A review team is midstream in its work of trying to evaluate that, due to report back to the General Assembly in 2010, and in the process of consulting with the committees and with others affected by their work.
Some of those being consulted include the General Assembly Mission Council and the council’s Staff Leadership Team, meaning Executive Director Linda Valentine and her top assistants. They’re helping to evaluate the work and role of the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns, the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
The review team has been meeting with each of those committees, and hopes to complete a draft report by November, according to its chair, Doug Megill, a physician from Pennsylvania and a General Assembly Mission Council member.
During the September meeting of the General Assembly Mission Council, the council’s Executive Committee received a summary of comments from council members and the Staff Leadership Team — summaries that, while polite, touched upon some of the areas of conflict.
Both called for more communication and collaboration “at the front end, rather than what seems to be a constantly reactive approach,” wrote Curtis Kearns, the council’s executive administrator, who summarized the views of the leadership team.
What sometimes happens, said Michael Kruse of Kansas City, the council’s vice-chair, is that when an issue becomes controversial, “nobody is approached here and suddenly a public declaration takes place and an e-mail gets circulated widely,” when the difficulties might have been cleared up if there had been more consultation at the beginning.
The council members also objected to what they see as an unfair assumption at times; when there are differences of views, council members aren’t concerned about issues of justice and diversity. Some council members are frustrated and “can’t understand the level of what feels like antagonism” coming from the committees, Kruse said.
The committees “seem inclined towards a defensive mentality, taking any attempts at scrutiny, revision, or reduction in justice and advocacy programming as particularized hostility towards this mission,” Kruse wrote. It creates a perception “that the … committees are too often functioning as special-interest groups defending turf … .”
When staff members who relate to these committees are hired or dismissed, the committees will be consulted. But Kruse’s report makes it clear that Valentine has the power to hire and fire the staff members who work with these committees, and “there may be occasions where staff decisions are made without prior notifications (to the committees) and without revelation of specifics” that would involve confidential personnel information.
Kruse also acknowledged that the committees and the council have different roles and that some differences in views likely are inevitable. He also praised the passion of the committees, telling them “it’s important work that you’re doing.”
Employee Handbook. At that September meeting, the committees also spoke out about revisions to the employee handbook for those who work for the General Assembly Mission Council — the handbook affecting most of the PC(USA)’s national staff (although not those who work for the Office of the General Assembly). The handbook covers everything from sick leave and vacation days to employees’ involvement with blogs and other forms of social media.
But the council also passed an amendment, suggested by council member Roger Gench of Washington, D.C., to hold a consultation later this year between the council’s Personnel Committee and representatives of the advisory and advocacy committees.
Gench asked that recommendations from that consultation be submitted to the council when it meets again in February 2010.
Representatives of those groups have raised concerns about some aspects of the handbook, particularly about whether policies involving same-day termination of employees are consistent with the denomination’s theological teachings
“We’re not just a business. We’re a church,” said Ron Kernaghan, the cochair of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, speaking to the council’s Executive Committee.
Same-day terminations with cause or in exceptional circumstances may be appropriate, Kernaghan said. But in other cases, such as with staff downsizing due to economic pressures, “to pluck a person out of his or her network of ministry” with an immediate termination is demeaning and unnecessary, he said.
As a church, “our currency is faith and love,” Kernaghan said. But to tell an employee they’ve been terminated, take them to their desk to clean out their possessions and then escort them from the building “is a public act of humiliation,” he said.
The handbook itself states that reductions in force “will be handled in a manner which in Employer’s sole discretion maintains the dignity of the departing employee and ensures the best interests of the organization.”
The advocacy and advisory committees had submitted comments and recommendations regarding the handbook, and encouraged the council to wait on making revisions until they could be more carefully considered.
But Mike Kirk, a lawyer for the PC(USA), gave several reasons why the council should act sooner rather than later. In some cases, the laws have changed — for example, involving family leave for those serving in the military — and the handbook needs to reflect those changes promptly, Kirk said.
And Kruse described the handbook as “a living document. Changes are always being made.”
In proposing the amendment, Gench said that “some of us feel between a rock and a hard place,” recognizing that hard work went into preparing the changes proposed for the handbook, but also wanting to listen to committees to which the General Assembly has given the responsibility of advocacy.
The question those committees raise, said council member Jan Martin of Wisconsin, is whether the changes are “in alignment with the core values of the PC(USA).”