First Unitarian Society in Newton

About Us / How FUSN Works / Governance / Development of Governance Process

Government Changes Began with Congregational Input


History of New Governance Process

In June 2007, the Board of Trustees approved the formation and work of a committee to study the issues around congregational governance at FUSN. Bob Zeeb was appointed Chair of this committee. Bob recruited other members for the committee and the committee started to work in August. The goals of the committee are to educate the Board on congregational governance and present at least two governance alternatives for consideration and possible implementation at FUSN. The final report of the committee is due July 1, 2008.

In August 2008, the Governance Committee distributed a 53-page Overview document to the Board of Trustees. This document represents the culmination of a year of work by the committee researching congregational governance issues in and outside of FUSN. In summary, the Overview document covers:

• How the committee organized its work

• Focus Group summary

• Staff Interview summary

• Other congregations interview summary

• Key Issues

Per its charter, the committee was dissolved after submitting its report to the Board. Next steps are now the responsibility of the Board.

Answers to Questions About the Governance Committee

Arthur Anderson, Chair, FUSN Board of Trustees

There have been several announcements about our new Governance Committee (in the newsletter, on our website, in the order of service), but for some people the information may have gotten lost in the turmoil of the resignations. Some of you have been puzzled about it. This question/answer document is designed to answer questions you might have. If you have more questions, please contact me, another member of the Board of Trustees, or a member of the Governance Committee.

When did this initiative begin?

There have been two previous committees dedicated to exploring governance during the past ten years. For one reason or another, neither of these prior initiatives resulted in recommendations. Governance is an old, old issue for FUSN.

The Board last began looking at the issue of governance over two years ago. In January 2006 the Rev. James Ford and five members of the Board went to an all day “how-to” workshop on governance sponsored by the Mass Bay District. We discussed the issue of governance at three different retreats. Then Rev. Ford and Bob Zeeb were asked to write a charter for a committee last spring. Barbara Bates helped frame the charter. The Board adopted the charter and appointed a committee in May 2007. The Governance Committee has been working since June 2007.

 What is the purpose of this initiative?

One purpose is to better understand just how we operate. How do we make decisions? How do we share responsibilities? How do we monitor our work? How do we handle complaints? Another is to see how our governance fits our size. Have we outgrown earlier models appropriate to a smaller congregation? Still another is to see how efficient and how healthy our governance is and how it expresses our UU values.

What has happened to date?

The committee has read a dozen or so articles and six books written by consultants in congregational governance; they have also visited a variety of websites containing resources on governance; and they have shared their education in this area. In addition, they have developed a timeline for their work, created a plan for documenting FUSN’s understanding of its current governance, and developed questions for FUSN focus groups. These questions have been piloted and will be revised in early November. Alice Nichols, a consultant in organizational development, serves as a consultant to the committee.

What exactly will the committee be doing?

During the fall and winter, the committee will be asking members of the congregation how they perceive the current governance of FUSN – How do we make decisions? Who is responsible for what? How do we hold ourselves accountable for what we do? Responses to these and other questions will be analyzed for presentation to the Board. In the spring, the committee will be gathering information from selected UU congregations. That data will also be analyzed. An executive summary and a final report will be made available to the Board on July 1, 2008 to be discussed at the Board’s fall retreat in September 2008.

A partial description of this process is available in the Charge to the Committee (on the FUSN website). More details will be available in the Timeline, if accepted by the Board at its meeting on November 13, 2007.

How was the committee chosen and who are its members?

Criteria for membership on the committee are listed in the charge the Board approved. One additional consideration was that there be adequate representation of current Board members since decisions about changes in governance will be made by the Board, not the committee. The committee members include Bob Zeeb, chair (who called the Board’s attention to the issue of governance during his tenure as a member of the Board, 2004 – 2007), Barbara Bates (who has worked extensively on issues of governance as president of the Mass Bay District and as a consultant in organizational effectiveness to other congregations), Karen Burns, in her second year on the Board (a lawyer serving as vice chair of the Board and liaison to the Personnel Policies Committee), Adrian Bishop (a software Project Manager, is in his first year on the Board and serving as liaison to the Communications and IT Committee), and George Psathas (Professor Emeritus of the Sociology department at BU). All are long-time members of FUSN.

What is the charge to the committee? And what is its timeframe?

As noted above, the charge – or charter – is listed on the FUSN website, but in a nutshell, it is to educate the Board and provide information on governance alternatives. The Board may choose one of these alternatives, or work to design their own form of governance. The committee’s report to the Board is due by July 1, 2008. The committee will meet with the Board in September 2008 at the Board retreat and then dissolve. It will be up to the Board to take action in the fall of 2008.

What is the connection between the committee’s work and the UUA, if any?

The UUA is considering adopting a new governance model—the Policy Governance‘ model developed by James Carver (known as the “Carver model”). The Mass Bay district has already adopted a version of this model, but the UUA does not advocate this or any other model for member churches. Rather, it encourages churches to develop their own models. The UUA is an information resource (e.g. there were four different presentations on governance at the General Assembly in Portland this past June).

Will there be congregational input? Feedback? Will the committee be making policy decisions?

There will be many opportunities for congregational input: meetings, focus groups and three open Board meetings. There will also be various forms of feedback including open

meetings, inserts and announcements in the bulletin, business emails, and web postings. The committee will make no policy decisions.

Have other congregations reviewed governance and made recommendations?

Yes, members of the committee will be talking with appropriate members of some of these congregations.

Has the work of this committee been affected by the two resignations? If so, how?

It has not been affected. As noted above, the need to reflect on FUSN’s governance dates back to the ministry of Rev. Gerry Krick, when two separate committees attempted to address this issue. In fact, this is an opportune time for the church to address its governance as this process can inform the calling of a new minister and the appointment of a new DRE. Having the committee in place and the point of decision falling precisely when an interim minister joins us (in the fall of 2008) is fortuitous timing, since it gives us a transition period for evaluation of governance with an interim staff whose role is to help us reflect on our community’s needs and make appropriate changes.

 

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