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Decision No. 1135

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October 30 2009
In Re: Review of a Decision of Law by Bishop Susan Hassinger of the Wyoming Annual Conference Related to Provisions for Voluntary, Involuntary Retirement

Digest of Case

When the Bishop ruled that an Administrative Complaint was in process and found the question asked to be moot, hypothetical and improper she ruled incorrectly. Procedures for Fair Process were not followed. Until such time as a new complaint is timely and appropriately filed and processed, the elder remains in the effective relationship in the Annual Conference. The bishop’s decision of law is reversed. The elder is entitled to reinstatement to the status he held immediately prior to the action placing him in the retired relationship. The elder is entitled to receive immediate appointment and all salary and other benefits retroactive to June 30, 2009.

Statement of Facts

On May 18, 2009, during the clergy session of the Wyoming Conference, the elder submitted the following question of law:

In ¶ 358.Retirement –“Requests for retirement shall be stated in writing to the bishop, cabinet, and Board of Ordained Ministry at least one hundred and twenty days prior to the date on which the retirement is to be effective, unless waived by the bishop and cabinet.” When the notification requirement has been waived by the bishop, cabinet, and Board of Ordained Ministry, and the requesting clergy member presents a written withdrawal of the previous request for voluntary retirement previous to the Clergy Session, can that request be denied and thus the clergy member be forced to take voluntary retirement when ¶ 358.3 would require a 2/3 vote?
The clergy session closed on June 6, 2009. The bishop ruled on the question of law within thirty days of the close of the session stating:
I rule that this question is improper, moot, and hypothetical and, therefore, the question is out of order. Judicial Decisions 926, 937 & 1055. Rev. Yoder is a party to an administrative complaint that was still in process. When Rev. Yoder made a motion to withdraw his previous request for voluntary retirement, I ruled his motion out of order. Bur after my ruling on his motion, Rev. Yoder requested a ruling on the question of law as stated above. I stated that I thought his question and motion were out of order because any unresolved administrative complaint must be returned to the Board of Ordained Ministry. The Board of Ordained Ministry then substituted a motion for involuntary retirement for the voluntary retirement on the Board’s report to the Clergy Session. That motion received a majority but not the required 2/3 vote. That matter was then returned to the Board for further consideration as per the 2004 Book of Discipline, Paragraph 362.4: “If the process does not result in resolution, it is returned to the Board for further action.” [Note: The original complaint was filed December 1, 2008, and therefore is guided by the 2004 Book of Discipline.] Therefore, the question of law is improper, moot, and hypothetical. The executive clergy session of the Wyoming Annual Conference on May 18 ended with an inconclusive situation in relation to the administrative complaint filed against Roger Yoder. The motion for involuntary retirement did not quite reach the two-thirds majority necessary for approval. However, following the report of the tallying of that vote, we did not return to the main motion, which was for voluntary retirement. [emphasis added] Thus, I am calling for a meeting of those who have part of the leadership for the administrative complaint process, along with the respondent, to meet with me on Tuesday, June 2, … to discuss the possibilities of a resolution of the matter. In the course of this, we will review where the matter stands, what the options are before us, and seek agreement on next steps.
During the clergy session of the Wyoming Conference, the elder submitted the following question of law:
In ¶ 358.Retirement –“Requests for retirement shall be stated in writing to the bishop, cabinet, and Board of Ordained Ministry at least one hundred and twenty days prior to the date on which the retirement is to be effective, unless waived by the bishop and cabinet.” When the notification requirement has been waived by the bishop, cabinet, and Board of Ordained Ministry, and the requesting clergy member presents a written withdrawal of the previous request for voluntary retirement previous to the clergy session, can that request be denied and thus the clergy member be forced to take voluntary retirement when ¶ 358.3 would require a 2/3 vote?
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Book of Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
Paragraph 362.1 states: Administrative Complaint—1. Definition of Referred Complaints—a) Administrative Complaint—If the bishop determines that a complaint is based on allegations of incompetence, ineffectiveness, or unwillingness or inability to perform ministerial duties, he or she shall refer the complaint as an administrative complaint to the Board of Ordained Ministry for its consideration of remedial or other action (see ¶ 363.2).
Paragraph 362.2 states: Fair Process in Administrative Hearings—The following procedures are presented for the protection of the rights of individuals and for the protection of the Church in administrative hearings. The process set forth in this paragraph commences upon referral of a matter as an administrative complaint. Special attention should be given to the timely disposition of all matters and to ensuring racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in the committee hearing the complaint. a) In any administrative proceeding the bishop or the bishop’s designee and the respondent (the person against whom the administrative complaint has been filed) shall have a right to be heard before any final action is taken. b) Notice of any hearing shall advise the respondent of the reason for the proposed procedures with sufficient detail to allow the respondent to prepare a response. Notice shall be given not less than twenty days prior to the hearing. c) The respondent shall have a right to be accompanied by a clergyperson in full connection to any hearing, in accordance with the appropriate disciplinary provisions. The clergyperson accompanying the respondent shall have the right to voice. d) In any administrative hearing, under no circumstances shall one party, in the absence of the other party, discuss substantive issues with members of the pending hearing body. Questions of procedure may be raised with the presiding officer of the hearing body. e) The respondent shall have access to all records relied upon in the determination of the outcome of the administrative process. f) In the event that a clergyperson fails to appear for supervisory interviews, refuses mail, refuses to communicate personally with the bishop or district superintendent, or otherwise fails to respond to supervisory requests or requests from official administrative committees, such actions or inactions shall not be used as an excuse to avoid or delay any Church processes, and such processes may continue without the participation of such individual.
