Business Resolution: General Assembly Planning Committee

FULL TEXT OF RESOLUTION:

The Commission on Institutional Change, in their report, “Widening the Circle of Concern,” recommended that the Board of Trustees examine the bylaws of the Association with the purpose of streamlining and clarifying the Association’s governance structure.

The Board of Trustees has proposed a multi-year process to rewrite the Association’s bylaws.

One of the guiding principles of the proposed bylaw revision is to separate the governance responsibilities of the elected Board of Trustees (and their committees) from the implementation responsibilities of the Association staff and staff volunteers.

Over the decades, the planning and implementation of General Assembly has required professionalized staff. For example, the General Assembly and Conference service director negotiated contract changes with hotels and conference centers throughout the pandemic.

The General Assembly Planning Committee has not held a governance role in many years. Increasingly, the General Assembly Planning Committee has focused on questions of implementation rather than governance. As such, the GAPC no longer appropriately belongs in the bylaws.

Additionally, having to shift first to completely virtual General Assemblies due to the pandemic, and now to multi-platform modalities, requires a committee structure that is flexible and able to recruit volunteers with the skills needed for events as they change.

The Board of Trustees extends sincere gratitude to the many General Assembly Planning Committee volunteers who, over the years, worked to provide meaningful opportunities for Unitarian Universalists to gather and build community. Their efforts grew and expanded the General Assembly in wonderful ways. Many thanks to each of you for your ministry.

BASED ON THE FOREGOING, NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED,

GENERAL ASSEMBLY 2022 hereby suspends until further notice the membership and activities required by the bylaws of the General Assembly Planning Committee. This action creates flexibility to explore more inclusive and innovative GA planning structures.

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What I don’t understand is the rationale for suspending the old structure before the new one is in place. If I saw what was intended to replace the current structure, I would probably more willing to go ahead and support this. How about proposing some possible “more inclusive and innovative” structures for evaluation, or at least explaining who is going to be doing that exploration and how we the members and delegates will get information about that process as it happens?

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From my experience observing the GA planning process in years past, the GAPC takes up a lot of logistical support time from the General Assembly and Conference Services (GACS) Staff for what amounts to a group that provided a stamp of approval on what the GACS brought forward. Suspending the GAPC, would free up Staff and the Board to envision what is actually needed from a planning committee, without worrying about keeping the committee full and with things to do, which has been a struggle in the past few years.

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Thanks, but the question remains, how does that envisioning happen? Is it simply staff and board involved in that, or will former committee members and UUs in general be included in the process?

I appreciate the context from Rev. Markus as I had similar concerns to Sally’s upon reading that it would immediately suspend all membership and activities as written in the GAPC bylaws.

Does anyone have the list of those “membership and activities” bylaw items so that we know exactly what is being suspended?

I was able to find this 9 minute video from Susan Ritchie which provides a lot of insight into the history and changing purpose of the GAPC.
[GAPlanningCommittee2 on Vimeo](https://Susan Ritchie in the History of the GAPC)

What I’m wondering is if this bylaw intends to dissolve the GAPC completely or if it seeks to return it to some of this original ecclesiastical meeting intention?

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I agree with Rev Marcus. I have been baffled at prior GA’s by the overlapping and seemingly redundant responsibilities of the GAPC and the GACS.

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Having watched the video that Erica found, I am disturbed by the GAPC voluntarily ceding the agenda-making to the board. I believe that was done in 2007 (am I remembering correctly?), which would have been after I became a UU in 1998, but before I learned of the existence of GA (2008); I would have objected at the time had I been aware.

Agenda setting is important; it should be in the hands not of the board and staff, but of the delegates for whom they work, as represented by a duly-elected planning committee. I agree that such a committee is probably not equipped to do the logistical work, which seems to be more of a staff/board responsibility. I would like to know the history of the decision to cede agenda-setting.

