UUA Presidential Search: What if it were more like church?

uuapscIn a post originally put on their blog, and later published at the uuWorld site here, the UUA Presidential Search Committee (UUAPSC) updates us on their process.

Which got me to thinking…

The UUAPSC has to come up with 2 candidates for UUA President, which means an automatic contested election.

The ‘winner’ will get one six year term (Section 9.5 of UUA Bylaws). Their nominees will be posted no later than February 1, 2016.

And self-nominations (which require a lot of congregational endorsements) can be made as early as March 1, 2016. The election will be in New Orleans in June 2017.

“Small …organizational meetings and mass mailing letters ” can begin “no earlier than November 1 of the 2nd year preceding the election. So, if the election is June 2017, and 2 years preceding the election is 2015, it means

UUA presidential campaign activity can start November 1, 2015.

The Committee notes that the UUA Prez has no coherent job description, so they’re working on that. They’re thinking about campaign finance limits, diversity of candidates– in other words– all the things YOU might think about if you were on the UUAPSC.

My cursory reading of the UUA bylaws suggests that they way I’ve thought of the UUA President is all wrong.

I’ve thought of the UUA President as being elected “by the people” and essentially independent of the UUA board, which is there– more or less– to provide a reality check to the grand vision casting of the President, and to support the administration at the same time.

However, it appears the UUA board could “fire” the President, pretty much on a whim: “Section 8.5. Removal of Officers”

The President may also be removed by such a vote of the Board if it determines that such removal is in the best interests of the Association.

I doubt you could find that in any UU minister’s letter of agreement. To me, it re-frames the relationship between the UUA President and the UUA board. And then I began thinking about the difference between the board-minister relationship in a church, and the board-executive relationship at the UUA. Which led me to the next question:

What if the UUA Presidential Search Committee process were conducted like a UU church Search Committee Process?

It would be the same Committee, but they would pick ONE candidate. The candidate would do what a minister normally does– meet with constituents all week. Preach at the beginning, and right before a “confirming vote.”

Everyone would understand the President works “for” the whole Association, but is ‘supervised’ by the board of trustees.

The board of trustees would understand their role– not as an adversary, not as a ‘counter balance’ a la American politics– but that their chief role would be to make sure the President was successful in carrying out the mission, vision, and values of the Association.

The UUA President, in turn, would do what she could to make sure the UUA board was successful.

This is exactly what many UU ministers and boards pledge to each other– but I’m not so sure that is how it has worked at the UUA level.

What do you think? Would our UUA Presidential Search Process be better if there was NOT an automatic election, with a “winner” and a “loser” in the process?



8 thoughts on “UUA Presidential Search: What if it were more like church?

  1. Use this version:

    UUA politics, now, is shaped by a widespread fear that there are UUA ‘insiders’ who control the denomination. (Some think they are the New Englanders, or the Big Church Ministers, or the UUA staffers, or the Big Donors, or a generic Somebody Not Like Me.) I think that the Morales/Hallman election turned on such UU populism. The Search Committee reform was devised to make the election of the President more democratic — two great candidates from a bigger pool, bold visions, a real decision. Of course, the Board has been working toward the theory that increasing the President and staffs accountability to the Board is the way to make the system more democratic.
    I think your proposal would result in a better aligned system, but would frustrate the populism among UU’s. When a church uses a search committee, they elect the committee which gives the committee legitimacy to make such a big decision. It lessens the fear of the insiders. But where does that populism come from, and why is it so persistent? Bigger questions.

  2. Would the average UU trust the UUAPSC – a vital element in congregational search committees? And what if there wasn’t a good “confirming vote”??

    Interesting idea to speculate about!

  3. There are absolutely Congregational boards who have the ability to fire the minister. The CLF chief among them but not the only one I know of.

  4. On a somewhat related theme, I am wondering if the aforementioned diversity goal will include lay leaders as viable candidates. We had lay leaders as Presidents in earlier years with, as I understand it, rather good results. This is not in any sense to disparage ministers, but to suggest we should broaden and balance our vision and the skill sets we seek.

  5. I fought for this reform. The previous system allowed only for UUA staffers or large church ministers. But we really do need a respected minister in the job, which involves interfaith, spiritual and not just administrative leadership. NB: the UUA president can only be removed by a super-majority of the board, and for good cause. No President can serve effectively without being chosen in a competitive process. But I urge the PSC to put forward THREE candidates, not two. Most other denominations choose from a plurality of candidates. It’s less divisive and more like discernment.

    1. Until I read your post, I guess I’d assumed the more candidates, the more divisive. However, I realize I have to re-think this: it’s a very interesting point: discernment over divisiveness: in U.S. politics, a primary is frequently less divisive than the general election.

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