Executive Council, the PB, the COO and the budget: one member's story

Katie Sherrod, a member of Executive Council, and one of the people most responsible for keeping the Episcopal faith alive in the Diocese of Fort Worth has written an anguished in-depth account of her experiences on Executive Council during the development of the draft budget for 2012-2015:

Several recent events, including the recent Commentary on the budget by the Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer [COO] of The Episcopal Church, and the budget recently proposed by the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop [PB] and primate of The Episcopal Church, have raised quite public questions about the Council’s competency. As a member of that body, I confess to being shocked by these developments – not because of the criticism (that comes with the territory), but because of concerns these developments raise about the direction of The Episcopal Church.
She offers some previously undisclosed details about the backing and forthing between the Council on one hand, and the PB, COO and Treasurer Kurt Barnes on the other.
After Executive Council voted on the budget, the treasurer posted a budget on the Council’s Extranet that replaced specific numbers on which Executive Council had voted with blank lines, followed by the notation that allocations in this area would be decided in conjunction with staff. It was only after vigorous complaints from numerous Council members that numbers were restored. But then the numbers turned out to be wrong.

When the budget was reported out, it was not the budget we had approved. Indeed, many of us were as dismayed by that budget as were others in the Church. How did this happen? It is a question to which I, and others who have asked, have never gotten a satisfactory answer.

At our April meeting, Council members asked rather strenuously what had happened, but the presiding bishop cautioned us sternly not to seek to assign blame. She asked whether we were sure we weren’t just reluctant to “give up” the budget to PB&F. She told us the canons prevented us from doing anything else to the budget once we had sent it to PB&F. When some members insisted on writing a memo to try to set forth the priorities the Council had intended, she was visibly unenthusiastic about it, but again urged us not to assign blame.

She also offers some analysis of the Presiding Bishop's budget proposal to the Program, Budget and Finance Committee:

The PB’s budget, as a fellow Council member pointed out, benefits from information the Executive Council did not have. ...

In the PB’s budget the estimate of revenue from dioceses was increased by $3 million for the triennium. But no dioceses have had conventions recently in which they voted to increase their giving. So that is puzzling. Puzzling too that this fact was conveyed to the church only in so far as it was a line item in the Presiding Bishop’s budget.

Additionally, the debt service on the loan on the Church Center building was recalculated. The treasurer now says we need to pay $800,000 less than the Executive Council was told. It seems he had made previous calculations based on outdated information regarding the principal remaining on the loan.

And where the Executive Council budget included cost of living adjustments (COLA) for DFMS staff at 3% per year as requested by the PB, the COO and the treasurer, the PB’s budget lowers it to 2% per year. Total staff costs in the PB’s budget are $600,000 lower than the Executive Council budget.

Also, COO Sauls had requested that Executive Council allocate more than $1 million for his initiatives, which included $550,000 for an Episcopal Church Coop to make use of economies of scale, and $500,000 for a church-wide consultation on restructuring. Executive Council complied. The PB’s budget trims both initiatives, the Coop to $326,000 and the consultation to $100,000.

These moves create $5 million more for the PB’s budget, which certainly helps make it more attractive than the Executive Council’s budget.

Reflecting on her experiences on the Council in the last nine months, she concludes:

Our polity empowers our own people to take responsibility to prayerfully be part of the discernment of the governance of their church instead of ceding that responsibility to one leader or a small group of leaders.

I’ve experienced what happens when the balance among the ministries of bishops, priests, deacons and the laity gets out of whack. Things get toxic very quickly. And when one-sided unchecked power moves in, trust dies and soon love moves out.

I do not want to live through that again.

Comments (27)

Thanks for speaking out Katie, this whole business is really becoming tiresome for me as a deputy. Somehow the truth has become the casualty of all this and I cannot know whom to believe.

We are left with a mess in the run up to general convention.