Paragraph 363 states:
Disposition of Administrative Complaints 1. When a complaint has been received, the Board of Ordained Ministry shall develop a response in a timely manner. The complaint shall be referred to a committee of the board that deals with matters of conference relations (other than the executive committee) and this committee shall conduct an administrative hearing following the fair process provisions of ¶ 362.1a. The bishop or a cabinet representative shall present the administrative complaint to the committee. The respondent shall be given an opportunity to address the administrative complaint in person, in writing and with the assistance of a clergyperson in full connection, with voice. Once the committee has heard the bishop or the bishop’s designee, the respondent, and others as determined by the chairperson of the committee, it may recommend remedial action, discontinuance, leave of absence, administrative location, dismissal of the complaint or such other action that it deems appropriate, to the Board of Ordained Ministry. The board may accept or amend the recommendations of the committee, or it may dismiss the complaint. In rare instances, the board may refer the complaint back to the bishop for possible referral as a judicial complaint. The board alternately may refer the matter to the resident bishop as deemed appropriate for a process that seeks a just resolution (see ¶ 361.1b). The bishop shall institute such a process and may use the assistance of a trained, impartial third party facilitator(s) or mediator(s). Such referral will not constitute a dismissal. The appropriate persons, including a cabinet member and a representative of the Board of Ordained Ministry, shall enter into a written agreement outlining the process including any agreement on confidentiality. The parties shall be told that any resolution remains subject to final approval by the board. If resolution is achieved, a written statement of resolution, including any terms and conditions, shall be signed by the parties and the parties shall agree on any matters disclosed to third parties. If the just resolution process results in resolution, the signed written statement of resolution shall be given to the board, and the board may dismiss the matter, retain oversight relating to any terms or conditions of the statement of resolution or take such other action as deemed appropriate. If the process does not result in resolution, it is returned to the board for further action. The board’s response will be shared with the clergyperson, the bishop, the cabinet, and the person bringing the original complaint. 2. Remedial Action—in cooperation with the cabinet and in consultation with the clergyperson, the Board of Ordained Ministry may choose or recommend one or more of the following options for a program of remedial action, subject to regular oversight by the board and annual review: a) Program of continuing education (¶ 351); b) Leave of absence, voluntary or involuntary (¶¶ 354, 355); c) Early retirement (¶ 358.2) or involuntary retirement (¶ 358.3); d) Sabbatical leave (¶ 352); e) Honorable location (¶ 359); f) Surrender of ordained ministerial office (¶ 360.2); g) Personal counseling or therapy; h) Program of career evaluation; i) Peer support and supervision; j) Private reprimand: a letter signed by the chairperson of the Board of Ordained Ministry and the clergyperson’s district superintendent, addressed to the clergyperson with a file copy in the permanent file of the Board of Ordained Ministry (¶ 606.6) stating the appropriateness of the complaint, the specific remedial action required, and the conditions under which the reprimand shall be withdrawn. A report of the reprimand and the remedial action taken shall remain in the personnel file of the respondent once the reprimand has been withdrawn.
There is no indication that the provisions for Administrative Complaint under ¶¶ 363.1a and 362.2 were followed. The actions taken between December 2008 and February 2009 did not include provisions provided for in ¶ 362.2 related to fair process. It was unclear whether there was a hearing scheduled ensuring the respondent the right to be heard. (¶ 362.2a). Other provisions of ¶ 362.2 were not followed. Paragraph 363 provides for the disposition of Administrative Complaints. Nothing in the record indicates that there was a valid complaint filed with the full Board of Ordained Ministry as defined and set forth in ¶ 362. A valid administrative complaint as defined by the Discipline and set forth in ¶ 363 would properly have been sent to the Board of Ordained Ministry, not the Executive Committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry. The process leading to Involuntary Retirement does not abrogate the process outlined in ¶¶ 362 and 363 related to an Administrative Complaint Process and Fair Process. Fair process was not followed in the Wyoming Annual Conference related to involuntary retirement initiated by the District Superintendent. The flaws began when the provisions of ¶¶ 362 and 363 were not followed. Although a vote by the Clergy Session placing the elder on Involuntary Retirement could have been challenged, the outcome of the vote raised an additional issue. When the Clergy Session failed to pass the motion to place the respondent on involuntary retirement, the main motion was never called for or voted leaving the respondent’s status unaltered. When the Bishop ruled that an Administrative Complaint was in process and found the question asked to be moot, hypothetical, and improper, she ruled incorrectly. Procedures for Fair Process were not followed. Until such time as a new complaint is timely and appropriately filed and processed the elder remains in the effective relationship in the Annual Conference.

Decision

When the Bishop ruled that an Administrative Complaint was in process and found the question asked to be moot, hypothetical and improper she ruled incorrectly. Procedures for Fair Process were not followed. Until such time as a new complaint is timely and appropriately filed and processed, the elder remains in the effective relationship in the Annual Conference. The bishop’s decision of law is reversed. The elder is entitled to reinstatement to the status he held immediately prior to the action placing him in the retired relationship. The elder is entitled to receive immediate appointment and all salary and other benefits retroactive to June 30, 2009.

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