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Friday, July 17, 2009

The election is over; time to plan the next one!

The Unitarian Universalist Association elected Peter Morales its eighth president on June 27, but that doesn't mean it's time for UUs to stop thinking about the way we choose our national leaders. The Board of Trustees is proposing some major changes to the way we elect the president and moderator, which the General Assembly will vote on next summer; see UU World's news coverage of the board's proposal and the revised bylaws delegates will consider in 2010. (The amendments were published in the 2009 General Assembly Business Agenda so delegates could begin discussing them.)

For a lively conversation about the board's proposal and other suggestions for reforming the UUA's elections process, check out the Election-L email forum. Access to the archives requires a subscription, but that's easy to obtain.

Copyright © 2009 by Philocrites | Posted 17 July 2009 at 9:04 AM

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8 comments:

Kenneth:

July 17, 2009 10:37 AM | Permalink for this comment

Heh. You're just posting this in the hope I'll pick it up for the Interconnected Web!

Well, mister, I think it's high time for the obscure and literary to make a comeback.

Philocrites:

July 17, 2009 12:37 PM | Permalink for this comment

Tom Schade is arguing at his blog (and on Election-L) for a presidential search committee that would present a single candidate in place of our current system of contested elections. But I especially want to call your attention to his post on the need for overt factions in denominational politics.

Desmond Ravenstone:

July 17, 2009 09:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

Before we address the question of how to elect the UUA's President, shouldn't we ask what kind of President we want?

If we want a President who is primarily a CEO -- a super-administrator -- then perhaps the "search committee" paradigm would make more sense, so long as such a committee focuses on how well a candidate will fulfill those responsibilities.

On the other hand, if we want a prophetic visionary, then democracy is not only appropriate but essential in finding a person who can speak on our behalf.

The problem IMHO is that we expect the UUA President to be both kinds of leaders, when rarely is such a combination to be found.

Perhaps, then, we should consider devolving this office, either dividing responsibilities among existing ones, or creating a new set of offices to replace the current single-person paradigm.

Radical proposal, I admit ... but, then again, so is the very idea of our faith!

Kurt Jensen:

July 18, 2009 06:13 AM | Permalink for this comment

Philo,

Is this proposed amendment another piece of legislation that will require an up or down vote with no amendment from the delegates? If so, I think this proposal may not have enough of a story to pass.

I wonder why we could not have discussed proposals like this one and the idea the 5th Principle project is proposing at GA in a Committee of the Whole? We had plenty of time if leadership wanted to make that happen. It would, at least, had allowed the BoT to hear from the delegates what they thought before we put these into a non-debatable form.

Philocrites:

July 18, 2009 08:39 AM | Permalink for this comment

Kurt, the bylaws the board is proposing to amend only require a single two-thirds vote. They're not governed by the restrictive clauses of Article XV that frustrated many delegates this year, and they can be amended at GA.

Desmond, some partisans of each of candidate in the most recent election did see the election as a referendum on the nature of the office, although I don't think either candidate fit exactly into the two options you're describing.

Desmond Ravenstone:

July 18, 2009 10:21 AM | Permalink for this comment

...I don't think either candidate fit exactly into the two options you're describing.

The two paradigms I described were just those which came to mind; I'm sure there are many more.

As to not fitting either exactly ... well, that's the whole point. Without a clear idea of what kind of "president" we want, aren't we setting ourselves up for disappointment? No offense to anyone who has served as or run for UUA President, but when the job description is so broad and vague, the question is raised of whether anyone can fulfill all of the expectations that come with it.

Presbyterian churches, for example, have clearly defined roles for their national officers (Moderator, Clerk, Executive Director). That could be a model for discussing how we might (re)define the roles of President and other denominational leadership positions.

Philocrites:

July 18, 2009 01:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

Desmond, the people who are disappointed by the process are those whose vision didn't win or whose vision wasn't even represented in the current process. The point I was trying to make was that UUs simply don't have a shared notion of what the president's role is — but I'm not sure that this is a defect. Indeed, the starkest divide between the campaigns this last time around had to do with the nature of the presidency. Our presidential elections apparently serve not just as a referendum on the candidates' platforms but also as a referendum on the nature of the office.

In other words, the way the UUA currently resolves disputes over competing perspectives about the nature of the presidency is by voting for one perspective over others, as they're embodied in a particular candidate and their agenda. And I'd argue that the current conversation about reforming the election process is motivated, if only in part, by attempts to codify some of these competing notions of the presidency into the office itself.

I'm not disagreeing with any of your observations; indeed, some of the board's work on policy governance of some of the board's proposed election reforms seem aimed at defining the president's role (or restricting the range of possible interpretations of the president's role) just as you have suggested.

Desmond Ravenstone:

July 18, 2009 04:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

The point I was trying to make was that UUs simply don't have a shared notion of what the president's role is but I'm not sure that this is a defect. ... [T]he way the UUA currently resolves disputes over competing perspectives about the nature of the presidency is by voting for one perspective over others, as they're embodied in a particular candidate and their agenda.

I'd suggest that the problem is not between competing perspectives or visions of the nature of the presidency, but between any such perspective and the reality itself.

I like to call it the "Yes, Minister" effect, after the British comedy program. Like all comedies, that program tends to exaggerate the conflict between an elected office-holder's agenda or vision, and the "entrenched bureaucracy," but the point is that organizations take on such a life of their own that it demands that anyone who takes over that role can only do so much in terms of implementing an agenda. Look at how the LGBT community has been responding to the Obama administration's pace at implementing some of his promises (DADT in particular); I for one am not surprised, but then again I've worked both sides of the wall between activism and administration.



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