Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Governance Detour

A slight (but important) detour into governance from a district perspective

The round up of "what have you heard" in a late evening Saturday workshop at the Pacific Central District Assembly was fascinating: the representation of congregations will shift, the money is in the west [while] the people [members] in the east, there will be a huge Western region, extending from Hawaii to the Rockies, technology will replace a lot of face to face, [the opportunity to develop] personal relationships will be eliminated, regionalized staff will be centralized... Joined by UUA Moderator Gini Courter, who came over for the evening with former UUA Board Trustee at large Tamara Payne-Alex, Mary Ellen Morgan (our district president) and I led a lively discussion with an audience whose most vocal members were PCD trustees with no desire to change the current governance structure, which from their perspective was working well at a district level.

In fairness, PCD has consistently had one of the highest rates of attendance as a percent of membership, district assembly participation, general assembly participation, and fair share congregations. Why tinker with that? We even increased slightly in terms of membership this past year, though we have one of the highest percentage of congregations that are decreasing in membership, and it has been a long time since we have added any congregations.

Even more interesting were some of the underlying assumptions expressed in the workshop: the plan has already been put together (what about that map?), what may work in the rest of the country won't work here (and "we" have the courage to say it), and a great deal of confusion between governance and service delivery.

The "plan" has not been put together. Attempts at changing the governance structured inherited from 50 years ago have crashed and burned a number of times. "That map" that shows a western region extending from Hawaii to the Rockies is an informal arrangement for service delivery, put together by staff, not governance of the Association put together by anyone doing governance. This workshop was part of a discussion that started with the District Presidents Association (DPA) and the UUA Board last November. What started as a conversation about how the President can most effectively hold co-employed staff accountable led to some district presidents questioning why districts existed at all. [PCD disclaimer: Mary Ellen was not one of them, though as the president of the DPA this past year she has gracefully maintained her role as a non-anxious leader creating space for the conversation.]

Gini led us through how we got to where we are: districts were initially created to elect trustees to the newly formed UUA board, with the boundaries gerrymandered to insure control by Unitarians. Existing boundaries were not created for effective service delivery, because that is not what they were set up to do. In the early 1970s, the financial crisis of the UUA led to essentially all field staff being laid off. Concerned about the resulting lack of services to congregations, districts decided to raise their own money and hire their own staff, in a number of cases forming 501(c)3 organizations to do it. If you raise money, you need someone to oversee its collection and use, which led to district boards that in many areas became more and more involved in not just the oversee, but also the delivery of the services themselves, as working boards, much as many of our congregations' boards do. The result is two "fair share" asks to our congregations (one from the UUA, and one from the district), co-employed staff, and a complicated set of funding mechanisms that have wide disparity between districts. Per the January 2008 "Congregations Come First" report:
  • In the Southwestern UU Conference, a large geographic district, two full-time professional staff members and one full-time equivalent administrative position serve 76 member congregations and five emerging congregations. In the relatively smaller and more compact Joseph Priestley District, six professional staff (four full-time, two half-time) and two administrative (one full-time, one half-time) serve 64 member congregations and four emerging congregations.
  • The ratio of district staff members per congregation ranges from 1:11 to 1:45.
  • The amount that our UUA reimburses districts to support their offices ranges from $23,000 to $78,000 as a result of financial agreements dating back as far as 1982.
  • -- On a "dollars per congregation" basis, the reimbursement ranges from less than $500 to over $1,600.
  • -- On a "dollars per member" basis, the reimbursement ranges from less than $4 to almost $12 per member.
  • While some districts are hiring additional specialized staff, another is requesting a line of credit from our UUA to pay its one staff person.
Next post: what does that have to do with us?


David Throop said...

This is very interesting. Keep the UU history coming.

Chuck Rosene said...

Linda wrote: The amount that our UUA reimburses districts to support their offices ranges from $23,000 to $78,000 as a result of financial agreements dating back as far as 1982.

Linda, can you tell us what this is for? To my knowledge, the PCD has never been reimbursed for office support ... is this for co-employed field staff?


Chuck Rosene