campus in Newton, Mass., for a new headquarters location.

During its September 22 conference call, the board also discussed the 2012 Justice General Assembly in Phoenix and whether to publish audio recordings of the proceedings of the Board of Trustees. It also voted to establish an office in New Delhi, India, to support the UUA’s Holdeen India Program.

In the spring of 2011, the UUA had submitted a bid to purchase the Hebrew College campus as a site for a new UUA headquarters. The preliminary bid had an expiration date of June 28, according to Brennan, who said that the day came and went with no response. Brokers for the Hebrew College property said they would contact the association if they wished to continue talks. However, no response followed.

Hebrew College is reportedly selling the 6.7-acre property as part of a deal with its creditors to eliminate $32 million in debt, and is holding classes in leased space at the nearby Andover Newton Theological School. Brennan told the board that bondholders are seeking more money for the property than the UUA offered and will likely find other ways to dispose of the property that would yield higher returns.

The UUA Leadership Council, a group of senior UUA staff, is deciding whether to consider pursuing other headquarters space in the Boston area or whether to remain at its Beacon Hill location, Brennan said.

The board’s conference call took place one week after two sets of meetings to plan the June 2012 Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, Ariz. Board members Jackie Shanti, of the Clara Barton District, and the Rev. Dr. Michael Tino, of the Metropolitan New York District, both provided highlights of the meetings. (See UU World’s report on the GA planning meetings.)

Shanti said that the GA Design Team meeting, which included representatives of the GA Planning Committee (GAPC), Arizona UU congregations, UUA staff and administration, the Board of Trustees, Arizona human rights groups, and the GA 2012 Accountability Group, was “marked by a commitment to really be in a spirit of inclusion and collaboration.”

Tino said that several people had expressed surprise when they saw a draft of the “grid” of activities, because there is much more time being allocated to public witness events than to service activities. “For our partner organizations, the power of us coming to Phoenix is to engage in large-scale public witness alongside them. We are one of the very few groups that they ever deal with who will be seen in public with them,” Tino said. “They could spend just as much time as they would organizing mass public witness organizing ongoing service projects, and we would feel really good about ourselves, but the end result for them would be much less.”

Shanti said that she will submit a full written report on both meetings to the board prior to its mid-October meeting in Boston.

In October, the board will also continue discussions about a policy on whether to provide audio recordings of its meetings on the Internet.

The board had been posting audio recordings on the Internet. However, in April, the board voted to suspend such postings until it could consider all the ramifications of doing so. Board members became concerned about comments of outside speakers being publicly posted on the Internet after representatives of immigrants’ rights groups addressed the board at its January 2011 meeting. At the same meeting, the board discussed some confidential items without formally going into executive session. At its April meeting, the board voted to revisit the issue in October to vote on a new policy. “The issue of who owns the audio recording and decides what should and shouldn’t be posted came up,” said Nancy Bartlett, of the Mid-South District. “It’s part of a larger transparency issue.”

The Rev. Erik David Carlson, trustee from the Central Midwest District, who serves on the board’s Communications Task Force, reminded the board that the issue would be coming up for a vote in October. “Personally, I’m of a mind that meetings are public record and should be recorded as long as there is sufficient notice given to participants,” he said. “There might be a call to coordinate with the UUA legal team to create a legal disclosure that we read at the beginning of each session or some other way to communicate that we are recording.”

In the discussion that followed, board members expressed widely divergent views. Graham Kreicker, trustee from the Prairie Star District, said he worried that if recordings were publicly available, they could be manipulated “to have us saying things that were the opposite of what we said in a meeting.”

Donna Harrison, trustee from the Southwestern Conference, was concerned that recordings of the board’s discussion would erode the board’s goal to speak “with one voice.” “Once we make a decision, we have a common vision and purpose,” she said. “I’m not seeing it as helpful to have the process of coming to that decision left there.”

David Jackoway, trustee from the Heartland District, said that even though the board’s minutes record the results of each of their votes, there is a benefit to having a record of how the decisions were made.

Speaking in favor of public postings, the Rev. Sarah Stewart of the Northern New England District said that board meetings are open meetings, and should be available to anyone, even if they can’t come to Boston to attend. “We should always think that anyone could come here and hear everything we say,” she said.

Natalia Averett, of the Joseph Priestley District, agreed. She recognized that some discussions required the privacy of executive session. But otherwise members should be aware that anything they said could find its way onto YouTube or Facebook. “There is something wrong with assuming you can have a closet mentality in an open meeting,” she said.

Carlson said he would take the comments into consideration in framing the issue for the October board meeting.

During the September call, the board also voted to establish a liaison office of the UUA in New Delhi, India. UUA Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery explained that the office is necessary because the new director of the Holdeen India Program, Derek Mitchell, will spend more time in India than his predecessor, Kathy Sreedhar. And the Indian government has passed a new requirement that people traveling to India on a tourist visa be away from the country for at least two months between visits.

The new office will give Mitchell the right to represent the UUA, collect information about partner groups, provide groups with information about the UUA, and facilitate technical and financial information, Montgomery said. “It fits exactly with what we are doing in India,” she said.

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