The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board has approved eight people to serve as members of its executive committee for 2017-2018 – half of whom are people of color.
The board also heard an update from its Governance Task Force – indicating that the task force is dropping a proposal to remove representatives of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s advocacy and advisory committees as corresponding members of the board. Corresponding members have voice but not vote on the plenary floor.
The original proposal brought to the board in January called for moving those corresponding members to a new “liaison committee” of the board – but Melinda Sanders, a board member from Tennessee who is chair of the Governance Task Force, said the idea of a liaison committee is being abandoned as well.
Here’s more on what was discussed.
New executive committee
The issue of diversity on the executive committee emerged this spring as the board attempted to set an executive committee to serve over the next year. At the same time, the board has been exploring the possibility of cutting its size by more than half (from 40 voting members to 16) and reconfiguring the board’s committee structure.
Some of those proposed changes would need approval from the General Assembly or the Way Forward Commission. In the meantime, the board voted in a conference call meeting May 10 to appoint a new executive committee to serve for a year starting at the executive committee retreat this summer – a committee that more closely reflects the racial diversity of the full board than the current executive committee does.
At the board’s meeting in Puerto Rico in March, the General Assembly Committee on Representation met with the board’s Personnel and Nominating Committee and voiced concerns about the racial and ethnic makeup of the executive committee.
Marcia Zell Anson, who is the board’s vice chair and chair of the Personnel and Nominating Committee, said that committee had the difficult task of nominating both a smaller executive committee (8 members rather than 10) and one that is diverse “in all kinds of directions,” including age, race, gender, ordination status and skills. The nominating committee also wanted a slate that included both experienced board members and newer ones, as a way of transitioning new people into leadership, Anson said. “Our committee did a wonderful job with this,” she said.
Following the recommendations of its Personnel and Nominating Committee, the board approved the following appointments to the executive committee:
- Ken Godshall
- Marsha Anson
- David Shinn
- Joe Morrow
- Molly Baskin
- Tom Fleming
- Sinthia Hernandez-Diaz
- Conrad Rocha
That gives the incoming executive committee a membership consisting of:
- 50 percent people of color, 50 percent white.
- Five men and three women;
- Five ruling elders and three teaching elders.
The executive committee currently is much less diverse than is the board as a whole. Just over half (54 percent) of the board’s 39 voting members are white and 46 percent are people of color, according to information provided to the board. But 80 percent of the current executive committee’s 10 members are white.
The board also approved a proposal that the executive committee’s membership should consist of:
- The board’s chair.
- The vice chair.
- Chairpersons of the board’s administrative committees.
- Two at-large members.
- The executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency as an ex-officio member.
Several board members, while indicating their support for the slate of nominees, raised questions about whether the full board has enough say in who serves on the executive committee. They suggested that could be improved if the board’s administrative committees elected their own chairpersons, as had been the practice in the past. The current committee chairs were proposed by the Governance Task Force, after the board revised its committee structure in April 2016, and approved by the executive committee.
“It seems the board has lost voice and input on the process,” said Chad Herring, a board member from Missouri.
Molly Baskin, a board member from Illinois, responded that the chair of the Board of Pensions makes all the executive committee appointments for that board, while taking matters of diversity and experience into account. In the past, when the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s committees elected their own chairs, sometimes they chose people “who have not had the appropriate experience to chair those committees, which has caused all sorts of issues,” Baskin said.
Shannan Vance Ocampo, a board member from New York, said that equating leadership with experience can perpetuate a lack of presence of historically under-represented groups, and as a church “I know need to find new ways of being and new ways of leading.”
Conrad Rocha, a board member from New Mexico, said sometimes in the past when board committees elected their own chairs, “what we ended up with was a bunch of white folk. … What’s been done with this slate is to work very hard at representing diversity,” and board members always have the option of making additional nominations from the floor.
Governance Task Force
Sanders gave a verbal update of the task force’s work since the board met in Puerto Rico in March – a meeting at which the board took action on one recommendation from the task force (regarding representatives the board sends to other groups in the denomination) but ran out of time to discuss the task force proposal fully.
Since the March meeting, the task force has had conversations with representatives of the Way Forward Commission and the advocacy and advisory committees, along with board members and Presbyterian Mission Agency staff, Sanders said. As a result, “we do need to make changes” in the proposal, she said.
As a result of those changes, representatives from the PC(USA)’s advocacy and advisory committees and Presbyterian Women would remain corresponding members on the board, Sanders said.
The idea of a liaison committee is being dropped. The original proposal described that as way “to ensure that we have a structured and more focused way of hearing all voices.” But the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns and the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns responded with a letter sent in February calling the proposal “a grave error,” and saying the advocacy and advisory committees, which the General Assembly appoints, have a history of “holding the church accountable to its commitment to justice and equity for all people.”
Sanders said some concerns the task force heard were that:
- With a smaller board, some board members might have to give up their seats before their terms expired. That won’t happen, Sanders said.
- A smaller board would be less diverse. In reality, as the board’s classes of 2018 and 2020 rotated off, if no new board members were elected to replace them, the smaller board that would be left would be more diverse, she said. That’s not the plan for how to proceed, Sanders said – but it is possible to have a smaller board that is racially diverse, she said.
The task force is considering recommending the creation of a new mission committee that would look at work being done around the PC(USA) around particular themes, such as a focus on human trafficking.
Also, Sanders said the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) is not ready to provide representation on the board’s three corporate committees, which also had been part of the task force proposal. Wilson Kennedy, who serves on COGA, said its members want to see what the Way Forward Commission and All Agency Review Committee recommend to the 2018 General Assembly “before we’re ready to engage in those conversations.”
Sanders also said the Way Forward Commission representatives have indicated that the board’s Sept. 21-23 meeting in Louisville might be too soon to ask for a vote on the Governance Task Force proposal. The commission might not be ready by then with its own recommendations, she said, and “they didn’t want us getting ahead of them. … We are trying to work with them and cooperate.”
Executive director search committee
Nancy Ramsay, a board member from Texas, is leading the search committee that will recommend to the board a successor to Tony De La Rosa, who is serving as interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and whose second term is set to expire in December.
Ramsay said the search committee “is well at work” – identifying themes that emerged in more than 300 responses to a survey; planning to meet in Fort Worth, Texas, May 24-25; and hoping to develop a “leader profile” for the position by the end of June.