This is a fairly important amendment hiding under apparent inconsequence; see bold text below [my emphasis]:
GAPC: 8 elected members, 2 board-appointed members; elected members, 4-year terms; appointed, 2-year terms; 1/2 of elected members elected in odd-numbered years. After 2 terms, cannot be reëlected for a 4-year period.
“responsible for arrangements for General Assembly and programs and meetings to be held in connection therewith. It may establish subcommittees of its members and may delegate part or all of its powers to them.”
Along with the board and the Commission on Appraisal, one of the only 3 entities specified as able to submit proposed amendments to the by-laws independently and without a specified deadline; the other groups are (a) 15 member congregations through actions of their board or membership, by Feb. 1 and (b) “a district or region by official action at a duly called meeting at which a quorum is present”, also by Feb. 1 for a June GA, or not less than 110 days before.
A few years ago, the board proposed eliminating the Commission on Appraisal, delegates voted that down, as it is the main body of nonstaff UUs overseeing the denomination as a whole. With this being the only other nonstaff entity with the ability to propose amendments without a difficult process, I think it is important to not suspend the GAPC.

The GAPC handed the agenda of the business sessions to the board because the board is in charge of governance year round. It was absurd that the governing body of the Association had to present and get approval from another entity to put forward the business that they had the greatest knowledge of and had been working on throughout the prior year. To me, this was an eminently reasonable and appropriate decision. It was widely supported by the Board, the GAPC, and the delegates.

That said, the GAPC has provided guidance and advocated for how we can better live into our shared values by working with staff and volunteers to support UUs with currently and historically marginalized identities to be part of our GA experience (children, middle school camp, volunteer-ships, delegate scholarships, gender-neutral bathrooms, Right Relationship Team (now Conflict and Covenant), GA Chaplins, Safety Team, Systemic Justice Team, financial support of youth & young adult programming, creation of greening practices, efforts to fund musicians, address cultural appropriation, creating a review process to support more inclusive worship, caucusing & identity spaces, and more). GAPC was central to efforts to move toward multi-year planning and to explore how GA might build upon the work done during prior GAs. GAPC proposed and executed the Justice-Centered GA in 2017 in NOLA.

And, the system is broken. The Board, the Administration, and the GAPC are in a dysfunctional triangle with poor boundaries, broken promises, and a true lack of accountability. The financing of GA is also less than clear with GA and its budget (including the GACS staff) in a separate “division” from the operating budget even though GA depends on the staff that is paid from the operating budget. Serving on the GAPC is a part-time volunteer job which is a luxury that many cannot afford and which keeps the Committee much more white and much more affluent than the great preponderance of our congregants and the wider world.

I don’t know what the answer should be. Something needs to shift. I hope and want to trust that this proposal is well considered and was co-created with an expansive and inclusive process that involved the GAPC.

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Thank you for this explanation. This helps me understand this proposal a lot.

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As current liaison to the GAPC from the UUA Board, I want to appreciate your explanation and history and add that following last year’s GA, there were just two members of the GAPC continuing, and the existence of the GAPC as mandated in the Bylaws had become a factor inhibiting the work of the GA Conference Staff. Because of the way the GAPC is written into Bylaws, there has to be a whole secondary set of bookkeeping moving the UUA’s own money back and forth into and out of the General Assembly lines of budget. There’s a whole parallel system where the GA Conferences Staff are UUA employees accountable to the UUA’s President, but also to the GAPC, which creates a space in which that staff member may be triangulated or given contradictory orders by volunteers and staff repeatedly. This year, we’ve used the several open slots on the GAPC to pilot the creation of an advisory group from the teams who jointly support the volunteer systems at GA (Conflict and Covenant, Worship, local support, etc) and hope to continue this in policy rather than as a part of the Bylaws so that we can update who gets added to that team based on who the people are holding specific roles at GA more appropriately and flexibly.

