Yesterday, several lay leaders in the Palo Alto congregation received an email letter from the board of the Pacific Central District (PCD) stating that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) had “unilaterally” decided to terminate the employment of the district executive, Cilla Raughley. Today, I received an email letter from the UUA’s Director for Congregational Life, Terasa Cooley, confirming that as of February 11, “Cilla Raughley will no longer be serving as District Executive in the Pacific Central District.”
Since this is a personnel matter, it should be obvious that the UUA is not going to divulge the particulars of why Raughley’s employment is being terminated — they will have both legal and ethical obligations to maintain confidentiality. The PCD board will also be required maintain confidentiality on the specifics of Raughley’s termination. So playing guessing games about “what really happened” is a waste of our time.
It is pretty clear from the two letters that the PCD Board and the UUA don’t see eye to eye on this matter. This is an inherent problem with the co-employment arrangement used with district executives — every district executive has two bosses, the district board and the UUA. From my perspective, I believe co-employment can work only if both co-employers communicate carefully about goals for the employee and ways to measure those goals; at a bare minimum, annual reviews by both co-employers are essential, along with a format for discussing discrepancies in the annual reviews, and a way for coming to agreement on new goals for the coming year — that’s at a bare minimum. To the best of my knowledge, this kind of intentional communication is not part of the co-employment process for districts and the UUA — which opens the door for the kind of disagreement we’re seeing between the PCD Board and the UUA.
I’m also seeing something else at work here. In general, it is difficult to hold districts (or the UUA) accountable to stated goals. This is a common problem in the nonprofit world. Unlike the for-profit world, where we can look at the bottom line to see if a company is doing well or poorly, it is difficult to come up with metrics that accurately measure performance of a nonprofit. This means that it’s hard to say whether a nonprofit is doing well, or poorly.
Even so, it is clear that the Pacific Central District is a declining district. In addition to the obvious decline in membership, my own feeling is that the level of services provided in the Pacific Central District is the lowest of any of the five districts I have worked in. How bad is the decline? Opinions differ. Is this the sole responsibility of the District Executive? In his book Good Boss, Bad Boss, organizational theorist Robert Sutton says that bosses account for about 15% of total organizational performance, or a greater percentage in small organizations. So clearly there’s more going on here than can be accounted for by one person’s performance. Yet as Sutton goes on to say, just as bosses get most of the credit when things go well, inevitably bosses wind up taking most of the blame when things go badly.
The real question facing us now is not whom to blame, but: What are we going to do about it? Pointing fingers of blame is a waste of everyone’s time, and I hope those who want to play that game have the grace either to stop, or to remove themselves from district activities. Instead, here’s what could be done to move in a positive direction:
- All congregations in the district should engage in a period of reflection on the duties and the responsibilities (not just the rights) of congregational polity. Though it has many faults, Conrad Wright’s book Congregational Polity is one resource to use for this process. Ministers may wish to preach on this topic, and we ministers should make this a topic for our spring meeting.
- Based on a renewed understanding of congregational polity, PCD ministers and lay leaders should give more time and attention to strengthening the entire district; this is especially true of our larger congregations, since small congregations are too often on the edge of disaster.
- The entire Pacific Central District should establish achievable and measurable goals towards the district’s stated mission: “to provide services and resources to congregations that will grow the District in terms of its membership, the deepening of our faith, the effectiveness of our structures, and the power of our service to the wider world.”
- Every district program should be re-thought in terms of these measurable goals, and programs that do not move us towards the district’s mission statement should be rebuilt, or eliminated.
- PCD congregational ministers should spend some portion of their work weeks in service to the district, and congregational lay leaders need to make sure their ministers have the time to do this.
- Congregational lay leaders should feel they too have a responsibility to serving the district, and even devote some of their precious volunteer hours to that end.
- Before a new district executive is hired (or if one is hired; see below), the PCD Board and the UUA need to have careful and open conversations about terms of co-employment, perhaps including the establishment of a regular schedule of staff reviews and goal-setting.
Finally, I would not rule out the possibility of eliminating the Pacific Central District entirely. Given the level of dysfunction that seems to exist in this district, given that the districts to the north and south of us function better and offer more services for the same money, maybe it’s time to get rid of Pacific Central District. Personally, I’m all for being absorbed by Pacific Southwest District.
One final note: I’m going to moderate all comments. Comments that get into personalities or try to delve into personnel issues will not be approved. I will favor comments that focus on the bigger issues confronting the Pacific Central District, and the UUA more generally; e.g., the rights and responsibilities of congregational polity vis a vis the districts. And I’ll close comments on this post in a week or so. So please be nice, and please think hard and seriously about the relationship between congregational polity and the districts.