Rigged at Every Level

Amid the angst surrounding Article II, the November 15, 2022, announcement of a single UUA presidential candidate has sparked yet another uproar.

With only a single candidate, there will be no 2023 presidential election, as required by the bylaws. Instead, the six people on the Presidential Search Committee decided that they alone would select the next UUA president. We now have the UUA’s final abandonment of democratic norms.

UUs have sent protest letters to the Association’s President, the Board’s Co-moderators, and Board Secretary. Complaints have been filed with the Massachusetts Attorney General that oversees non-profits. The Unitarian Universalist Association is accountable to its bylaws in selecting its corporate officers.

Violation of Association’s Bylaws  

The Association has specific language governing the number of presidential candidates. The applicable bylaw reads, in part, the “Presidential Search Committee shall submit no fewer than two nominations for the office of President for an election.” The operative phrase is “for an election.”

Failing to comply with this obligation, the Presidential Search Committee concluded that an “appropriate course of action was to move forward with [a single candidate] rather than reopening the application process.”

Observe that the PSC recognized that it had the option to reopen the application process.

Disregard of Directive from General Assembly Delegates

In 2021, General Assembly delegates explicitly expressed the will of the Association’s member congregations for multiple presidential candidates. Delegates rejected a UUA Board-sponsored amendment that permitted the Presidential Search Committee to submit a single name.

The General Assembly delegates also rejected the Board’s rationale for this amendment. “Allows the Presidential Search Committee to submit a single candidate, if they determine that is appropriate.”

Prescient to abandoning democratic norms, the UUA Board continued, “forced competition may be harmful.” Contradicting its forecast of “harm,” the Board offered that “additional candidates may run by petition if there are concerns about the candidate(s) proposed by the Presidential Search Committee.”  This invitation was demonstratively disingenuous.

A 2023 Presidential Petition Candidate Comes Forward

In May 2022, Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof informed his Spokane congregation that he was considering a run for UUA president. A petition candidate must have sufficient visibility across the denomination to secure petition signatures from 50 certified member congregations across three regions. The governing body or a called congregational meeting must approve a congregation petition. This lengthy petition process, however, never began.

The Election Campaign Practices Committee (ECPC), whose members are appointed by the UUA Board of Trustees, immediately informed Rev. Eklof that his May announcement violated the Association’s bylaw prohibiting “active campaigning” before November 15. There are only 11 weeks from November 15 to the February 1 deadline to announce, communicate, schedule, and gather congregation petitions. This insufficient timeframe is further exacerbated by the holiday season.

The ECPC informed Rev. Eklof that he must cease all activities, or his “name will not appear on any ballot for President of the UUA in 2023.”

The ECPC left unsaid that the Association’s bylaws are utterly silent on when a person may begin the collection of presidential petitions. Instead, the ECPC referenced the sloppy bylaw language intended for internally nominated candidates. Nonetheless, the ECPC was emphatic, concluding, “Our rules on the length of campaigns are clear and not negotiable. There will not be a subsequent warning.”

Why the hostility?

2018 Presidential Search Committee Report

In April 2018, the Presidential Search Committee issued a report recommending changes to the election process. The report is long, thorough, and contains some good ideas, such as nominating three candidates instead of two. The report’s central theme is clear; the creation of an environment in which the Presidential Search Committee has maximum control over the presidential selection process. Maximum control includes excluding petition candidates.

Consistent with this strategy, the report recommended doubling congregation presidential petitions from 25 to 50. This new threshold was considered a sufficient barrier to prevent or discourage petition candidates. This recommendation was later incorporated into the Association’s bylaws.

The PSC’s real objective was the complete elimination of the petition bylaw. However, “In the absence of the will to eliminate this by-law completely, we believe that the threshold for petition candidates should be raised significantly—to at least 50 congregations.”

The Presidential Search Committee was candid. “Our committee was concerned from the beginning of our work that the potential candidates could choose not to engage with us and easily run by petition.” Control, not an open election process, was paramount.

Full Circle

We now come full circle. Six people have decided who will be the next UUA President.

