Tensions on Structure Committee

By Zachary Guiliano

The committee on Governance and Structure met again on Monday night in the hope of completing the wording on three substitute resolutions. All three were consolidated substitute resolutions that incorporated texts from multiple sources; they have yet to be assigned resolution numbers, and the committee was not using drafts submitted through the normal electronic system, which made it difficult for those in the gallery to follow the discussion.

The committee’s original plan was to finish its work in time to land its resolutions on the Tuesday consent calendar of the House of Deputies. “Unfortunately, we have to do this until we finish,” said deputy Sally Johnson of Minnesota, co-chair of the committee.

After 9 p.m., however, it became clear that the committee would not achieve its goal.

The committee is normally a joint body formed of members from the House of Deputies and House of Bishops who deliberate together but vote separately. Monday night, however, the bishops were at a dinner held for their whole house. Deputies met without the bishops and began redrafting resolutions immediately.

Two of their most important provisions in their proposed resolution involved approving a stipend for the president of the House of Deputies and maintaining the size of Executive Council at its current levels. These two issues surfaced some clear disagreement.

Deputy William Fleener, Jr., of Western Michigan said, “We had a bishop in our subcommittee who drafted work through on that, and the bishops on our committee agreed.”

Another subcommittee reported a rather different experience. Deputy Valerie Balling of New Jersey said that “the bishops in our subcommittee were concerned that giving a stipend ‘professionalized’ that position.”

Deputy Fredrica Harris Thompsett of Massachusetts similarly noted that the word stipend generated “a lot of resistance from the bishops.”

After some deliberation, including an expressed worry about making the president of the House of Deputies a co-primate, the assembled deputies agreed that some kind of stipend and expenses made sense, given the commitment of time and considerable expense involved in the role.

Next, there was considerable discussion about reducing the size of Executive Council, but the general sentiment was that it was unnecessary and that the size did not prevent the council from working efficiently. Several former members of the council spoke to this topic, including Deputy Nancy Koonce of Idaho and Deputy Katie Sherrod of Forth Worth, who wondered when “it became common wisdom” that the large size of Executive Council made it inefficient.

These two changes, among others, provoked considerable consternation later in the evening, when several of the bishops on the committee arrived for deliberations after their dinner finished.

They were surprised to learn that the size of Executive Council was to be maintained at its current level. Bishop Dean Wolfe of Kansas made a humorous observation: “The larger size of Executive Council reminds me of zombie movies, where no matter what you do, they keep rising up.”

He added, “It’s less fun to play” with structure when agreed-upon changes keep returning to their original form in new drafts. Such an approach enforces “silence” on those participating, rather than collaboration.

There was also visible, unresolved tension between Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania and co-chair Johnson. After a particularly intense set of disagreements, Johnson dismissed the group for a break.

The group was not especially productive on return. The committee continued working through the language of resolutions, but many members were disengaged and often talked among themselves. Robert’s Rules of Order appeared to have been suspended as well. Formal voting disappeared, committee members spoke out of turn, and Johnson dictated revisions at times with minimal consultation.

She was clearly concerned with moving the legislation along, saying at one point, “I’m begging you to go with good, rather than the better or best or perfected.”

This comment stood slightly at odds with her recognition earlier in the meeting that she had a tendency to rush through legislation. She had acknowledged earlier in the meeting her difficulty with balancing her duty of being “neutral” with her desire “to keep moving things along.”

As the night went on, Johnson was also visibly frustrated with some committee members’ lack of engagement, urging them to “Speak up.”

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