03 July 2012

More Musings on Moral Decisions

The Presiding Bishop's introduction to her budget proposal begins by correctly observing, "Budgets are moral documents." I think she missed a critical point. The process by which budgets are compiled is a moral decision-making process. The budget reflects the process as well as its outcomes. I think the process itself  needs to be considered, especially this year. Skilled engineers and systems analysts learn to work backwards from output to a system. I am generally accounted a pretty solid systems analyst. Let's try to do some "reverse engineering" of the budget process.

A few preliminary observations:
  1. Unlike the Presiding Bishop, the Executive Council is canonically charged with the responsibility of presenting a budget to the General Convention. As the council is composed almost entirely of lay volunteers and clerics with other (frequently full-time) ministries, it is heavily dependent on the staff for budget development.
  2. The Executive Council is, among other things, the board of directors for the New York corporation that is the church. As such, it has legal rights when it queries staff.

Now some recent history:
As part of the "Blue Book," as required by canon, Executive Council published a proposed budget. Were it not tragic, it would stand as a comic document. Its income assumptions are laughable, its expenditures exceeded income, and whole sections are missing. If an employee of mine produced something this bad, that employee would be unemployed.

With some embarrassment, Council produced and published a revised budget. I think the best we can say is it was not quite as bad. It at least appears to balance.
Subsequent to those two budgets, the Presiding Bishop offered her own. She did not inform Executive Council or, it appears President Anderson that she was working on this document, or that it was about to be  published. This budget uses what Congress calls the, "block grant" process. That is, rather than a lot of detailed line items, it just funds concepts. After General Convention adjourns, someone, someone on staff, presumably get to decide what is in the block.

All three budgets are malformed. One interesting example they share is the de-funding of the General Ordination Exams. By canon, General Convention elects a board that creates the "General Ordination Exam." This is not something optional.
Some in the church think this process and its board are not needed. Eliminating the board and exam requires a change in the canons. Instead, all three budgets simply ignore the canons and set the budget for the board at zero.

What we have here is legislation by budget. None of the players here, Presiding Bishop, Executive Council, 815 staff, has the authority to eliminate either the Board, or the exams. But if they fund the board at zero, then they have effectively done exactly that. This is not the stuff of moral decision-making.

The Presiding Bishop is, de jure, the chair of the Executive Council. Why did she not argue for her ideas in that forum? If she lacked data, where was staff? In any case, she has produced her own budget. It is, for all practical purposes, a minority report from of all people, the chair!

The Presiding Bishop's budget clearly used staff resources. Where were those resources when Council was doing the first one?

Here is what my "reverse engineering" suggests to me. The PB and her staff leader, the "Chief Operations Officer" she appointed, Bp. Sauls, did not set out to work within Council. They set out to do their own thing. This is consistent with Bp. Sauls' memo to staff telling them that they were called to lead the church. The budgets show us a process hijacked and ignored -- someone wants to take over the control of the church.

Which explains why there is a lot of rancor as General Convention comes together. And it explains why no one knows, now at the moment we really need to know, what the budget has in it, or will have in it.

It is time for General Convention, and especially the House of Deputies, to assert itself. Most immediately, GC needs to be sure that the new budget does not fund the office of Chief Operations Officer. Staff needs to know who it works for, and the GC is the answer to the question.


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