In response to protest letters, UU leaders indicated that the Presidential Search Committee was independent and immune from oversight. The UUA President wrote, “I have no authority or oversight over the committee. There is no action that I, or the Board can or could take to change the outcome of the PSC decision.”

When pressed on accountability, the UUA President further explained that the PSC was “only accountable to the General Assembly.” It is unknown if the UUA President instructed the PSC to review the 2021 General Assembly delegate vote that required the PSC to present at least two presidential candidates.

Most astonishingly, the UUA President confessed helplessness to address this situation, stating, “The PSC is accountable to the GA (General Assembly) and the Bylaws but there is no mechanism to force them to do something and no recourse if they take a different path.” Breathtaking.

Our UUA President is not without recourse. A press release could have been issued condemning the rogue and undemocratic actions of the Presidential Search Committee.

Additionally, the sole presidential candidate could negate the Presidential Search Committee’s actions and its lack of accountability to the Association’s bylaws and the expressed will of General Assembly delegates by withdrawing.

For years, UU leadership has pressed accountability. Let’s see how committed UU leaders are to accountability.

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Frank Casper
Admin
2 days ago

This is a truly stunning development. The President of the UUA has declared that the PSC, a board-level committee, bears no accountability to any other committee or person within leadership, except the GA. But how can the PSC be accountable to the GA when they are defying the vote of the delegates at the GA of 2021, who voted to prevent the PSC from doing what they are now clearly trying to do, offer only one candidate of their choosing for the office of President of the UUA? So, according to our President, the PSC is evidently accountable to no… Read more »

Frank Casper
Admin
2 days ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

One other note. Watch the charges of racism come cascading down on us for being opposed to a rigged election.

Nancy
Nancy
2 days ago

This is horrifying. I frequently felted as helpless and angry when Trump was in office.There was no recourse to his disregard for our country’s laws and traditions. It seems to me that the UUA is now resorting to similar tactics.

Robert McNally
1 day ago

Appalling, yet consistent with the direction the denomination has been heading for years now. Saddening as well.

Jim Aikin
1 day ago

I’ve posted the link to this piece to the Facebook group of my local congregation. It’s not a very active group, so I don’t know if anyone there will even read it. But I did add a comment that this moment marks the end of my membership in the congregation, unless the congregation divorces itself from the UUA. I will not remain a member of UU. The UUA has become too toxic. It’s no longer a religious organization at all. Not that I was ever religious, but as someone once said, “This is shit up with which I will not… Read more »

David Willkomm
David Willkomm
1 day ago
Reply to  Jim Aikin

Sorry to hear you might be leaving our UU faith, but I understand your frustration. I’ve read some of your previous posts & you seem to have a good understanding of the type of future UUA has planned for the rest of us. Kind of reminds my of my Vietnam tour, in which I felt we were going to lose & hoped I would get my 12 months in & return Stateside, before the end happened.

Pat
Pat
1 day ago

Thank you for this clear explanation.
I am so sad about my religion.

Godfrey
Godfrey
1 day ago

I found that two recent op ed pieces have important ideas. I recommend you have a look.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/11/21/reparations-black-americans-reimagined/

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/15/opinion/racism-systemic-structural.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare

I think there are ideas in these two ieces that may identify actions that might actually reduce disparity.

I believe open discussions in congregations might led to effective ways and policies to that is often called structural racism.

Bill Jordan
Bill Jordan
1 day ago

They are either taking lessons from or giving lessons to the Republicans about election manipulation and vote suppression.

Tim Bartik
1 day ago

Three legal questions:

1. Is there any significant probability that the complaints to the Massachusetts Attorney General will result in anything?

2. Is there any legal basis for a lawsuit over this?

3. If the Presidential Search Committee is accountable to the General Assembly, can the next G A reject their report? What does accountability mean unless the GA has some such discretion?

Tim Bartik
1 day ago
Reply to  WebMaster

But is anyone reading this a lawyer who can comment on my other points? Someone who specializes in non-profit law.

