By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
CHASKA, Minn. — The three-day spring meeting of the Episcopal Church governing board began with several sessions closed to the press and public.
Executive Council and its committees held seven closed-door sessions on the first day of their three-day meeting. Four of the council’s five committees voted to go into executive session, where votes are prohibited, news media are required to leave, and content is confidential.
The first closed session came 90 minutes into the meeting. The council voted to have media and other visitors leave at the request of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
“We’d like to ask you to go into executive session to discuss personnel matters,” Curry said. “Not in terms of any great crisis or anything like that, but so that we can update you on the work and progress we’ve been doing together — good, positive things. But we thought it was most appropriate to do that in executive session.”
When committees met in the afternoon, six more topics were deemed inappropriate for discussion in open session. Four of them arose in the World Missions Committee, although only three were identified prior to closing the doors.
“I do think that Cuba, the Mexico Covenant discussion, and the Province IX sustainability plan, including the recent Province IX council meeting and the appointment of the task force — I do think those are more sensitive,” said World Missions Committee Chair Karen Longenecker of the Diocese of Rio Grande. “I do think it’s a good idea to go into executive session.”
The session remained closed for three hours as the committee addressed those topics as well as one that wasn’t announced. Executive Council’s bylaws require topics of discussion to be disclosed prior to entering executive session.
The Governance and Administration Committee closed its doors for more than two hours to discuss personnel matters. Two more committees, Finance for Mission and Advocacy and Networking for Ministry, closed their doors during a joint session to discuss support for the Episcopal Church’s two historically black colleges and universities, St. Augustine’s University and Voorhees College. Episcopal Church Treasurer Kurt Barnes had begun discussing the work of the church’s HBCU task force when the two committees voted to go into closed session to discuss financial matters.
Executive Council has an open meetings policy in its bylaws. The bylaws authorize the full council to go into executive session when members deem it necessary, but they do not specify a procedure for committees to meet in executive session. The day’s multiple closed-door sessions came as Executive Council has taken steps in recent years to conduct more of its business in private. All documents that come before council committees, including proposed budgets, are now viewable only to council members and select staff on a closed extranet. Executive sessions for committees have also become increasingly common.
The spring meeting of Executive Council adjourns Friday, June 10.