Decision No. 1156

In Re: Request from the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Meaning, Effect, and Application of ∂∂ 354 and 355 Regarding Requirement of Remedial Action for an Individual Granted Voluntary Leave of Absence

DIGEST OF CASE

The separation of authority and decision making is integral to the United Methodist Constitution and law. Procedures that govern action with respect to matters of conference relations are carefully set forth in the Discipline and are to be followed by the Board of Ordained Ministry without interference from the bishop or the district superintendents acting individually in that role or collectively through the cabinet. Under ∂ 363, the Board of Ordained Ministry may choose or recommend one or more options for a program of remedial action, subject to regular oversight by the board and annual review. Once the terms of remedial action are determined by the board, no additional terms of remedial action may be imposed without initiating a new supervisory process.
The action of the 2010 Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference that placed the member on a voluntary leave of absence is hereby reversed and vacated. The memberís request to end her voluntary leave of absence is remanded to Board of Ordained Ministry with directions to grant or deny the request in accordance with the provisions of ∂ 362 and with due regard for the provisions of ∂ 363 and ∂ 354. The member is entitled to an immediate administrative hearing. The Board of Ordained Ministry shall determine whether the terms of the just resolution agreement have been satisfied. In view of the fact that the memberís fair process rights were violated, the member is entitled to receive equitable compensation as required for clergy members in full connection, insurance, housing, pension and other benefits according to annual conference policy and procedures for the period beginning February 11, 2010, until she receives another appointment or is declared ineligible for appointment

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The 2010 clergy session of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, adopted the annual report of the Board of Ordained Ministry that included action to place a clergy member on a voluntary leave of absence. Subsequent to the action by the clergy session, the conference voted to request a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the meaning, application and effect of ∂ 354 and ∂ 355 to determine if the bishop, the cabinet, the Conference Relations Committee, or the Board of Ordained Ministry can require remedial action by an individual who is granted a voluntary leave of absence before being permitted to return to active service. The text of the request for a declaratory decision shown in the official Annual Conference minutes is as follows:
Request for a Declaratory Decision from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference on the Meaning, Effect and Application of Par. 354 and Par. 355 in determining if the Bishop, Cabinet, Conference Relations Committee, or Board of Ordained Ministry can require remedial action by an individual who is granted Voluntary Leave of Absence.

After an administrative complaint against a clergy member was received and the supervisory response initiated, the Executive Committee of Board of Ordained Ministry met at the request of the bishop and the district superintendent on May 13, 2009, to consider the superintendentís request to place a clergy member on suspension for 90 days. The request for suspension was based on ∂ 361.c because of Rev. Smithís alleged failure to carry our pastoral duties and to protect the well being of the congregation. The Executive Committee, the Cabinet and the Bishop met with Rev. Smith and her advocate, Rev. Conrad Link, on July 15, 2009, to consider a request to place Rev. Smith on involuntary leave of absence because the issues leading to her supervision had not been resolved and just resolution had not been achieved. The hearing on the involuntary leave of absence was adjourned with the agreement that work toward just resolution would continue for 60 days. The Executive Committee concurred with the request. Eventually, a just resolution agreement was completed and signed on August 12, 2009. As part of the just resolution agreement, the member agreed to request a voluntary leave of absence which was granted as of November 11, 2009. After serving a period of voluntary leave of absence, the member made a timely written request for an end to the voluntary leave of absence. After being informed that her request to end the voluntary leave of absence was subject to the concurrence of the bishopís assistant, the member made a written request for an administrative hearing before the Board of Ordained Ministry on February 11, 2010. The memberís request for a hearing was never honored because the board did not receive assurances from the bishopís assistant that the terms of the just resolution agreement and other remedial requirements had been satisfied. The member chose to seek an additional voluntary leave of absence for the ensuing conference year rather than face threatened involuntary action.

Jurisdiction

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction pursuant to ∂ 2610 of the 2008 Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale


