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

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.

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Dave Paisley

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.

Jim Naughton

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

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 Carroll

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.

Jim Naughton

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

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