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Decision No. 909

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April 25 2001
In Re: Consideration of the Constitutionality of the New Model Plan of Structure Adopted by the Northern Illinois Annual Conference in November 2000 over Which the Judicial Council Retained Jurisdiction in Decision 893.

Digest of Case

The Northern Illinois Annual Conference is directed to continue to operate under the requirements of Decision 831 until such time as it has acted legislatively to define the interaction of those aspects created by its New Model with the existing and continuing annual conference boards, agencies, commissions, committees and organizations. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction over any plan for restructuring the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. The final plan is to be submitted to the Judicial Council for review and approval prior to implementation.

Statement of Facts

At a special session in November 1997, the Northern Illinois Annual Conference adopted an Interim Model to restructure the Annual Conference. In Decision 831, the Judicial Council held that the Interim Model was null and void, because it did not conform to the requirements of the 1996 Book of Discipline. At its June 3, 2000 session, the Northern Illinois Annual Conference adopted a New Model as the basic organizational structure for the Annual Conference, and established a twenty-eight member implementation team, appointed by the bishop. The implementation team was to provide, for consideration by a November 2000 special session, a nominating process, the necessary Standing Rules, any budgetary proposals, and all other items necessary, in order that the New Model may be implemented by January 1, 2001. In Decision 893, the Judicial Council reviewed a bishop’s decision of law that the New Model structure approved by the Northern Illinois Annual Conference on June 3, 2000 was constitutional. The Judicial Council did not affirm the bishop’s decision for several reasons, including that the New Model was not a completed product but had been referred to an Implementation Task Force to complete the structure for future approval by the Annual Conference. The Judicial Council stated that it was “unable to rule at this time since the Annual Conference structure is incomplete.” The Northern Illinois Annual Conference was directed to continue to operate under the requirements of Decision 831. The Judicial Council retained jurisdiction over any plan for restructuring the Annual Conference. The Northern Illinois Annual Conference met in special session on November 18, 2000, and received the report of the New Model Implementation Team. Bishop C. Joseph Sprague made the following statement as part of the proceedings: Pursuant to Decision No. 893 of the Judicial Council entered October 27, 2000, acceptance of the Report of the New Model Task Force as a basic structure of the Conference and changes in the Standing Rules to implement same, shall become effective on the later of the following to occur: a) effectiveness of the 2000 General Conference enabling legislation pertaining to restructuring; and b) approval of the new structure by the Judicial Council, pursuit [sic] to its reserved jurisdiction over this matter. No previously existing body of the Annual Conference is abolished or reinstated as a result of these measures. The special session then proceeded to receive a report from the chairperson of the Committee on Nominations, who noted that the report “fulfilled the disciplinary requirements and would, upon the adoption of the Annual Conference, serve to delineate membership under either the old or the new structure.” The Nominations Report was adopted. Persons were nominated to serve only in positions which pre-existed the New Model. The special session next received a document entitled, “Enabling Changes for New Model Implementation.” This document (702-03) amended the Standing Rules of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference with respect to the Nominations Procedure. In addition, the Standing Rules of the Annual Conference were amended as follows: Notwithstanding any other spectic [sic] provision in these Standing Rules to the contrary, whenever the Presiding/Resident Bishop is ex officio or otherwise a member of or a participant on, any agency, task force, committee or organization established by the Annual Conference, the Presiding/Resident Bishop shall have voice but not vote thereon, unless otherwise required by The Book of Discipline. The Standing Rules of the Annual Conference were not changed in any other respect to address the implementation of the Report of the New Model Task Force adopted in June of 2000. Finally, the special session considered and adopted the 2001 budget. The only portion of the budget which addressed the New Model was a line item to fund the position of Director of Clergy Services beginning July 1, 2001. The budget was adopted. No other report or proposals from the New Model Implementation Task Force were acted upon by the special session to provide a framework for the integration of the New Model with the existing annual conference structure. Larry Pickens recused himself and did not participate in any of the proceedings in this matter. