March 17 Vote To Decide Future of Thoreau
After months of preparation, discussion and negotiation, Thoreau members will finally be voting on the proposed merger with First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston at a Congregational Meeting to be held at noon on March 17. A Town Hall Meeting to answer questions and provide a forum for discussion will be held at noon on Sunday, March 3.
Every member of Thoreau should have received a hard-copy in the mail of the two proposed resolutions, including the Letter of Intent to Merge and the supporting document, the Capital Funds Directive.
The first proposition to be voted on is that the Thoreau UU Congregation accept the Letter of Intent to Merge with First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston. The Letter of Intent contains the generalities about the merger. Many of the specifics about the merger have been worked out between the Thoreau UU Board, the Thoreau Transition Team, the First UU Board and Rev. Daniel O’Connell. These will be presented at the Town Hall meeting on March 3. The directive for the restricted capital funds provides more details about the current Board Restricted Funds. Those funds will continue to be invested in the Fidelity account and will be held in trust until First UU Church (which will include us!) builds, purchases or improves a permanent home for Thoreau in Fort Bend County.
The second proposition is that Thoreau UU forgo nominating a slate of officers or member for the nominating committee for the next church year and also not hold an annual meeting if the merger gets an affirmative vote.
The Thoreau UU by-laws specify that on any “fundamental action” that 67 percent of those voting approve the resolution. The by-laws also require that these kinds of votes be conducted with a hand-signed ballot. These ballots will be mailed out after the Congregational Meeting, and anyone who does not turn in a ballot at the meeting, will have two weeks to return them or to vote electronically.
The Thoreau Board recommends that the congregation vote ‘yes’ on both propositions.
Please mark your calendar and plan to stay for these two very important meetings. Lunch will be served after the service on both Sundays, with childcare provided.
The Thoreau Transition Team and the Thoreau Board of Trustees have been working hard to identify issues that need to be resolved in order to pave the way for a smooth transition if the congregation votes in March to merge. In January, representatives from both groups met with the First UU Board of Trustees and Rev. Daniel O’Connell to iron out the details. The Thoreau members went with a list of 49 items to discuss and left with assurances from First UU.
The First UU Board of Trustees were as good as their word as they met in January and passed a series of resolutions, by-law changes, and directives for Rev. O’Connell.
Thoreau already has a Letter of Intent, drafted by our lawyer, that addresses our membership and our assets. That document stipulates that Thoreau’s Capital Funds will be held in a restricted account for up to 12 years, which a small foundation board made up of Thoreau members will oversee. This new board will vet any requests to use the Capital Funds for building a new home.
In addition, the Letter of Intent sets aside the operating reserves we currently have to help pay our campus' expenses for up to five years, in the hope that by that time we will have enough Thoreau campus members to be a self-sufficient campus of First UU. Lastly, the letter spells out that current Thoreau members will immediately become members of First UU, with full voting and delegate rights. In fact, Thoreau members will have duel membership in both congregations from the time of the vote until the final merger in July 2013. This will give Thoreauvians the right to vote in the upcoming First UU elections. In addition to the Letter of Intent, First UU has addressed the rights of any merging congregation's members.
There have been questions from Thoreau members about whether we will still be considered “Thoreau members". The First UU Board took care of that with the following resolution: “Each member of First Unitarian Universalist Church will select to which campus they are affiliated. This self-selected affiliation will be used for tracking membership, pledges and income by campus. Should a member choose to affiliate with more than one campus and pledge accordingly, they will be allowed only one vote in general or special meetings.”
Another resolution addresses campus representation on the First UU Board. “Beginning with the slate of Board candidates that will be presented to the congregation in May 2013, the Nominating Committee will ensure there is at least one member from Northwest Community UU Church (Copperfield) and from Thoreau UU Congregation (Thoreau/Stafford) serving as a Board Trustee. This shall occur without increasing the total size of the Board.” Normally, at the Museum District Campus, the First UU Nominating Committee nominates a slate for the Board, but other members also nominate themselves. This means in addition to the one slot each campus is guaranteed, additional positions could be filled by members from either Thoreau or Copperfield for at-large positions on the Board
To assure that each campus has a say in who is nominated, the First UU Board also passed the following by-law change: “Beginning with the slate of candidates that will be presented to the congregation in May 2013, the Nominating Committee will ensure that there is at least one member each from the Museum District campus, the Copperfield campus and the Thoreau UU Congregation (Thoreau/Stafford) campus serving on the Nominating Committee. The campus representative can be the member that is selected from the Board or the past president."
Because there has been some concern about the First UU governance documents, the Board passed the following resolution:
“The First Unitarian Universalist Church Board:
Recognizes the unique organizational challenges of a multi-site church
In addition, the First UU Board passed three directives for Rev. O’Connell. Because their church operates under “policy governance”, the wording of these directives is not what we are used to at Thoreau. However, the intent is clear.
Please mark your calendars for two important dates coming up in March 2013. There will be a Town Hall meeting on Sunday, March 3, where we will have the final presentation of all the details for the merger. The Congregational Meeting about the merger vote will be on Sunday, March 17, followed by a 2-week period for all Thoreau members to return written ballots or electronically submit completed ballots on the question.
Thoreau Board members and representatives from the Transition Team are continuing to meet with Rev. O’Connell and the First UU Board to address a number of other details, but we are well on our way to setting a course for clear sailing if the vote to merge is approved.