Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Another Process for the President

Let's elect the next President the same way that we call ministers in our congregations.

1. Elect a Search Committee that is broadly representative of all of Unitarian Universalism.
2. Give them lots of time to work, and consult with people in all areas of the UUA.
3. Let them interview prospective Presidents, looking for the one that seems to match what most people seem to want in the next leader.
4. Let them make a recommendation.
5. Let the people affirm their recommendation through a supermajority.

The result of that type of process in our congregations is that we usually end up with a leader who enjoys broad support in the congregation. The process of ministerial transition increases the unity and sense of common purpose in the congregation, rather than dividing it.

Our present election process exaggerates our differences. Whoever wins starts out with a sizable minority of UU's regretting the way it turned out, and skeptical of the new President's efforts.

If you imagined a congregation choosing their next minister the way that the UUA chooses its next President, most congregations would splinter.

We do need a way for people who are frustrated with our present course to be able to act through the democratic process to change it. For example, a person who thinks that we should do less social action, but more evangelism, should have a way to change the priorities of the denomination. They should be able to run candidates who have those priorities and make a case to other voters.

I think that should be what happens when we elect our Board Trustees. Those elections should be the place where individuals and groups put forward candidates that promise to the move the UUA in one direction or another. Those elections are closer to home and offer more chances for lots of participation. They should be more political and competitive, and as a result more interesting.

Under policy governance, the Board is where the vision and the direction of the organization is set. The Board should be where specific and competing points of views are reconciled through decision and compromise. The President becomes less of visionary, and more of a person who can spark the staff and volunteers to fulfill our common goals.

10 comments:

Steve Caldwell said...

LT,

What you're suggesting is pretty darn close to the "presidential search committee" proposal that will be on the agenda for next year's GA.

The proposed search committee will have 5 members elected by GA delegates, 1 member appointed by the UU Ministers Association, and 1 member appointed by the UUA Board.

The election/appointment will happen at GA four years before the next presidential election.

The proposed search committee will report back the names of at least two candidates for president at the GA one year before the election.

Candidates for president can still be nominated by petition outside the selection committee process -- I suppose this would be similar to a congregational board election where a slate of candidates is announced and (in most cases) is approved without controversy. On rare occasions, one sees nominations from the floor or one sees that a significant percentage of the congregation disapproves of the nominating committee slate.

A full description of the proposed change can be found in the April 2009 UUA Board Meeting Minutes:

http://www.uua.org/documents/boardtrustees/090419_minutes.pdf

Look on pages 17-19.

Steve Caldwell said...

LT wrote:
-snip-
"Whoever wins starts out with a sizable minority of UU's regretting the way it turned out, and skeptical of the new President's efforts."

LT,

I'm sure (based on what I've read online on blogs and the UUA's Election-L email list) that some folks are upset with the election results.

However, I'm not sure if it's a sizable minority of Unitarian Universalists.

First, let's look at the delegates who did not vote for Morales at GA -- 654 individuals. I'm assuming that all GA delegates were voting on their own and were not directed how to vote by their local congregation. For a worst-case scenario, let's assume that all 654 are disgruntled but this is a personal view (not congregational).

For the 827 absentee votes that were not cast for Morales, estimating the potential boundaries for disgruntled voters is harder.

827 absentee votes could represent approximately 41,350 local congregational members (one delegate for every 50 members according to the UUA bylaws -- please note that I'm ignoring minister and credentialed DRE votes because I'm assuming they voted at GA in my estimates).

However, we don't know if the absentee votes were decided by congregational vote, local church board vote, or some other method.

For sake of discussion, let's assume the worst-case estimate. and assume that all 827 absentee votes were chosen in congregational meetings that were overwhelming in support of Rev. Hallman. This assumption would mean that we would have 41,350 individuals who are disgruntled over the election results.

This worst-case level of disgruntleness adds up to 42,004 individuals. The UUA's annual program-derived number for our voting membership is 217,000 (according to Wikipedia).

This means that that the worst-case level of disgruntlement is approximately 19%.

However, in reality it's probably much lower than that. To assume that 100% of those voting for other candidate are disgruntled isn't realistic.

I'm guessing that many Hallman supporters responded the way that Rev. Hallman and Rev. Kit Ketcham did to the election results and fewer Hallman supporters were disgruntled over the results. And some of the layperson UU members voting locally through the absentee ballot process may be less emotionally invested in the outcome of the election than ministers, non-ordained religious professionals, and laypersons who attended GA this year.

