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Decision No. 765

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October 26 1995
In Re: Review of Bishop's Decision of Law in the Western New York Conference Concerning Access to Clergy Records.

Digest of Case

The decision of the bishop is affirmed. Records kept in an individual's name must be made accessible to him/her unless that person has waived access to the records. Exceptions are surrendered credentials and supervisory records maintained by the bishop and/or district superintendents. If due process is denied because an accused person has been denied access to certain records, that person may demand a reconsideration of his/her case.

Statement of Facts

A member of the Western New York Conference presented to the presiding bishop, Hae-Jong Kim, at the clergy session on June 2, 1994, for an episcopal decision of law the following questions: Is a clergy member, or an associate member of the Conference, or a probationary member, or a local pastor or any other clergy person who is under appointment in the annual conference entitled to examine ail the files which relate to his or her ministry? OR, if the episcopal ruling should indicate that some files or portions of files which may be held by a member or members of the Cabinet or by officers or employees of the Board of Ministry or other agencies of the Conference, are not properly open to the clergy person's inspection, what would constitute such portions of the files, and who would determine what portions of the files should be excluded? AND, in the case of a grievance against a clergy person or in the case of a supervisory, administrative, or evaluating procedure can a superintendent, a bishop, or a member or members of a board of ministry or other individual or group of individuals within the conference use, examine, or otherwise refer to any portion of a clergy person's file or files which is or are withheld from him or her before, during, or after the procedures concerning the respondent are under way? AND, if a clergy person is denied access to records which pertain to that person while he or she is a respondent to a grievance, complaint, or charges or if a clergy person is denied access to his or her files while he or she is a respondent formally or informally during a supervisory, administrative, or evaluating procedure and if, in either case, the clergy person requests a change of conference relations, would the refusal to grant access to such a file or files constitute reasonable grounds for that person to be subsequently restored to his or her previous conference status without prejudice? The bishop responded as follows: In reviewing the questions of law, I have categorized the issues into three parts. 1. The right of a clergy person to review his/her personnel files: 2. The right of a clergy person to review supervisory files: 3. The right of a clergy person to be reinstated following a grievance, if the individual has been denied access to certain files in the grievance process. 1. Paragraph 706.9 Clergy shall have access to all material in his/her personnel file held by the District Committee on Ordained Ministry, the Board of Ordained Ministry, the Board of Pensions, The Board of Diaconal Ministries and the permanent files kept by the Conference Secretary. The referent shall not have access to 1) surrendered credentials: 2) material to which he or she has waived right to access in writing prior to its placement in the file. 2. The right of the person to review supervisory files: Supervisory filesare those kept by the Bishop and/or Superintendent. They are in the care of the person in office and they are not subject to review by anyone else. The Bishop and/or superintendent may choose to transfer material from the supervisory file to the personnel file, If that is done, then the information is open to review by the referent. 3. The right of a clergy person to be reinstated following a grievance, if the individual has been denied access to certain files in the grievance process: If material presented in a hearing has not previously made available to the referent and he/she has not had the opportunity to properly reply because they did not have access in advance, request can be made to have his/her case reconsidered. Any other reason does not constitute grounds for a request to change in conference relations or reconsideration of the case. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2613 of the 1992 Discipline . ANALYSIS Par. 709.6 of the 1992 Discipline sets forth the guidelines for access to records for candidates and ordained and diaconal ministers. This paragraph stipulates that various administrative officers and conference entities are custodians of these records, which are owned by the Annual Conference. It further stipulates that the individuals in whose names the records are kept have a right to access to the information in those records or files with the exception of surrendered credentials or information to which the individual has waived right of access. Supervisory records maintained by the bishops and/or district superintendents are not accessible to persons in whose names they are kept. If records necessary to assure fair process which are set forth in Par. 2622 are made inaccessible to an accused person, that person may demand reconsideration of his/her case so that compliance with Par. 2622 is assured.

Decision

The decision of the bishop is affirmed. Records kept in an individual's name must be made accessible to him/her unless that person has waived access to the records. Exceptions are surrendered credentials and supervisory records maintained by the bishop and/or district superintendents. If due process is denied because an accused person has been denied access to certain records, that person may demand a reconsideration of his/her case. This copy subject to final editing and correction.

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