Our decision is made against the backdrop of three guiding principles. The operative principles of United Methodist polity include the authority of the Annual Conference, the separation of powers and fair process. The Constitution provides that the Annual Conference is the basic body in the Church and shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members. See ∂ 33, Article II of the Constitution. It is the responsibility of the bishop to make and fix appointments. The superintendents oversee the ministry of the pastors and churches under their supervision and the needs both of the parish and the pastors for witness and service. The Board of Ordained Ministry reviews the change of status of candidates for and persons in ordained ministry to the end that ordained ministryís distinctive functions are to be devoted wholly to the work of the Church and the up-building of the general ministry. The separation of authority and decision making is integral to the United Methodist Constitution and law. While the boundaries can become hazy in any particular situation, separation of powers must be observed. See Decisions 915 and 917.
The roles of the bishop, the district superintendents and the Board of Ordained Ministry are distinct in our system of connectionalism. The functions entrusted to the Board of Ordained Ministry are to be fulfilled without interference from the bishop or the district superintendents. See Decision 689. The Discipline provides that the Board of Ordained Ministry is the decision maker in the first instance concerning the conference relations of its ministerial members and that the ultimate decision maker is the Executive Session of the Annual Conference. With respect to matters of conference relations of its clergy members, the Executive Session of the Annual Conference acts as a legislative body. The procedures that govern action with respect to matters of conference relations are set forth in the Discipline and are to be carefully followed by the Board of Ordained Ministry without interference from the bishop or the district superintendents acting individually in that role or collectively through the cabinet. The bishop and the cabinet are often involved in the initiation of the complaint process that leads to the supervisory response. The bishop and superintendents are properly seen as the moving parties with respect to complaints and other such supervisory actions. It violates the doctrine of separation of powers for the bishop and the superintendents to initiate the complaint process and also serve as gate keeper of access to the Board of Ordained Ministry as it discharges its function. Innovations on disciplinary process are fraught with the danger of inconsistent application and are, therefore, discouraged. Any deviation from disciplinary process is a per se violation of the Discipline.
The Board of Ordained Ministry brief makes several disturbing admissions. Neither the Board of Ordained Ministry nor the Executive Committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry were involved in the attempts at resolution. The board was not a party to the just resolution agreement and was not provided with a copy. The member was told by the Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry that she would need to fulfill the requirements of the just resolution agreement before she could return to active service and that the bishopís assistant would need to certify that all the requirements of the just resolution agreement had been satisfied. The Board of Ordained Ministry admits its lack of active involvement in setting terms of the voluntary leave and remedial requirements and that it deferred to the bishopís assistant to determine whether the remedial terms of the just resolution agreement had been satisfied. The Board of Ordained Ministry brief further establishes that the bishopís assistant would not certify that the remedial requirements had been satisfied. The Board of Ordained Ministry had in its possession a copy of the requirements of the just resolution agreement that related to the voluntary leave of absence. The information in its possession was sufficient to determine whether the circumstances that led to the voluntary leave of absence had been resolved or alleviated. The boardís reliance on the bishopís assistant to certify that all requirements had been completed was an abdication of its disciplinary responsibility and a violation of separation of powers. The board asserts that ∂ 354.11 does not provide for a hearing in the event of denial of a request to end voluntary leave of absence, nor does the Discipline allow for board intervention when leave is based on a just resolution to which neither the Executive Committee nor the board is a party. The provisions of ∂ 363 are clear as to the Board of Ordained Ministryís role with respect to just resolution. Just resolution is designed to involve the Board of Ordained Ministry. A representative of the board is required to sign just resolution agreements. Any signed statement of resolution is to be given to the board. Any just resolution agreement remains subject to final approval by the board. The board then may retain oversight relating to any terms or conditions of the statement of resolution or take such other action as deemed appropriate.
The brief submitted by the bishop, the superintendents and the bishopís assistant correctly states that the Board of Ordained Ministry has the prerogative to set remedial requirements for individuals granted a voluntary leave of absence. The bishopís brief makes no attempt to explain or justify why the bishopís assistant was given the responsibility of certifying that all remedial requirements had been met before the Board of Ordained Ministry could consider the memberís request to end the voluntary leave of absence. The bishop and the superintendents cite Decision 915 in support of their position. The errors, omissions and unfortunate prejudice in this case could possibly have been avoided or at least minimized had the bishop, the superintendents and the Board of Ordained Ministry followed the holding of Decision 915, the requirements of the Discipline, and the principles of fair process.
Based on these candid admissions, it is apparent that the Board of Ordained Ministry either failed to appreciate its role with respect to just resolution or chose to abdicate its role to the bishop. A just resolution agreement does not end the complaint process. The Board of Ordained Ministry continues to have a crucial and non-delegable disciplinary role in the oversight relating to any terms or conditions of the statement of resolution and may take such other action as deemed appropriate. In cooperation with the cabinet and in consultation with the member, the Board of Ordained Ministry may choose or recommend a program of remedial action, subject to regular oversight by the board and annual review.
The record supports the conclusion that the bishop, the superintendent and the Board of Ordained Ministry were all operating under the mistaken assumption that the memberís voluntary leave of absence was governed by the provisions of ∂ 354.1. In fact, the voluntary leave of absence was requested as a result of an administrative complaint process and a just resolution agreement. As a consequence, the member was entitled to an administrative hearing as provided by ∂ 362. It does not appear anywhere in the record that such a hearing ever took place. The failure to afford the member an administrative hearing upon request is a clear and prejudicial violation of ∂ 362 and of fair process principles.
The bishop has no disciplinary role in determining whether the circumstances that led to a voluntary leave of absence have been resolved or alleviated. The Board of Ordained Ministry is the only body authorized to review the circumstances surrounding the granting of a voluntary leave of absence for the purpose of determining whether those circumstances have been alleviated or resolved. When the board determines that the circumstances that led to the voluntary leave have not been alleviated or resolved, the board is obliged to inform the person of their remaining options as contained in ∂ 354.11. The role of the Board of Ordained Ministry with respect to just resolution agreements is clearly set forth in ∂ 363. The terms of a just resolution agreement do not alter or nullify provisions of the Discipline. Likewise, neither the bishop, nor the superintendents, have the prerogative to add remedial requirements after a just resolution agreement is executed. Once the terms of remedial action are determined by the board, no additional terms of remedial action may be imposed without initiating a new supervisory process.
In Decision 689 the Judicial Council determined that it was unlawful for the bishop and the district superintendents acting as the cabinet to determine that a clergy person who had been on leave of absence would not be considered for an appointment because the final and ultimate consideration for appointment and termination of leave of absence rests solely with the Board of Ordained Ministry and the clergy session of the Annual Conference. While the bishop, the superintendent, and the responding clergy member are entitled to be heard, it is inappropriate and a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers for the bishop (or the bishopís representative) to participate in the deliberations of the Board of Ordained Ministry or its committees. It is likewise inappropriate for the bishop (or bishopís representative) to determine when and whether the Board of Ordained Ministry may consider a memberís request to end a leave of absence. Such function is clearly assigned to the Board of Ordained Ministry. The bishop and the superintendent have acted in excess of their authority and the Board of Ordained Ministry has failed to fulfill its responsibility. The Board of Ordained Ministry is not an extension of the office of the bishop. The Board of Ordained Ministry fails to fulfill its function when it abandons its role as a body independent of the bishop and the superintendents. There is no provision in the Discipline that assigns the determination of whether terms of a just resolution agreement have been satisfied to the bishop, or to a designee of the bishop.
This case is replete with errors, omissions, flaws and disciplinary violations that never should have occurred or, at a minimum, should have been corrected at a much earlier stage. The supervisory and administrative processes contained in the Discipline are carefully and specifically designed to protect the rights of the individual and of the Church. The steps set forth therein must be followed carefully or injustice results. Lack of diligence, integrity, care or compassion in dealing with a case such as this almost always results in irreparable harm to both the individual and the Church. Such harm has usually taken place by the time a case of this nature gets to the Judicial Council.
The action of the 2010 Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference that placed the member on a voluntary leave of absence is hereby reversed and vacated. The memberís request to end her voluntary leave of absence is remanded to Board of Ordained Ministry with directions to grant or deny the request in accordance with the provisions of ∂ 362 and with due regard for the provisions of ∂ 363 and ∂ 354. The member is entitled to an immediate administrative hearing. The Board of Ordained Ministry shall determine whether the terms of the just resolution agreement have been satisfied. In view of the fact that the memberís fair process rights were violated, the member is entitled to receive equitable compensation as required for clergy members in full connection, insurance, housing, pension and other benefits according to annual conference policy and procedures for the period beginning February 11, 2010, until she receives another appointment or is declared ineligible for appointment.