Having seen this work this year, I know we could be supporting our paid GA Conference Staff in a more focused way if not for the confusion of the GAPC mandate in the Bylaws. I’m hoping we can vote to release this model, created at Consolidation, from the Bylaws so that we can create a team that supports the current interface between paid staff and volunteer roles and that can change in response to new circumstances more easily (as we have de facto had to do during COVID anyhow. It would be nice to not have this sitting in the Bylaws in archaic form and dragging us backward.)

So, the short form is, we have a plan and we’ve even tried it for most of a year… now we are asking folks to let the old form leave the Bylaws so that we can formally make a policy and do this thing that works with our current system without creating a new puddle of Bylaws quicksand to get stuck in several years into the future.

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Thanks, Elizabeth; that is important information—why was it not included with the proposal? It makes more sense to confirm something that is already in process than to just delete something without knowing what is to replace it. Or are we just supposed to “trust”, not worthy or capable of understanding such explanations? (Please excuse crankiness; I should probably delete that last sentence, but I will leave it, trusting folks here to understand that it is frustration with ongoing lack of communication, NOT directed at any individual in particular, especially not anyone who is taking the time to post here—thank you all for this discussion. )

Regarding money transfers, will we still be able to track GA funds, expenses as well as income, or will that be buried in a UUA line that contains other staff expenses? I would want GA funds to be clearly identifiable.

Thank you Elizabeth! This is helpful information that has increased my understanding of what this item is all about.

Just a quick clarification. How we keep the books is not mandated in the bylaws. We can move the GA budget into the operating budget or the Board budget without changing the bylaws. No other elected committee has an entirely separate budget. However, having a separate budget is what allowed GAPC to have GACS staff and other things that the other four elected committed who are dependant on the Board for funding do not because the GAPC had access to revenue through GA registration funds. Moving the budget into the operating budget dramatically reduces the resources (and therefore the power of the GAPC) and requires no change of the bylaws.

Debra, I so appreciated your comments, especially because of your long leadership on GAPC. And I agree that what we have has not been working. Part of the problem is role confusion because the GAPC does programmatic and logistical work, but not governance. So the structure doesn’t match the role Additionally, there are a host of volunteers, contracted leaders, UUA staff and others involved in planning and implementing GA. We didn’t dictate another structure because the intent of the business resolution is provide opportunity to explore what kind of structure(s) can best support the implementation of General Assembly. The Board did not wish to create an alternative structure that also might now work, but instead allow the GA Conference Services Office, the GA volunteers and contracted leaders, the UUA Board, and the UUA Administration to experiment with different formulations to find what might best support the work of both volunteers and staff to implement General Assembly effectively.

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Thanks!

Things did improve under your leadership. I have always appreciated your deep desire and commitment to our shared faith. How we gather does need to be re-envisioned. I hope that whatever comes next is an expansive and collaborative process that gets us to a new & better place - together.

Looking forward to seeing you soon! =)

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I am confused now; in your earlier comment, you said this: “Because of the way the GAPC is written into Bylaws, there has to be a whole secondary set of bookkeeping moving the UUA’s own money back and forth into and out of the General Assembly lines of budget.”
Here, you say that how the books are kept is not mandated in the by-laws, which seems to be contradictory.

Does anyone here know what would be in order in terms of an amendment, responsive resolution, budget resolution, etc., to request that the GA registration funds continue to be accessible to whatever entity is a successor to the GAPC if this by-law change passes?

Honesty, we might be better serviced by having all the funds for operating & GA together - or not. That is a worthy conversion with a lot of different implications.

The GAPC is charged by the current bylaws with “arrangements for the General Assembly and programs”… The GA “arrangements” should clearly be done by staff. However programming does involve governance, specifically, the mix of programs, how program proposals will be evaluated, which might be solicited versus which might be disallowed, etc.

This is a big issue when “deplatforming” for political or ideological reasons has become a problem both within the UUA and in the larger society. These days someone might want to run for the GAPC to promote our 4th principle - “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning” because of the current censorship on certain issues. We have “pro” and “con” mikes on business resolutions - why not “pro” and “con” views in our programing on suchissues?