Monday, June 29, 2009

Ammendments to Article II (Sean)

Part 2 of my Saturday coverage.

I'm not really sure where to start on this subject, and many other bloggers have covered most of the issues in a great deal of depth. Suffice it to say that, having just suggested in my last post that many delegates arrive unprepared, we were, ahem, unprepared. At first I thought we were just out of the loop due to having missed last year's GA, but as things progressed, I learned that pretty much the entire assembly felt blindsided by this.

Without rehashing the entire (ongoing) discussion here, let me just say that all of the angst, all of the confusion, and even all of the trouble the assembly had moving the matter forward comes from what I believe to be a simple but catastrophic oversight in section C15.1(c)4 of the bylaws. Let me explain:

One would hope that, in the normal course of the affairs of the Association, the assembled congregations would periodically undertake to review and perhaps modify Article II of the bylaws, which state the "Principles and Purposes" of the Association. One would also hope that "periodically" would mean that we would not let as much as a decade and a half to pass between such reviews.

Should we do that, the process of review and amendment is quite reasonable, and is described in bylaw section C15.1(c)1 -- any proposal to review or amend must come before GA to determine whether further review is warranted, at which point the GA may, by majority vote, refer the proposal to a commission appointed by the BOT to conduct such a review, which is to involve member congregations. Within three years, such commission shall bring the proposal and any amendments thereto in front of GA, which may adopt them by a two-thirds majority.

This process is open and inclusive -- congregations, through their delegates, will know of the proposal before study and review begins because it will have already come before GA, and the commission is specifically charged to include congregations in the review process. No one at the subsequent GA wherein the proposal is potentially adopted could reasonably claim to have been blind-sided.

The bylaws also include a "safety valve." Lest the "Principles and Purposes" stagnate and become credal without intentional thought by the Association, C15.1(c)4 requires the BOT to establish such a commission to review and study Article II -- note that this no longer requires or involves the General Assembly prior to the review and study process -- and may then, in its discretion, place any proposal resulting therefrom on the agenda of the next GA. That GA may then vote by simple majority to admit the proposal to the next GA, wherein it may be adopted by a two-thirds majority.

The problem is two-fold. One is that the first time the proposal appears before GA may well be the first time any delegate is even aware the issue was being worked -- that's the blindsided part. The second is that there is no provision whatever for any further work or amendment to be done to the proposal between the time it is admitted by majority vote and the time it is adopted by two-thirds vote.

The simple fix to this is to change C15.1(c)4 to, instead, charge the BOT, if no proposal has been brought forth in 15 years, to charge a commission to bring forward such a proposal, to then be submitted in front of the General Assembly in accordance with the already reasonable process described by C15.1(c)1, which ensures not only that the proposal appears before the assembly twice, but also allows for a reasonable discussion, debate, and amendment process in the interim.

Note that I've already prattled on for eight paragraphs about broken process and a frustrated assembly, yet I have not said even one word about the content of the proposed changes to Article II. It could (but will not) go without saying that there was some lively debate and discussion about several points in the proposal. There were enough contentious issues, in fact, that many in the assembly felt they could not get behind and support the proposal entirely as it stood, without amendment (for which, as I said, there is no allowable process within the bylaws).

I personally did not spend a lot of time dwelling on the content, as it became clear to me that there would be ample opportunity to get involved in that one way or another at a later time (remember, even a vote to "adopt" here would merely have placed the proposal on the agenda for the next GA, where a 2/3 vote would be required). What was immensely clear to me, though, was that enough people felt disenfranchised by the new language that there was no way I could, in good conscience, vote to have the matter languish for another year with no ability for discourse and amendment.

In the end, enough people were either against the content itself or, as me, the process by which things would move forward, that the proposal was defeated by the thinnest of margins. In a vote that required a hand count by the tellers, the motion failed by a mere 13 votes, out of 1,159 cast -- a margin of just 1%.

The mandate to the Association is clear and two-fold: we need to fix the bylaws so this does not happen this way ever again, and someone needs to come forward with another proposal for amendment of article II that will now follow the reasonable process of C15.1(c)1.