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council retained jurisdiction of this matter in Decision 893. Analysis and Rationale The Northern Illinois Annual Conference has made significant progress in developing a new conference structure. It is apparent that a lot of time, energy, and creative thinking have gone into the development of the New Model. However, in Decision 893, the Judicial Council noted that “the New Model approved by the Annual Conference on June 3, 2000, is not a completed product but has been referred to an Implementation Task Force to complete the structure for future approval by the Annual Conference.” The Report of the New Model Implementation Task Force presented at the special session of the Annual Conference, as noted in the Statement of Facts, did little to complete the structure for approval. The special session made minimal changes in the Standing Rules governing the Nominations Procedure, and clarified that the Presiding/Resident Bishop had voice, but not vote except as otherwise required by the Discipline. While the 2001 budget adopted by the special session funded a position, the Director of Clergy Services, contemplated by the New Model, no job description or governing document has been approved by the Annual Conference for this position. Until the Northern Illinois Annual Conference defines with specificity the interaction of the New Model with the existing structure, the Judicial Council is unable to rule on the constitutionality of the new structure or its compliance with the 2000 Discipline. By way of example and without excluding other questions which may need to be addressed, the Northern Illinois Annual Conference must address the following: 1. Because the New Model purports to maintain and continue existing annual conference boards, agencies, commissions and organizations, but suggests that they will be grouped in ministry areas, what is the practical relationship between the ministry areas and the existing boards, agencies, commissions, committees, and organizations? 2. The New Model contemplates the creation of a Ministry Advisory Team. However, the operation of this team and how it interacts with or changes the existing structure has not been outlined. What is the relationship between the Ministry Advisory Team and existing boards, agencies, commissions, committees and organizations? 3. The New Model contemplates creation of an Administrative Team. What is the relationship between the Administrative Team and existing boards, agencies, commissions, committees and organizations? 4. The New Model contemplates creation of a new staff position, the Director of Clergy Services. What is the relationship between this new staff position and existing boards, agencies, commissions, committees and organizations? Until the Northern Illinois Annual Conference acts legislatively to define these relationships by amending its Standing Rules or taking other legislative action to define the impact of the New Model on the existing and continuing annual conference boards, agencies, commissions, committees and organizations, the Judicial Council is left to speculate on the operation of the New Model. Under such circumstances, the Judicial Council cannot rule on the constitutionality or the legality of the new structure. The Northern Illinois Annual Conference Chancellor’s brief contends, “This case returns to the Judicial Council on a different legal footing than heretofore existed.” To support this point of view, he calls attention to the recent constitutional amendment contained in ¶ 15.15 of the 2000 Discipline which provides: The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: . . . 15. To allow the annual conferences to utilize structures unique to their mission, other mandated structures notwithstanding. He also contends that the two additions to ¶ 607.1 of the 1996 Discipline which appear in ¶ 608.1 of the 2000 Discipline constitute valid enabling legislation for conference restructuring. The additions state that in providing for an annual conference structure: a) There shall be clear connections between the General Conference agencies, annual conference program and administrative entities, and the local congregation; b) There shall be clear checks and balances regarding program functions and financial/administration functions within the annual conference. The chancellor’s arguments are without merit. While Decision 893 held that the legislation adopted by the 2000 General Conference relating to conference structure “may be construed to be enabling in character,” it is the Judicial Council’s judgment that appropriate enabling legislation setting forth the terms and conditions under which an annual conference may restructure, while at the same time maintaining and preserving the connection, has yet to be enacted. In adopting enabling legislation for ¶ 15.15, the General Conference must set forth such terms and conditions as the General Conference may determine in accordance with the provisions of ¶ 15.15 and other provisions of the Constitution to define how annual conferences may modify their structures. The General Conference has an affirmative duty imposed by the Constitution to ensure the continued vitality of the connection at all levels. See Decision 815. As the Judicial Council observed in Decision 339: If each Annual Conference is free to decide for itself, without guidelines or controlling standards from any other source regarding any of the restrictive elements listed, the total connectional system of the church will be undercut at the Annual Conference level, not promoted and administered as the Constitution contemplates. The General Conference may not so delegate its constitutional responsibilities. The Judicial Council has no other basis on which to judge the constitutionality of a particular annual conference structure than has been cited in previous Judicial Council Decisions concerning annual conference restructuring, including Decision 831. While the Northern Illinois Annual Conference has made significant progress in meeting these criteria, further work needs to be done in specifically delineating how the New Model structure will be implemented.

Decision

The Northern Illinois Annual Conference is directed to continue to operate under the requirements of Decision 831 until such time as it has acted legislatively to define the interaction of those aspects created by its New Model with the existing and continuing annual conference boards, agencies, commissions, committees and organizations. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction over any plan for restructuring the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. The final plan is to be submitted to the Judicial Council for review and approval prior to implementation.

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