For example, if it was possible to file a lawsuit over this, it would be interesting for a discovery process to look at any emails exchanged between the Nominating Committee and UUA Leadership during this processes. Maybe the Nominating Committee did not communicate with UUA leadership, and just did its thing. But maybe not….

Burton Brunson
Burton Brunson
1 day ago

There’s one obvious response. It may be the only logical response. Individual congregations who disapprove the current actions must quit sending money to the UUA. Don’t reduce the amount sent. Send nothing. Never mind any prior agreements, because the present “leadership” has made it clear that previous understandings need not be respected. Understand that the authoritarian mindset seeks control because control produces power and money. Cut out the money. The bad guys will have to decide whether to sever ties with non-paying congregations or try to make a deal. They’re not likely to respect any deal, because they already don’t… Read more »

Karen Winter
Karen Winter
1 day ago
Reply to  Burton Brunson

Agreed. Full congregational autonomy is likely to be the most effective response to institutional capture at the UUA level.

John Eichtodt
John Eichtodt
1 day ago

Dear UUs, First, grateful thanks to the Fifth Principle Project for keeping UUs informed. Second, as we all know, democracy is much more than procedure: it is how we come together. It determines who we are as a community and as persons in our community. Third, the last information indicating a flagrant violation of our bylaws on the next election of of our president raises a serious issue of whether the election can be valid, whether a president can be elected in such an election process that would be invalid. Fourth, the newly elected president would not be legally legitimate,… Read more »

David
David
1 day ago

The below is what I wrote in a group discussion that included the UUA President and Co-Moderators: It is objectively true that the UUA is undermining democracy and democratic processes in UU. There is no honest or sincere argument otherwise. I would imagine the UUA’s board members themselves would that they don’t want an “outsider” (an oxymoron in UU) such as Rev. Eklof to run for President. One can argue this or that, but a one-candidate presidential election speaks for itself. Especially, when we all know of at least one significant figure who wanted to run for President but was… Read more »

Last edited 1 day ago by David
Jay Kiskel
Jay Kiskel
1 day ago
Reply to  David

David, your comment well highlights the “dishonesty and hypocrisy” that have become the norm within the Association. This norm is well illustrated by the link you provided to the November 2022 UU World article by the UUA President, Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gary, “Our Faith Demands We Protect Democracy.” She writes, “we hold the practice of democracy within our denomination and among society at large as sacred.”

However, a better source of counsel is from the MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow. “Watch what they do, not what they say.”

Steve Myles
Steve Myles
1 day ago

Let me guess…the candidate for President of the UUA is Black. Obviously, the UUA Board and its President view having a POC at the head of our church as more important than following their rules or their principles for it demonstrates a commitment to “centering the voices of POC”. They cannot risk a fair election, so they justify their authoritarian actions as the only way to make things change. You can do atrocious things in the name of “righteousness”.

Peter Aitken
Peter Aitken
1 day ago

It’s telling that the bylaws limiting campaigning to 15 weeks must be rigorously followed while the part requiring at least two nominees can be thrown in the trash. This is hypocrisy on a stick. But of course, Rev Eklof scares the dickens out of them because he called out much of the UUA’s skullduggery in “The Gadfly Papers.” So, Sophia Betancourt will simply be anointed as our president at the next GA. Why don’t they at least have a straight yea/nay vote on this? I would think that GA, as a group, would be mighty annoyed that their directive about… Read more »

Jim
Jim
1 day ago

I know what Rev. SS, and others, would say about all this whinging. We are a small nefarious group of bad actors impeding the Noble Righteous Cause, demanding to be able to continue to be super-callous-fragile-racist-opprossive-white-supremacists whose fear-mongering is victimizing weak-minded sheep with no agency of their own into questioning their faith. It is no wonder that the cynical take on all this UU machination is resonating; given the lying, bad faith, history of the false narrative of the “hiring controversy” and the resignation of UU President Peter Morales; the dishonest hypocritical treatment of Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof, Rev. Dr.… Read more »

Ron Schaeffer
Ron Schaeffer
1 day ago

I suggest we boycott the UUA and cease all donations, personal and congressional. Also, register for GA with the no-fee business only option. We are considering rescinding our legacy gift.

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