I have a rather simplistic question. How much of the budgetary problems confronting Episcopalians as well as the apparent mistrust between the COO, PB, and the Church Staff w/ The Exec. Council is connected to the apparent tensions between the PB and the PHoD? I reminded of situations in certain families when tensions or problems exist and the family members don't want people outside of the family to know of such issues. Transparency is critical in families as well as in community of faith, even when the community of faith is corporate and economically influenced and influential as The Episcopal Church is in many ways. Could it be that Presiding Bishop Schori and Bishop Sauls used a different means for submitting a budget because of the fact that they could not influence Bonnie Anderson and members of the Executive Council in ways that they desired to through their own authoritative channels. Furthermore, I view the PBs budget as yet another technical solution (allocation of resources, execution of control, corporate policies) for matters that are not only technical but also adaptive changes. I've written more about these issues on my blog for those who are interested.

The PHOD has spoken out because of this same abuse of power by the PB -- it is not a personal feud -- (or a "cat" fight as I have heard to my dismay) but speaking truth to power.

I'm the one who used the term cat-fight and, also, pissing-match. I do so unrepentantly - this whole mess is a power-struggle whatever metaphor you choose to use. It is most decidedly not what the church needs. It came immediately to mind while reading the Daily Office lessons this morning! http://thefunstons.com/?p=2442

Eric -- what I am saying is that the deeper principle is worth fighting for. Yes we can paper over this one for the sake of the moment or we can address the long term issue of whether or not laity and non-bishops will have a voice in the governance of TEC.
If we follow your advice IMO - we will appease the day and lose the future.

I certainly don't expect leaders to be perfect--but I *do* expect them to have integrity and to treat those with whom they work with respect. It pains me to say that I have had my doubts about the PB almost from the get-go. Her asking our LGBT brothers and sisters to "stand in a crucified place" to keep a bunch of raging homophobes happy failed the second part of my expectation. Her refusal to answer questions about her role in receiving a priest from the RCs who was known to have had sexual contact with a minor failed the first part.

I have followed Katie Sherrod's work for years, and I have no such doubts about her integrity. I am grateful to her for shining some light into some really dark corners. I hope the deputies to GC read this piece and take notice.

This certainly raises a number of concerns. It almost sounds like she's implying some sort of conspiracy to sideline Executive Council, but I hope I'm wrong in that. Personally, I don't look to favorably on suggestions on conspiracy unless very firm evidence emerges.

It's time for EC and GC to address the lack of integrity and honesty coming out of 815. Understanding the terms malfeasance and misfeasance may be a good beginning. And please don't let anyone tell you that slings and arrows are to be expected when change occurs. This not about change. It is about withholding critical information and subverting the governance structure of the Episcopal Church. Do not be afraid to do the hard work of challenging the powers that must be held accountable

I fail to see how presenting an idea - if it comes from the PB or any other Bishop - constitutes "a long term issue of whether or not laity and non-bishops will have a voice in the governance of TEC," as Ann said.

The PB's budget hasn't been legislated or passed yet. And it can't be passed until Convention as a whole - both Clerfy and Lay Deputies and the BIshops - sign off on it. Same goes for the Sauls Proposal - or the Executive Council Budget - or any number of legislated issues. That's representation and voice in governance! You don't have to approve it - you have your vote - so use it!

From the perspective of someone on the ground - and outside of a position as a Deputy or Bishop or a member of a CCAB or any other governing structure - it seems clear that ideas - any ideas - that advocate change to governance, budget, or how the church exists - no matter who they are from - should be considered without regard to where it has its origins, but whether it's a good idea.

And from what I can see, nobody really seems to be willing to do that. And it makes me weep.

I'd add one other follow-upcomment: if the problem is the lack of good information coming from 815 until the PB's or other people's proposals are released - and I make no comment on that process - why not work constructively - now that there's new information - and build something better?

Get on a few Skype conferences, and conference calls, and emails, and construct a better budget, and better structure.

Speaking truth to power can be done a number of ways - and it doesn't have to be mudslinging. Presenting a different budget - and then legislating it - is a profound form of speaking truth. And doing it without mudslinging would be an incredible witness in this whole debacle of who we can be.

And it's important to pray for those who feel the need to put the national church in this situation. We cannot move forward in mission at the national level until this is addressed directly.