DECISION

The separation of authority and decision making is integral to the United Methodist Constitution and law. Procedures that govern action with respect to matters of conference relations are carefully set forth in the Discipline and are to be followed by the Board of Ordained Ministry without interference from the bishop or the district superintendents acting individually in that role or collectively through the cabinet. Under ∂ 363, the Board of Ordained Ministry may choose or recommend one or more options for a program of remedial action, subject to regular oversight by the board and annual review. Once the terms of remedial action are determined by the board, no additional terms of remedial action may be imposed without initiating a new supervisory process.
The action of the 2010 Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference that placed the member on a voluntary leave of absence is hereby reversed and vacated. The memberís request to end her voluntary leave of absence is remanded to Board of Ordained Ministry with directions to grant or deny the request in accordance with the provisions of ∂ 362 and with due regard for the provisions of ∂ 363 and ∂ 354. The member is entitled to an immediate administrative hearing. The Board of Ordained Ministry shall determine whether the terms of the just resolution agreement have been satisfied. In view of the fact that the memberís fair process rights were violated, the member is entitled to receive equitable compensation as required for clergy members in full connection, insurance, housing, pension and other benefits according to annual conference policy and procedures for the period beginning February 11, 2010, until she receives another appointment or is declared ineligible for appointment

Saturday, October 30, 2010.


<< Back to judicial council decisions 1101-1200 list


<< Back to main judicial council decisions page