Friday, July 17, 2009

Gini Courter on the Election Process

On Election-L email list, there has been a discussion about the present method of electing the President and other officers of the UUA. Gini Courter weighed in with this statement, that I am reproducing here.

Friends -

A number of people who've posted recently assert that the current method of selecting the UUA President or Moderator "isn't broken" so it doesn't need to be fixed. The list of people who know that the current process IS broken includes Bill Sinkford, Peter Morales, and Laurel Hallman. I agree with them, and with the two candidates for Moderator in 2001 who were also critical of the current process. As far as I know, no one who has run opposed for President or Moderator in the past thirty years thinks the current nomination-campaign-election process is just, equitable, or compassionate, or that it truly reflects our values. (Perhaps some candidate fully affirmed the current process, but if so, they weren't vocal about it during the campaign.)

The people who have run for President and Moderator think we should be willing to consider the possibility that our election process is too long, too grueling, too costly, and/or too disconnected from congregational life and leadership. We should consider whether the barriers to candidacy might be inappropriately high, or in some cases, just inappropriate. We should discuss whether a more transparent nomination process would be more inclusive and more in keeping with our values than our current highly opaque nomination methods.

We might even wonder why we require candidates for President and Moderator to raise tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaign to serve our Association. I don't know this year's finances, but in 2001, both Moderator candidates and one of the two Presidential candidates ended their campaigns with outstanding debts that they had to cover personally.

At the April Board meeting, your UUA Trustees made a commitment to Bill, Peter, and Laurel that they would bring a set of amendments to the election process to GA in 2010. The draft amendments offered by the Board describe one possibility; the amendments were published in this year's GA agenda so that congregations could begin discussing them now and provide feedback for a final version that needs to be ready by mid-January 2010. The trustees would love to hear our congregations' best thinking on this. I know some trustees are on this list, but you can also contact them directly. You'll find your trustees' email addresses on this page: http://www.uua.org/aboutus/governance/boardtrustees/19052.shtml


4 comments:

Scott Wells said...

I'm sure elected officials in Congress think its costly and difficult to get elected, but we have public, contested elections.

I don't want some central committee choosing a candidate for an office that -- due to layers to distance from the people in the pews -- is a hair's breath away from corruption. It certainly benefits the status quo.

I'm really shocked by the suggestion. I also think most people can see though the "inefficiency" and will retain the current system because this kind of "broken" isn't anything like we'd get with this other system.

patrickmurfin said...

This is what I wrote to Gini on the Election-L list:

I appreciate the input of exhausted--and broke--candidates. Clearly there are things that need to be fixed. And part of the proposed changes seem quite sensible, particularly a single six-year term. Clearly finding ways to use increasingly sophisticated--and economical--electronic communications not only to inform potential voters, but perhaps to allow some form of on-line, real-time voting for absentee delegates will mitigate many of the cost and time commitment concerns that candidates legitimately have. Those are technical details which can and should be worked out.

What I think you are hearing here--and what is buzzing on that pesky blogo-o-sphere--is a deep disquiet and actual suspicion of the nominating committee model. I am sure it is proposed in good faith by folks up to their elbows in the dirty, thankless work of governance--including people who have self-selected as a kind of informal nominating committee and "discernment" consultants. Why not, the thinking goes, bring that somewhat murky don't-look-behind-the-curtain process which in my memory produced the candidacies of both Bill Sinkford and Laurell Hallman and has certainly been in operation long before that, into the sunshine with an openly elected/selected committee of presumed sages? What could possibly be the objection?

1) Even if the process still allows for nominations to be made outside of the recommendations of the Nominating Committee, every one, supporters and opponents alike, recognize that functionally the stigma of not passing the vetting process will make it almost prohibitively impossible to launch an "outsider" campaign. Then, even if an outsider could jump through all the hoops (which would be possible only if the Nominating Committee produced a candidate who was manifestly unacceptable to a large swath of UUs from the beginning) we would still end up with a contentious, and likely just as expensive and exhausting a campaign.

2) This is going to sound harsh, but I don't want to sugar coat the bad news. Justifiably or not a lot of people will never trust the integrity of this kind of nominating process not to become a self-perpetuating clique. And this suspicion comes not just from the noisy but tiny perpetual haters of "those people in Boston," who could be dismissed as cranks, but from a lot of main stream UUs of all theological and political inclinations. That suspicion has been fed by what looks to a lot of folks in the sticks--make that pews--to be capricious and over reaching "reforms" by the board. These reforms may be justified, but they left a lot of folks bruised, bleeding and confused. The decapitation of YRUU was completed with no continental replacement and apparently none planned all in the name of returning virtually all youth programing to congregations and, maybe, districts. The former affiliates almost unanimously feel that they were rudely
given the back of the Board's hand and are only somewhat mollified by the promise that the shrinking staff, beset by money woes, will somehow have the time and resources to establish some new kind or relationship. I know, I know. You think neither characterization if a fair representation of what the board has accomplished. Fair or not, a lot of folks feel that way and because of it are far less apt to write the Board a blank check in reforming the election process in ways that seem only to enhance its own power--a disciplined contingent of board appointments to the proposed nominating committee could easily dominate those elected/selected in other ways.

Reform will happen. I hope is substantially different from the draft proposals.

Bill Baar said...

...is too long, too grueling, too costly, and/or too disconnected from congregational life and leadership.

UUA is disconnected from most Congregational life. I rarely here it mentioned. Fewer then a dozen showed up at my Church's meeting to divvy up our votes for UUA Prez.

If it were more connected, Candidates might not find such an expensive slog to connect with voters. They could plug into the existing connections between UUA and Congregations to launch their campaigns. We'd already knew them. They would not be such mysteries.

But if UUA were more connected if might find push-back on practices near-and-dear to its heart. When they shoot-off humiliating comments to the likes of Akmenijad, they'll be held accountable in a way only the UU blogosphere does now. Not something left to minister-listservs and insider-networks.

A CC vetting candidates just further disconnects UUA from the life of member Churches. It will only aggravate problems; not resolve them. It will only add another layer of insiders between congregates and leadership, and with today's technology there is no reason for that.

A good start would be picking up a camera at best buy and start broadcasting board meetings.

Robin Edgar said...

"A good start would be picking up a camera at best buy and start broadcasting board meetings.



Excellent suggestion Bill. UUA Board of Trustees meetings are theoretically open to the public but, for whatever reason(s), very few U*Us bother to show up and observe UUA Baord meetings. Having a video record of the meeting makes sense, likewise it would be good if audio MP3 files were made available online. If U*U ministers can podcast their sermons I see no reason* why the UUA cannot do podcasts of Board meetings and other important meetings.



*Well actually I do see some reasons why the UUA might not want to make UUA Board meetings etc. so open to scrutiny but that's another story