A Divided Executive Council Approves an Acting COO

Jane Cisluycis, in a photo from the Diocese of Northern Michigan website

By Kirk Petersen

After extensive debate and a postponed vote, Executive Council voted February 9 to approve the appointment of Jane Cisluycis as acting chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church.

In one sense, it wasn’t a close call. The resolution was approved 26 to 13, meaning 67 percent voted in favor — a lopsided landslide in a secular election. But virtually all Executive Council resolutions are passed unanimously, or nearly so. No other resolution in years has been opposed by anything close to a third of the council.

The council discussed the resolution in executive session for more than an hour, and the debate was contentious enough that after returning to public session, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry felt a need to call for collegiality before the vote.

“We have been in sacred space,” he said. “And whichever way this vote goes, we stay in sacred space. With love and respect for each other, no matter our perspective, whether we agree or disagree.” He drew a laugh by saying, “This is not the House of Representatives.” No voices were raised when the vote tally was announced.

Later in the day, he released a statement addressed to the members of Executive Council saying that he and President of the House of Deputies Julia Ayala Harris had “considered and weighed the wisdom we have heard from the variety of your voices and diversity of perspectives.” As a result, Cisluycis was nominated on an acting basis “for a contractual period to include the remaining time of my tenure as your presiding bishop, the time needed for the new presiding bishop to onboard, and the period needed for discernment, search, and nomination of the COO. The acting COO can be considered along with other candidates for the permanent position should she so choose.”

In a December online meeting, the council declined to take action on a resolution to hire Cisluycis, although her name was not disclosed in the public discussion.

Concerns were raised in open session at the December meeting about the fact that there had not been a search committee appointed, and that a diverse enough pool of candidates may not have been considered.

The presiding officers of the two houses of the church — Curry and Ayala Harris — selected Cisluycis from a field of nine, two of whom were people of color and two of whom were women, according to George Conway, the executive search consultant who led the process. Cisluycis is white.

Most of the council members approached after the vote declined to discuss the debate over the hiring. However, the Rev. Lillian Davis-Wilson of the Diocese of Western New York said the closed-door debate centered on whether Cisluycis has sufficient qualifications for the position. Davis-Wilson, who is Black, indicated she supported the nomination. Cisluycis did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment.

Cisluycis is canon to the ordinary for operations (essentially the chief of staff) in the Diocese of Northern Michigan, and has worked for the diocese since 1996. The diocese encompasses the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and is one of four dioceses in the state. With about 1,000 baptized members, it is one of the smallest dioceses in the Episcopal Church.

Cisluycis chaired the Governance and Operations committee of the Executive Council until her term expired in 2022, and registered as a potential candidate for president of the House of Deputies, but ultimately decided not to run.

Conway said in December that he had started out looking for a candidate with a master’s in business administration or other advanced degree, but came to believe that was not essential. Cisluycis holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Northern Michigan University, and has been hosting radio shows called In the Pines and Just Folks for WNMU-FM since 2001, in addition to her duties with the diocese.

The Rev. Deacon Geoffrey Smith, who retired as chief operating officer in 2022, was hired in 2016 after serving as director of risk management for one of the largest privately held corporations in the country, C&S Wholesale Grocers in Keene, New Hampshire. He has an MBA in finance from DePaul University.

The chief operating officer oversees the departments of communications, human resources, information technology, and real estate. For 2022, the annual salary for the position was $241,985.


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