Tuesday, September 15, 2009
UUMA Politics -- 1000+ members & 3 hour annual business meeting
The UUMA is an organization of over 1000 people, with an volunteer board. The organization meets for business once in a year in a business meeting that lasts a couple of hours in a hotel ballroom. The members of the organization pay it fitful attention for 362 days a year.
The Exec is going to make proposals for how to go forward on a range of issues. They are going to publish them, and few people are going to read them. But organizational democracy depends on people reading them and preparing their response.
The Exec this year did so for a dues increase and hiring an Executive Director.
When the organization gets to the business meeting, the proposals are pretty well set; there will be no opportunity for extended discussion and devising new proposals on the fly. Really, there are only two alternatives available if you don't like the proposal presented by the Exec. (1) Urge a "No" vote -- and have your arguments ready (2) Be ready with some amendments or substitutes that you try to pass. Those could include delaying implementation, restricting implementation, and calling for further clarification on certain parts until more study has been done.
If you just think that the proposal is half-baked, and needs more consideration, voting "no" sends it back for more work.
Preparing a strategy for influencing the decision of a 1000 member organization operating in a 2-3 hour business meeting is not "bringing boxing gloves"; it is appropriate self-differentiation and self-assertion.
The Exec's proposal for a dues increase and an Executive Director passed. Some people registered their disagreement but did not have strategy and tactics ready to be effective in the situation of decision-making process of the organization. (It seemed to me that those opposed had the tactics appropriate to a small group decision making process -- they announced that they had concerns about the proposal and were opposed to it and they assumed that the process would be extended long enough for the whole group to explore their concerns and devise a compromise.) Predictably, they lost, for which they blame the UUMA Exec for a bad process.
Since then, the Exec has hired an ED. There are questions about the process of that choice, but was it contrary to the instructions given by the organization through the proposal that passed? I don't know; that's a good question. Someone could look into that. But the next point of decision will be the next business meeting. Members of the organization can give further instruction to the Exec on how to move from an Acting ED to a permanent ED at the next business meeting, if they come prepared to do so. In the meantime, figuring out how to tell whether the ED is doing a good job or not is much more important.
The UUMA is going to grow into a larger and larger organization. It will have subgroups with different interests, and maybe even competing interests and concerns. Counting on an Exec is move us along by somehow reconciling and balancing all these interests and concerns through their goodwill and pastoral skills is childish and dependent.
And after having our congregants project that kind of parental authority onto us all year ("please take care of me, I am not happy with the way the church is going and feel sad and lonely.") it is perhaps tempting to do the same to the UUMA Exec.
But democracy in an organization requires work and preparation, not only from the leadership but from the rank and file.