I think my biggest frustration watching all this unfold is the way the conversation has been mostly about budget process and less about budget content. For instance, the way in which all the proposed budgets have made policy by fiat (e.g. eliminate Board of Examining Chaplains, huge increase to EPPN, money for an unspecified church-planting program) is concerning.

Also, I wonder if perspective helps. The budget of DFMS is important but it is, really, rather small when you think about all the money spent by Episcopal organizations around the church.

-Jesse

I don't know, so I'm asking. Sherrod writes, "In the PB’s budget the estimate of revenue from dioceses was increased by $3 million for the triennium. But no dioceses have had conventions recently in which they voted to increase their giving. So that is puzzling. Puzzling too that this fact was conveyed to the church only in so far as it was a line item in the Presiding Bishop’s budget."

I'd assumed (only because it coincides with the PB's budget release) that Hadaway's report addressed the question of the addition estimated revenue from dioceses. No? Here's the story I'm referring to:

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2012/06/22/preliminary-report-shows-positive-trends-for-the-episcopal-church/

It starts, "Information based on preliminary data from the 2011 Parochial Reports show an increase in Episcopal Church revenue and a moderation of recent declines among Episcopal congregations."

On the "truth to power" question here's what I wonder as an outsider.

Was speaking truth to power long overdue r.e. the power of PB/815 v. PHOB/EC/GC? That is, should it have occurred a decade or more earlier?

And are the proposals by Sauls et al. mostly driven by desire to have the church sanction the status quo power relationship (where PB/815 has the upperhand?) rather create a new one?

Ann said, "If we follow your advice IMO - we will appease the day and lose the future." - My advice is that those in authority exhibit a little humility, take responsibility, and be accountable. I don't think that will lose us the future. (My other advice was that they all get chucked out on their ears and a whole new leadership team be selected. That's a pie-in-sky dream that isn't going to happen, however. In any event, I don't think that would lose us the future either.) What will lose us the future is for this on-going failure of leadership.

Thank you to Katie Sherrod for speaking up so eloquently.

Sarah Dylan Breuer

To be honest, I can't say my confidence in our elected bodies is all that high either. For years they seem to have been unwilling to face up to the challenges we're facing as a church and to find a way to seriously address them.

As for "speaking truth to power," I'm all for it, but it seems to be so over-used lately that I'm not really sure what it means. I also start getting suspicious when it gets said by those who are part of the "power." Whose "truth"? Which "power"?

"it seems clear that ideas - any ideas - that advocate change to governance, budget, or how the church exists - no matter who they are from - should be considered without regard to where it has its origins, but whether it's a good idea."

That works only insofar as the ideas are presented transparently. All these backroom shenanigans make Chicago politics look transparent by comparison.

and "let's work a new and better budget" only works in a less cumbersome governance system. As Katie Sherrod notes, once 815 was able to finagle a budget out of Exec Council, it was simply "oops, too late" to make any changes.

But then miraculously, there is time for the PB to come up with a new and improved budget.

As a (ever more) disillusioned and disinterested pew-sitter, it seems like a pretty blatant attempt by 815 to make the Exec Council look like a bunch of yokels.

My frustration is that someone has to step up and be an adult here. Otherwise, General Convention is likely to be an eight-day fight that rips the church apart. Could it be that now that we don't have sexuality to fight about with "those conservatives" we're turning on each other? I suspect that one reason that dioceses are not contributing their full asking is that they don't trust TEC to spend the money wisely. This certainly doesn't help.

I'm also struck by the repeated references in Katie's article about her consulting with other Executive Council members and receiving the message that they "didn't want to make a scene" about any of this. Well, considering the train wreck in progress, perhaps someone should have made a scene. To use an over-used Titanic analogy: "Don't interrupt the band to tell us the ship is leaking..."

This is a systemic problem. The governance systems of our church are breaking down because they are not designed to react quickly to any emerging realities. They are designed to be slow, plodding, and complex. That is why we are talking about restructuring! As these structures break down, folks are trying to hold things together with metaphorical duct tape and chewing gum. I'd like to think that the PB, PHoD, Chair of PB&F or SOMEONE can stand up and at least propose a budget and a process that can leave room for constructive conversation about how we can accomplish our mission as a church. Otherwise, GC will be an eight-day fight: as entertaining as professional wrestling and just as productive.

