October 11, 2010

Pittsburgh Standing Committee Responds to Concerns

In two recent posts, “Episcopal Election Plan Gets Chilly Reception” and “Additional Thoughts on the Plan to Select the Next Bishop of Pittsburgh,” I wrote about Resolution 2, the resolution that, if passed at this weekend’s diocesan convention, will set in motion the search for the next bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Controversy over the resolution centered on three aspects of the plan proposed by the Standing Committee. Under this plan,
  1. Nominations by the Nomination Committee and nominations by petition would occur concurrently;
  2. Nomination by petition would be easy, as few signatures were to be required;
  3. Which candidates were nominated by which process would be kept secret.
Actually, only the first and third properties were specified by Resolution 2. The number of signatures needed to nominate by petition was only stated in the explanation of the resolution, but it was clearly the intention of the Standing Committee to require only six signatures.

Members of the Standing Committee seemed quite content with their plan and were surprised at the criticism it received at pre-convention hearings. Nonetheless, to their credit, they met Thursday night to reconsider the episcopal search plan, in part, no doubt, to head off a nasty floor fight whose outcome could not be predicted. The result of Thursday’s consultation was a revised version of Resolution 2 that has just been sent to deputies via e-mail. (Apparently, policy decisions were made Thursday night, but it took some time to achieve final wording. According to the revised resolution itself, however, it was approved October 7, 2010.) As I am writing this, the revised resolution is not yet on the diocesan Web site. You can read it here.

In the new plan, each of the most distinctive features of the original proposal has been modified. Most notably, the parallel nominating processes by petition and by committee are gone, replaced by processes that run successively. The Nomination Committee will announce its contributions to the slate, after which nominations can be made by petition. Petitions will require more supporters, including lay, non-deputy supporters, and signatures will have to come from at least three, not just two, parishes. In particular, petitions will require four canonically resident clergy and six laypersons in good standing in the diocese, three of whom must be convention deputies. Three weeks will be allowed for the submission of petitions.

Something not completely obvious is that the Nomination Committee will, at the end of its deliberations, release only the names of nominees, probably along with their current positions. This represents an effort to maintain a level playing field. Detailed information about all nominees, however nominated, will be released together after background checks have been completed and all supporting information has been delivered to the Nomination Committee.

This last quirk is something of a mixed bag but probably does a good job of balancing competing objectives. Members of the diocese will have to do a little digging to figure out whether the slate coming out of the Nomination Committee is balanced (or, more likely, contains someone they think they could support enthusiastically). In the age of the Internet and unlimited long-distance, this is an easier task than formerly, but it does require special vigilance on the part of clergy and laypeople in the diocese.

The Standing Committee did not address—not in its revised Resolution 2, at any rate—what the Nomination Committee might do if it knows negative information about a candidate nominated by petition (and, possibly, rejected explicitly as a candidate by the committee). The committee members will, I hope, take some useful lessons from the last episcopal election and act for the greater good of the diocese, rather than standing on some arbitrary, predetermined ethical “principle.”

In the end, the convention cannot micromanage the episcopal search process. The Standing Committee and the committees it creates will surely face challenges that have not been anticipated, and the diocese must trust them to make reasonable decisions without undue constraints imposed at the beginning of the process. Thus, the convention should not be upset that all the details of the search process are not incorporated into the resolution proper. I’m sure the Standing Committee will be given grief if the search process is modified along the way without reasonable justification.

I suspect that at least some members of the Standing Committee feel that they worked hard to write Resolution 2 and believe they were unfairly criticized for their work. Some may even have entertained thoughts that the diocese has demonstrated that it is not yet ready to elect a new bishop. Actually, I believe that what has happened in the past two weeks is very encouraging. The Standing Committee, trying very hard to avoid the problems of the past and create a fair process, gave designing an episcopal election process its best shot. When the people of the diocese found the proposed process wanting—it matters not whether or not they were being a bit paranoid—the Standing Committee listened and tried honestly to respond to the perceived difficulties. If that doesn’t increase everyone’s confidence that we can all work together for a better Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, I don’t know what would.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks to the standing committee for providing an improved resolution. And, yes, thanks especially that this results from input gathered during the pre-convention meetings. I, too, take this as evidence that there is an earnest attempt to provide a good process for the next election of a Bishop. I hope this process continues and generates further refinements as I still find a number of problems with the revised resolution:

    1. I, personally, don’t think a petition process is needed at all. No provision for it appears in the Diocesan Canons. In fact, no provision for it appears in the resolution. For some reason it shows up in detail in the “Explanation”. If there is going to be a petition process, good that it is in sequence with the nomination process and results in presentation of candidates with the same type of information and all required clearances. Why not codify this in the resolution itself?

    2. Why is there still no reference to Section D of the Rules of Order found in the Constitution and Canons Document – “Rules of Order at the Election of a Bishop, Bishop-Coadjutor, or Suffragan Bishop”? These rules provide for
    a) Nominations from the floor (where the trouble started last time)
    b) A secret process of deliberation (not the right way to build trust)
    c) A requirement that the proceedings continue until a selection is made (our recent experience shows that there are worse things than not electing a bishop)
    Why not clarify and improve the process now and not wait until the day of the Special Convention to sort this out?

    3. Though not stated explicitly it appears that it will be possible for the nominating committee to present candidates without reference to the method by which they arrived on the ballot – nomination or petition. If so, why would this information be withheld?

    I have trust, and high expectations, for the Standing Committee and for the Nominating Committee they would appoint and for the process they would develop.

    Geoff Hurd

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  2. Geoff, just to note that it is expected that new Rules of Order for the Special Convention to elect will come before the annual convention in November, 2011. The Rules of Order presently in place were those of the last election. It simply was too much to do in the timeframe we had, to revise these, and probably inappropriate before the Standing Committee, Nomination Committee, and Transition Committee could meet with the Consultant in any event.

    The substitute resolution indicates that at the conclusion of its work the Nomination Committee will announce the names of those individuals it will recommend to the diocese. A three-week period will ensue, during which time additional names may be added, if there is sufficient support, by petition. At the end of that time period all Nominees will be formally introduced to the diocese. The way you will know who was nominated by petition is that any nominee who is on the ballot but who wasn't nominated by the Nomination Committee will be one who was nominated by petition. I can't imagine that will cause much confusion. The Standing Committee does believe that it is important that those nominated by petition, if there are any, be accorded equal treatment in the pre-election "introduction to the nominees" materials and events.

    All best,

    BruceR

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  3. Geoff,

    I must disagree with you about the need for a petition process. I sincerely hope that no one will feel the need to nominate someone by petition, but, if a group of people feel a serious mistake has been made, I think they have a right to be heard. It is pretty common in dioceses to allow for nomination by petition. The original proposal had a very low threshold for petitions, however. I’m happy that the latest proposal makes nomination by petition more difficult.

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