Keep in mind that the disgruntled folks will be more vocal than the Morales supporters and the Hallman supporters who are OK with the election outcome.

So our worst-case 19% estimate for disgruntledness may now be something in the 5-10% range. And for a contested election, I think that's an acceptable outcome.

Philocrites said...

Two observations: The UUA is unlike a congregation in many respects, but one difference stands out for the purposes of the model you're proposing. For all its diversity, a congregation is a monoculture: local, relational, perpetually reorienting itself around its shared worship and other communal activities. No wonder our congregations select and ratify the call of their ministers the way they do.

The Association is not a monoculture. Although there undoubtedly are many ways that most congregations are like most others, still there are deep differences in theology, worship style, governance, congregational culture, and local context that a single congregation probably could not accommodate. More importantly, people's sense of relationship to the UUA president, staff, or other denominational figures is much more tenuous than almost any congregant's relationship to their pastor. These two differences are big enough, in my view, to argue against treating the president as analogous to a senior minister.

That's not to say that I oppose the board's current proposal for changing the election system—I'm still thinking about it. But I do think that there are deep enough differences within the UUA (even if they're over minor matters) that many people would distrust a new president whether they were selected by seven people on a nominating committee or 2,000 people at the General Assembly.

My second observation is that what you think *should* be the case in the election of trustees is almost certainly not the case.

patrickmurfin said...

Your analogy of calling a minister and selecting/anointing/electing a UUA President falls apart under scrutiny pretty quickly. It might make sense if we were electing a presiding Bishop or a General Minister. That may be an attractive notion for those with Episcopal envy, but as many folks in the blog-o-sphere will passionately point out, the President of the UUA is an executive and administrative job, not an ecclesiastical one, and thus inherently “political.” The president may need the communications skills of a great preacher and does function as the public voice of the Association, but he never speaks with authority ex cathedra.

Secondly, while appropriate to our starchy independent congregation tradition—no danged central authority is gonna tell us who are minister will be, buster!—the process of calling a minister to a congregation is hardly as smooth as your summary would indicate. And many ministers wear the scars to prove it. I don’t have exact figures at hand, but I recall reading where as many as a quarter of called ministers have departed their congregations for whatever reason by two years. The suicide mission of following a beloved and/or long term minister is alone a legend used to frighten seminarians around the campfire.

And there is absolutely zero evidence that the process could be copied on the Association level with any more success. At least the relatively short history of our has produced no messy divorces or “failed presidencies.” (Although I know historians are now arguing about the Dana Greeley the visionary/charismatic founding leader vs. Greely the reckless spendthrift.) Every president, of course, has had critics—a lot of them from that same corner over there where a handful of noisy folks are always grousing about the alleged abuses of “those people in Boston.” But then most of those folks, however noisy and/or articulate will never be happy. It is a permanent condition of their character/souls.

Our electoral system is far from perfect. But I’ll take my democracy strait, like my whiskey.

patrickmurfin said...

Your analogy of calling a minister and selecting/anointing/electing a UUA President falls apart under scrutiny pretty quickly. It might make sense if we were electing a presiding Bishop or a General Minister. That may be an attractive notion for those with Episcopal envy, but as many folks the blog-o-sphere will passionately point out, the President of the UUA is an executive and administrative job, not an ecclesiastical one, and thus inherently “political.” The president may need the communications skills of a great preacher and does function as the public voice of the Association, but he never speaks with authority ex cathedra.

Secondly, while appropriate to our starchy independent congregation tradition—no danged central authority is gonna tell us who are minister will be, buster!—the process of calling a minister to a congregation is hardly as smooth as your summary would indicate. And many ministers wear the scars to prove it. I don’t have exact figures at hand, but I recall reading where as many as a quarter of called ministers have departed their congregations for whatever reason by two years. The suicide mission of following a beloved and/or long term minister is alone a legend used to frighten seminarians around the campfire.

And there is absolutely zero evidence that the process could be copied on the Association level with any more success. At least the relatively short history of our has produced no messy divorces or “failed presidencies.” (Although I know historians are now arguing about the Dana Greeley the visionary/charismatic founding leader vs. Greely the reckless spendthrift.) Every president, of course, has had critics—a lot of them from that same corner over there where a handful of noisy folks are always grousing about the alleged abuses of “those people in Boston.” But then most of those folks, however noisy and/or articulate will never be happy. It is a permanent condition of their character/souls.