This may be an issue where looking forward, rather than back, is most productive. While my observation doesn't speak to all -- or even most -- of the issues highlighted in the budget process, it's also true that hierarchical organizations in crisis often see a concentration of power at the executive level when addressing the crisis. Our response to the efforts from ACNA to supplant our existing organizational structure therefore properly resulted in the BP taking a stronger role in the organization. With that issue now largely resolved, we should expect to see power flow back more evenly throughout our governance structure.

It's also worth adding that, despite our frequent frustrations with the creaky colossos of TEC hierarchy, the structure performs remarkably well in preventing the sort of coup d'etat envisioned by the ACNA folks, just as the bicameral system of the US government has proved to be stable over the years.

Eric Bonetti

I think the pb did step up and do the work of an adult here. We'll need a lot more adults in both houses to get to a budget that reflects the mind of the Church. Exec Council is one of those structures that needs to be reformed. The Church center staff, role of the PB, and role of the phod also need to be trimmed back. The unacceptable budgetvof ec is proof that something is deeply broken in our governance. I think tje comparison with Bp. Iker is overstated and irresponsible. The pb was articulating mission strategy, one of her canonical responsibilities, when ec seemed unable to present a budget that reflected our mission. Her proposal is not perfect but far better, and it is a public proposal. I assume she expects to be criticized for this unusual step and she certainly knows that the final budget will have to be passed by the deputies and bishops. What she is doing is called leadership. We need more of it from all of our leaders in Indy.

Adults don't withhold information from those tasked with a project nor do they trash colleagues with public shaming. Sorry Bill - you need to talk to more EC members and not assume you know the events.

I heartily endorse Ann's suggestion that anyone who has problem's with what Katie has written seek out other members of Executive Council.

She didn't withhold the information. She made it public in the budget proposal. My main problem with what Katie has written is the attempt to compare the PB to Bishop Iker. That's hyperbole at best and not helpful. I don't assume that there are any innocent actors in this. But I do assume that the current structures are broken, including (as I mentioned) the role of the PB and the Church Center Staff. I view the PB's intervention as movement toward health within a dysfunctional system. One of the other primary areas that needs to be reformed is the Executive Council, which needs to be trimmed down and limited in its role. (As again, does the PB's office and the staff.) As an end-game, I'd like to see far less money flow through the budget of the DFMS and most functions devolved to dioceses and regional networks.

Just to underscore the specific way in which this differs from Ft. Worth: The Presiding Bishop remains accountable to the General Convention. She'll also have to take her lumps with Executive Council, as she clearly already is. The timing of disclosure of information is a fair enough point, assuming the accuracy of Katie's overall report. At the same time, I remain convinced that the PB is acting in the best interest of the Episcopal Church and that this kind of sniping is part of what prevents our leadership from responding to the current crisis in an effective manner. It's time for all leaders to step up and respond rather than staying focused on what we may or may not like about the PB or COO. I continue to applaud her boldness. It being understood that the rest of us will hold her accountable.

Bill, as I read Katie's piece, the comparison with Bishop Iker relates not to the Presiding Bishop but to Bishop Sauls who, in his budget commentary, publicly criticized some people involved in the budget process using the communications resources of the church to do so. This did happen, and as comments here on the Cafe and items on other blogs demonstrate, it did damage those people's reputations in some quarters.

Bill Carroll - you seriously need to actually read Katie Sherrod's whole piece and assemble the timeline properly.

The timing of this is such that the work of the EC was totally undermined by some combination of the PB, Sauls and 815 staff. The EC developed and approved something that made sense and was forwarded to PB&F. PB&F then performed some ouija board magic and what was published some days later was not what EC had approved, with numbers that didn't add up, thus making them look like yokels.

Adding fuel to the fire was the hatchet job commentary on the budget and process by the PB and Sauls, throwing EC under the bus.

Some weeks later, the PB comes out with a completely new budget "ta-da!" - tastes great, less filling.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

These are not the droids you're looking for...

Could EC be better organized? Surely. But that is not close to being the major part of the problem with this story.

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