Forward Chats, October 6 and October 13, 2019 (Meeting #22 and 23)
Central Board Election and Tally
There was no Forward Chat on September 29 because of the Special Congregational Business Meeting in which we voted to adopt the new bylaws.
After the adoption of the bylaws, the first task was to elect the seven members of the Central Board, a process which started immediately with the publication of the ballot and instructions in the Spire on October 1. The deadline for submitting ballots is 11 AM, Sunday, October 20.
The plan for the October 6 Forward Chat was to answer questions about how to fill out the ballot and the election process in general. As it turned out, there weren’t many questions about the voting process. Most had already been answered by the information sheets attached to the ballots (one on the overall process, the other an instruction sheet for voting).
But there was a lot of discussion about the method of tallying the votes (see below). Because the number of attendees on October 6 was small (about 8 or 9), we decided to continue the discussion on October 13 so that more people could weigh in. Sixteen people attended at least part of the session on October 13. The following description covers both dates.
Conflict of interest if staff members are elected to the board
Participants asked whether staff could be elected to the Central Board (because anyone paid by the church has a potential conflict of interest). The answer is yes. As the bylaws stand now, anyone who is an active member of the church can be elected to the Central Board.
The conflict of interest problem affects not only paid staff like the Church Administrator, Financial Secretary, Music Directors, and E-Communications Secretary, who are all currently members of this church, but also the pastor, who is a voting member of the Central Board ex officio.
It is not possible or necessary to avoid all conflicts of interest, but it is essential to manage them properly when they arise. The standard way to deal with them is by establishing a Conflict of Interest policy which requires:
1. That all decisions be made with the best interest of the church in mind, not the personal interest of any board member
2. That every officer and board member disclose all potential conflicts of interest both on a standard form turned in annually and in open discussion at a board meeting. The core of any conflict of interest policy is a culture of openness where all competing personal interests are above-board and understood by everyone.
3. That when a conflict of interest arises, the member involved must recuse him/herself from the vote and sometimes leave the discussion entirely, depending on the circumstances. Thus, the pastor could participate in discussion of all parts of the budget except salary and parsonage-related items. He or she would have to leave the room while those topics are discussed and would not vote on any motion that affected salary or benefits. This recusal must be recorded in the minutes.
While the bylaws as passed do not forbid it, the Moderator should probably be discouraged from serving on the board, because the Moderator is expected to be strictly neutral when presiding over congregational meetings, which will often be voting on issues the Board is recommending. The issue with other officers serving on the board is more a matter of workload than conflict of interest. They can be voted for and elected like anyone else, and then it is up to them whether they choose to serve.
At Forward Chats on both Oct 6 and Oct 13, we described how the votes will be tallied. The proposed plan is to have the Bylaw Committee count the votes using a detailed written process designed to ensure that the voters’ names are not linked to their ballots and that the vote is accurate. The ballots will be tallied by three pairs of tellers whose results will be compared to check for errors. Ambiguous ballots will be discussed and tallied by consensus. Ballots with more than 5 circled names will have none of those circled names counted.
Tally discussion on October 6
Discussion began on October 6 with strong but respectful disagreement. Several people were deeply concerned about the Bylaw Committee knowing the exact results of the vote and the likelihood of parking lot talk about who got how many votes, with all the discomfort that can raise. Because everyone who is an active member is on the ballot, and therefore everyone has a potential conflict of interest, this group suggested that we ask members of another church to count the votes for us.
Other people didn’t like bringing in another church, especially the Wenham Church (which was suggested), where many of our former members now go. Gossip could just as easily originate from Wenham as within our own congregation, and delegating the work to an outside entity would deprive our own church of any control or oversight over the process. Worse still, the need to draw in another church implies a deeply broken social covenant here at Second Church.
Eventually, we were able to identify the heart of the problem: Is it more important to us that no one ever know exactly who got how many votes? Or is it more important that everything about the process be open to all eyes? Which value is more important to this congregation: transparency or confidentiality?
If everything is confidential, there can be no transparency. If everything is transparent, there is no confidentiality. It is not possible to have both in the same process.
The other question that came up is whether people are more concerned about the fodder for gossip provided by the election or about dishonesty in the counting. No one was quite prepared to admit worrying about a dishonest count, but when it occurred to the Bylaw Committee to mention that we were entirely willing to conduct the count in public in the fellowship hall, this seemed to allay a lot of the concern.
By the end of the meeting the consensus was in favor of confidentiality regarding voting but transparency regarding counting—the norm in American elections. However, the hour ended without being completely clear about how much transparency people really wanted.
Tally discussion on October 13
We picked that issue up on October 13, when a different mix of people was represented. It became clear that there were real limits to how much transparency people felt was appropriate. Dale Earl was the person able to articulate the reason. In a civic election, the people on the ballot have volunteered to be a candidate. They understand the scrutiny the process entails and know the results will be public. It’s what they’ve signed up for. But in our church system, everyone is on the ballot whether they want to be or not. People aren’t volunteering, and they shouldn’t have to be embarrassed by the results.
Tally process we decided on
What we finally decided on was a process that emphasizes confidentiality at some stages and transparency at others:
1. Listing the unopened ballots – the names of voters will be public. We need to ensure that only active members vote and that no one votes more than once. Value here is transparency.
2. Opening the ballots – opening the ballots will be done in a way that no one, not even the person opening them will know which ballot comes from which voter. Value here is confidentiality.
3. Counting the ballots – Value here is transparency and accuracy.
a. Three pairs of tellers will count all the ballots and the three sets of results will be compared and discrepancies resolved. This makes dishonesty difficult.
b. The process will be conducted in public. Anyone who wishes to observe may do so as long as they are quiet and don’t disrupt the process.
c. The ballots and tally sheets will be retained for a period of years as determined by our Documents Retention Policy (not yet written). 4. Announcing the results – Value here is a compromise between transparency and confidentiality.
a. No public announcement of results will be made directly after the count. Instead the committee will begin to call the people at the top of the list to determine who is willing to serve. Decisions to serve or not to serve must be confirmed in writing (email is fine).
b. The results will be announced after seven people are found who are willing to serve and only those willing seven will be announced. We don’t know how long that will take. We may not be able to announce the final list until Worship on October 27. If candidates respond quickly, an earlier announcement may be possible. 5. Making election documentation available – Value here is transparency.
a. All the documents related to the election will be preserved together in a binder in the church office, including:
i. The list of active members who voted
ii. All original ballots, including any disqualified (clearly marked with reason)
iii. All 3 tally sheets
iv. The final ordered list of all members and votes received
v. The letters/emails accepting or declining a place on the board
vi. The final list of seven people elected and willing to serve and what term length they agreed to serve.
b. All the above documents will be available on request for viewing in the office (however see #6b below). No copies may be taken. The top page of the packet will be a copy of the Church behavioral Covenant.
6. Election culture – Values here are transparency, kindness and the golden rule.
a. The congregation has the right to be able to prove that the election was conducted honestly and accurately, so no one who questions the results should be prevented from seeing all the documents on which the results were based.
b. The congregation will, however, be discouraged from looking at the results simply out of idle curiosity, because we see no reason that sharing that information will build up the church.
c. People who choose to examine the results will sign their name on the page with the covenant.
d. The tellers will pledge not to discuss the details, including the number of votes each person received and which people declined to serve, except as necessary to count the votes and contact the candidates. They will set a good example for the rest of the church and discourage gossip.
e. The rest of the congregation will refrain from encouraging the tellers to divulge details about the election results.
f. It is appropriate to congratulate the final seven and thank them for their willingness to serve.