Sunday, March 6, 2011

Clara Barton District Executive Forced Out by UUA

In this guest post Ms. Lynn Thomas tells of her "resignation" as District Executive of the Clara Barton District (CBD).  The Clara Barton District comprises western Massachusetts and the Connecticut Valley. She served as District Executive from 2001 through the end of 2009.

In reading the entries on this blog, and in particular your Tragedy in Four Acts, The Recent Unpleasantness, I realized that the sequence of events for Cilla in the PCD was eerily similar to my experience as (now former) District Executive in the Clara Barton District.

I spoke out several times against regionalization - at two consecutive all-district staff meetings (called Big Complex Meetings), with my board, and with a small group of the board finance committee and UUA trustee. (The UUA trustee is Jacki Shanti, now UUA first vice moderator to Gini Courter as moderator.) Clearly all was impolitic.

Terasa Cooley was the Massachusetts Bay District DE, so we were in the same staff cluster. On more than one occasion, she asked me how long I was going to stay in the position.

Prior to Terasa Cooley's joining the UUA staff, Harlan Limpert requested the then-CBD Board president Ken Wagner to have the board members poll ministers about my performance. The results reported to the CBD board, in my presence, were all stellar. Now of course they did not poll every minister in the district. I recall that Harlan then contacted specific ministers and received negative input. One minister had, from the time of my becoming DE 8 years previously, refused to interact or meet with me because I was not a minister. I had been told by ministers that one other had been quite vociferous at UUMA chapter meetings that he did not want me there because I was not a minister. His wishes did not prevail among the other ministers, who regularly welcomed me to meetings. However, that minister then married Terasa Cooley. I am far from perfect, but it felt like Harlan was building a case against me.

A new CBD board president took over and was almost immediately contacted by Harlan Limpert to broach the subject of ending my employment. She was taken aback, didn't even really know who he was or who she could talk to about it, so she went along to see where it would go. She didn't inform the rest of the board.

Harlan called me into his office to tell me my work was not good enough and he wanted my resignation. He told me that if I fought it and he went to the board with details, "it would not be pretty."  This was September 2009, and I told him I was prepared to resign effective the following June.  He wanted me to leave immediately. My response was that I had not embezzled any funds nor did I commit any sexual misconduct, etc., so I refused. We finally agreed that I would continue employment until December 31.

I wrote a retirement letter and presented it to the board at the October 2009 meeting. The board was quite surprised and offered much support and appreciation. Harlan was waiting in the other room. Immediately upon my leaving the meeting room, Harlan entered and began to discuss details of regionalization, complete with drawings. Afterwards, a board member remarked  about the suddenness of learning of my retirement and this UUA regionalization plan, and that he was not alone with feeling a bit stunned.

My personal circumstances were different from Cilla's in several respects. First, I had been contemplating (but speaking to no one) about retiring at the end of the church year. Second, I was older and knew my social security and retirement would kick in, so that enabled me to retire. In addition, the Board was not in a position to take a strong stand, and I knew that.

So it seems to me that the UUA staff members are working from the same plan, and at times, the same script. I have been a UU for about 55 years (not quite birthright), wherever I have lived across the country including California. I have been active and appreciated in multitudes of lay positions at the congregational, district, and UUA levels. I had served as a paid Organization Development Consultant to UU and other religious and not for profit organizations.  My educational credentials and experience are in Clinical Social Work and Organizational Development. I have been disappointed and frustrated by our faith many times, but never previously felt the deep betrayal of our principles and lack of trust that I do now.

Lynn Thomas

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Editor's Postscript
Terasa Cooley became Director of Congregational Life at UUA Headquarters effective September 1, 2010. Almost immediately she began the process of firing Cilla Raughley, District Executive of the Pacific Central District.

Since Ms. Thomas left the position more than a year ago, there has been no replacement District Executive and no plans for one - a single DE is in charge of Clara Barton and Massachusetts Bay Districts.  The last independent newlsetter of CBD (May 2010) notes the District office was combined with Mass Bay and "the District administrator ... has left our employ and ... we wish her well in future endeavors."

Post-Postscript
The Clara Barton District decided March 5th, 2011 to end co-employment of their District Executive.  The UUA is now in charge.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting that letter Tom.

    And thanks for writing it and being prepared to make it public Lynn.

    Most ironically the details regarding the role of UUA Vice President of Ministries and Congregational Support, Rev. Harlan Limpert, are what some might euphemistically call "less than pretty". . . Perhaps he should be given the opportunity to respond to these allegations publicly.

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  2. Tom, I've been catching up on your blog for the past couple of days and am deeply bothered by what I've read here. I already felt the UUA was out of touch with my congregation's needs, but this goes far beyond "out of touch." I don't know what, if anything, we can do about it... but I appreciate your willingness to make this information public.

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