Several have suggested that such a proposal could not be considered by the Assembly until two years have passed, as that is the way it is so stipulated at the end of C15.1(c)1. However, my reading of the Bylaws suggests otherwise -- there is no such stipulation in C15.1(c)4, under which this proposal was brought, and the stipulation under (c)1 appears to me to be applicable only to proposals originally brought forth under that section. I see no prohibition on bringing any proposal brought under (c)4, but then defeated, immediately in front of the assembly under (c)1.

Of course, this is my reading in the calm light of day and after GA is over. My regret is that I did not see this sooner -- I could have brought a motion under C15.1(c)1 to refer the existing proposal right back to the BOT under that section for referral to a new commission for study, thus starting the clock immediately at this GA, while allowing the commission to consider amendments, which might then have been immediately forthcoming right here in Salt Lake. Oh well.


Cynthia Landrum said...

Very clear. Thank you! I'm guessing that what we need is for proposals to change Article II to be one small piece at a time, rather than such a large proposal. There were many small revisions in the proposal that would've been pretty uncontroversial if they were handled separate from the others. A process that allows for amendments, too, would enable us to remove the more controversial pieces while passing the ones we had consensus on.

SC Universalist said...

It's hard for me to imagine that this blindsided that many folks -
The original revision and the revised revision were widely available and discussed. It was on the UU Leaders mailing list (and various other UU lists), it was mention on the UU World website (and the magazine as well?).
what are ways it could have been publicized more?

Sean said...

@SC Universalist:

Yes, I found them there -- after I saw them for the first time in the Agenda.

I can't speak for other delegates -- I know that for myself, I am not privy to the UU Leaders mailing list (perhaps, as a returning delegate, I should be?), and it's incredibly difficult to find anything as it whizzes by on the official web sites. In fact, I find it difficult to find things there even when I already know about them -- I spent ten full minutes searching for the Fifth Principle Task Force interim report.

I will give some thought to your question on how it might better have been publicized. But, frankly, that does not change the fact that there must be a better process for discussion and amendment between admittance and passage.

Christopher L. Walton said...

I want to learn more about why this blind-sided people. UU World published the full text of the proposed revisions with an article about the proposal in the Spring 2009 issue -- with the headline "New Principles and Purposes?" on the cover. The magazine published the full text of the Commission on Appraisal's earlier draft in the Winter 2008 issue. Two earlier articles explained the review process.

Apparently that was not adequate.

Sean said...

@Christopher (et. al.),

First, let me say that I am merely reporting my observations based on what transpired in Plenary, where the debate suggested to me that people seemed generally unaware of the process (and, in some cases, the content).

I might add that it is not necessarily the content of the Article-II amendments that I am saying people felt blindsided by, but rather the process and the fact that there was no provision for discussion and further amendment.

Speaking for myself, I don't receive UU World, so I did not see even the proposed Article-II amendments in print until I arrived at GA. I suppose I might have seen them on the UU World web site (which, I confess, I do not visit often), but I know for a fact that nothing especially prominent about them was on the main UUA web site any time I checked there leading up to GA.

Since I don't belong to a brick-and-mortar congregation, I can't say what, if anything, was ever mentioned about these changes either from the pulpit or in any other form during congregational life prior to GA. I would expect, for most congregational delegates, that this would have been the principle mechanism by which they would have been circulated and discussed.

Yet, again, based on my observation of both the CON statements (some of which suggested there had been no opportunity for discussion), and the questions from the Procedural mic, along with the ultimate defeat of the measure, it appeared to my untrained eye that the issue had not been well discussed or, in some cases, thought about ahead of time by the majority of delegates.

I'm not sure what to suggest to fix this, other than what I have already written, which is to force even BOT-generated revisions to Article-II to appear first before the entire assembly, prior to them being worked and revised by a commission, as they would if they arose through paragraph (c)1 [rather than (c)4].

Incidentally, our own experience here is probably an aberration -- we don't receive publications such as UU World living on the road, and we're probably a few months behind even on CLF publications. I get most of my updates directly from the UUA web site (although, based on this experience, I think I will now start checking in more often on the UU World web site as well). We generally consider ourselves well informed on governance issues, though, so not seeing this until mostly the last minute, as it were, was a bit disconcerting to both of us -- even if that was due to our own lack of more physical connections to the UU universe.