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Power to Fire?

General Convention’s Committee on Governance and Structure spent most of its time Monday morning deliberating on substitute resolution A004 (Amend I.4.1-8: Restructure Executive Council).

The resolution would, among other points, give Executive Council the power to dismiss the church’s chief operating officer, chief financial officer and chief legal officer by a two-thirds vote.

At the beginning of the meeting, committee co-chair Sally Johnson and Deputy Tom O’Brien explained that the resolution was revised multiple times during the weekend, with the help of “four or five lawyers.” The substitute resolution draws on three main sources: the original canons, various proposals by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC), and resolution D013 on the budget, with “bits and pieces” from “conversations in subcommittee 2 and subcommittee 3.”

Deputy O’Brien gave a quick survey of the changes, while the committee secretary handed out a memo O’Brien had drafted during the weekend. The memo notes 15 key changes, such as clarifying the officers of Executive Council, their reporting duties, the methods of their appointment, and their relations to the presiding bishop and Executive Council. O’Brien noted some concerns to update the canons to make them conform with current Executive Council practice, which he described as being like “doctrine following worship,” a managerial version of the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi.

Bishops and deputies spent some time asking clarifying questions before the committee engaged in substantive deliberations. The chair noted that the committee would be working through the morning’s Eucharist in order to complete its work, a provision that proved more than necessary: the committee spent a 90 minutes debating a small handful of the revised resolution’s provisions.

One provision proved particularly controversial: that “the Executive Council, by two-thirds vote, may direct the Chair [the Presiding Bishop] to no longer retain one or more of these three officers [the Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Legal Officer].”

First, Deputy David Johnson asked, “How do the Chief Legal Officer, the chancellor to the Presiding Bishop, and the legal adviser to the President of the House of Deputies relate to each other?”

Co-chair Sally Johnson said that she would try to explain, but the situation was complex and had changed significantly in the past nine years, due to the high number of property cases taken up by David Booth Beers and his firm on behalf of the Episcopal Church.

A primary problem at the moment is that “there is no general counsel; there is no lawyer whose responsibility is to the [Executive Council] as a whole.”

Someone also asked whether the current positions of legal counsel were voluntary or paid.

Co-chair Johnson noted that she is not paid. “I think it is quite public that that law firm [of David Booth Beers] has represented the Episcopal Church in much of the property litigation,” she said, before trailing off and taking a drink of water.

She then added, “In what capacity that law firm has represented the church would need a lot of understanding from Executive Council before anything could be said responsibly about whether the chancellor to the presiding bishop has been compensated in that role.”

After more discussion, the committee agreed that there was some need to designate a chief legal officer, whose responsibility would be to Executive Council and not simply to the Presiding Bishop.

Deputy Johnson then asked whether anyone noted any other issues, and Bishop Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles asked about the provision allowing a two-thirds vote on Executive Council to direct the presiding bishop to remove one of the three executive officers. Bishop Glasspool expressed “a vague unease about that,” since it might muddy the waters regarding “lines of responsibility” within Executive Council.

In response, Deputy Thomas Little noted that, in general, “TREC chose to clarify roles in favor of the executive” (that is, the presiding bishop), but that it had tried to introduce some “checks-and-balances” in case “things were going really bad.”

A number of bishops and deputies expressed concern about this point, especially on how this provision might “undermine the authority of the CEO,” as Bishop Wilfrido Ramos-Orench of Puerto Rico said. Some committee members said Executive Council should not have the authority to direct the presiding bishop to do anything, but Deputy O’Brien said the current provision would not technically require an action of the presiding bishop.

Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island suggested an amendment, saying that he would prefer the language of instituting “a vote of no confidence” instead of direction.

“I think that’s enough of a stick,” he said.

The committee discussed this point until 9:30 a.m., when it took a short break.

Upon the committee’s return from its break, Johnson moved that the House of Deputies committee enter into a short executive session “to facilitate our doing what we need to do.” It met for roughly 20 minutes.

After the break, Bishop Provenzano expressed his concerns again about a vote of no confidence, and Bishop Clifton Daniel III of Pennsylvania asked for weaker language of consultation.

When put to a vote, however, the proposed amendment failed. Generally speaking, the bishops — including Bishop Glasspool — supported the amendment., Deputies did not support the amendment, revealing potential fault lines as the amendment moves to the houses for consideration in the coming days. The amendment failed.

The discussion moved on to consider issues for nearly an hour, when Bishop Daniel once again brought up language that would weaken the language of “direction.”

After some discussion, the amendment was put to a vote and again failed. Other sections of A004 are not complete, however, and the resolution was not placed on the consent calendar of either house.


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