Our electoral system is far from perfect. But I’ll take my democracy strait, like my whiskey.

Chuck B. said...

Here's an idea as I think those upset are actaully just a vocal 5-10% range like Steve said:

They can:

"Build a bridge and get over it!"

I mean really, I know we are supposed to think that dissent within our ranks comes from those with only the best of the faith in their minds, but this is really starting to take on racist overtones. Is it that Morales one or that A Morales won?


Let's remember that those in the blogosphere who are complaining ARE NOT the majority of UU's. Many, particularly the passive agressive racists calling themselves conservatives, are not the voice of the UU polity. These are the people with no life who can spend the entire day at a computer getting into abstract arguments about tempests in teacups. Theirs is the angry buzz of those with no life, not the joyous song of the UU faith.

We don't need to change our methods them.

Robin Edgar said...

You can say that again Patrick!

Oh you did. . . ;-)

I have to pretty much say Amen to what you said BTW. What was proposed here doesn't sound all that democratic to me and only underlines how "less than democratic" aka not *truly* democratic U*U "democracy" can be.

Robin Edgar said...

"Is it that Morales one or that A Morales won?"

Perhaps neither Chuck.

Maybe it is that the "Chosen One" Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman lost. . . The "process" that LT outlines here for the s*election of a UUA President is eerily similar to what some people suggested was *supposed* to happen with Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman's bid for the presidency of the UUA. Had no one, Rev. Peter Morales or otherwise, run against Rev. Hallman, as was alleged/insinuated to be the original "plan" of the ahem "Search Committee" of the UUA "establishment", would not "the people" have affirmed her "recommendation" aka "elected" her through a supermajority during a "vote" at the 2009 UUA GA?

Hmmmm. Come to think of it. . . This proposed, if not actual, version of UUA "democracy" reminds me of presidential "elections" in totalitarian states where "the people" have the wonderful option of voting for one single candidate presented to them by the proverbial "powers that be".

Diggitt said...

Without meaning any disrespect to LT, when I read your proposal, I was incredulous. Philocrites and Patrick Murfin make all the points I would, the primary one being -- once again -- the UUA is not a congregation.

How seriously is this extrapolation from one type of governance to another affecting denominational thinking? The UUA is not a super-congregation. It's a totally different species.

Yes, that may be a historical artifact, but nonetheless, it's part of the organizing principles of the UUA ... until such time as WE change it. This discussion raises the same issues as the argument about the nature of the UUA presidency changing over time. The nature of the animal may be changing, but the underlying legal documents have not. If we UUs want the UUA, or its president, to operate differently from what the documents say, it must be studied and voted on. If it's just sliding, changing its nature without that being acknowledged overtly, we are shortchanging democratic processes we claim to endorse.

Going back to the proposal of a four-year search committee, we are not a monoculture. I have been on three search committees, one for my own minister; I spent years as an executive search professional, and I'm an elected official. Those roles represent several different ways of selecting the right person for a job.

I don't see what's wrong with having candidates present themselves; someone bold enough to present hirself for the job probably can do it and probably has a vision to sell. What's wrong with that? In fact, I'd prefer to see individuals stand up than to see "groups" put forth their candidates. What groups, and chosen by who, and how?

Robin Edgar said...

:once again -- the UUA is not a congregation.

And, once again, as Patrick rightly pointed out, the process for selecting ministers for U*U congregations may be seriously flawed in itself. . . LT's scenario here presupposes that Search Committees are broadly representative of all of the Unitarian Universalists in the congregation which is not always the case. More often then not a congregation's search committee is appointed by the "powers that be" aka clique who run the congregation. There is no guarantee that a similar scenario would not play out at the UUA *if* LT's proposal was adopted.

What counts as "prospective Presidents" in this scenario? Who decides who the "prospective Presidents" are to begin with? I expect that all too often church Search Committees screen out perfectly viable prospective ministers, or refuse to consider them at all, because the "prospects" to not fall in line with the "vision" aka biases and prejudices of the people on the Search Committee. How many prospective Christian oriented U*U seminarians and ministers coming from other denominations has the UUA *repelled* in recent years because they were considered to be *too* Christian? When the UUA appoints an obviously intolerant "fundamentalist atheist" Humanist U*U minister to a UUA Sub-Committee on Candidacy one has to wonder what motivated the UUA to do that. . .