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Decision No. 1150

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April 23 2010
In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Texas Conference Regarding Retirement Incentives Utilizing Pension Reserve in Light of ¶ 613.1

Digest of Case

The request for a bishop’s decision of law in the Texas Annual Conference concerning authorization of the Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP) was germane to the business of the annual conference session. The Core Leadership Team lacked authority to give implementing approval to the ERIP because only the annual conference has the authority to do so. The annual conference cannot delegate that authority to any other body. Decisions related to annual conference clergy support—in this case, post-retirement benefits—are to be made by the annual conference after receiving a recommendation from the council on finance and administration. Further, pensions and benefits programs are to be recommended by the council on finance and administration to the annual conference for action and determination even if the requisite funds are not from apportionments. The bishop’s decision of law is reversed.

Statement of Facts

The Conference Rules of the Texas Annual Conference create a Core Leadership Team. Among the responsibilities the Rules give to the Core Leadership Team is to “make decisions between sessions of the Annual Conference in accordance with Conference Mission, Vision, and Core Beliefs, budget, and directives consistent with The Book of Discipline.” Between sessions of the annual conference, the Core Leadership Team gave a final and activating approval to an Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP) that had been approved by the Cabinet, the Group Health Benefits Committee, and the Conference Board of Pensions. The funding for ERIP came from the Pension Unrestricted Reserve account set up by the annual conference in 2007 under the control of the Board of Pensions and the Health Benefits Committee. After approval by the Core Leadership Team, the plan was implemented between sessions of annual conference. ERIP was described in the report of Group Health Benefits Committee to annual conference and that report was adopted. The Board of Pensions report to the annual conference included the funding plan for ERIP and that report was approved by the annual conference. The Core Leadership Team did not include reference to ERIP in its report to the annual conference. After the report of the Core Leadership Team to the Texas Annual Conference on May 25, 2009, a clergy member of the annual conference made this written request of the bishop: “I request your ruling of law on the decision of the Core Leadership Team to offer retirement incentives, utilizing funds from the Pension Reserve, in relation to ¶ 613.1 of the 2008 Book of Discipline.” The bishop received the request and indicated that she had up to thirty days after the end of annual conference to submit her decision. Within thirty days of the request, the bishop ruled as follows: “The request for a ruling of law is not sustained because it was not germane to the proceedings of the Annual Conference” and “Additionally and alternatively, all actions of the Conference Board of Pensions, Core Leadership Team, and Group Health Benefits Committee were proper under the Book of Discipline and within the authority delegated to them by the Annual Conference.” At an Oral Hearing in Morristown, New Jersey, on April 22, 2010, Gib Walton and B.T. Williamson appeared for the Texas Annual Conference. James Foster appeared as the proponent of the question asked.

Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction in this case under ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.
Analysis And Rationale
Paragraph 16. Article IV of the Constitution provides that “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…” Paragraph 16.15 of the Constitution is one of such powers given the General Conference: “to allow the annual conferences to utilize structures unique to their mission, other mandated structures not withstanding.” The Core Leadership Team of the Texas Annual Conference does not meet the standards of the structures authorized by the Constitution. One way in which the Core Leadership Team fails to meet Constitutional standards is in giving the bishop voting membership on the Team. Decision 831 states “Inasmuch as a bishop is not a member of the Annual Conference there is no authority for the Annual Conference or any other board or agency to grant the right to vote to a bishop in matters related to the Annual Conference.” A second way in which the Core Leadership Team falls short of the Constitutional standard is the annual conference’s granting certain decision making authority to the Core Leadership Team that is reserved for the annual conference. The request for a ruling of law refers to ¶ 613.1. That paragraph gives responsibility and authority to the conference council on finance and administration “to recommend to the annual conference for its action and determination budgets of anticipated income and proposed expenditures for all funds that provide for annual conference clergy support, annual conference administrative expenses, and annual conference benevolence and program causes.” There is no indication in the record that the council on finance and administration made a recommendation to the annual conference on ERIP. The 2007 Journal specifies that the annual conference authorized the Board of Pensions and the Group Health Benefits Committee to administer the “Unrestricted Reserve”. None of the subsidiary bodies has the disciplinary authority to act for the annual conference in establishing ERIP. Such a program must be authorized by the annual conference before it can be implemented. The Core Leadership Team did not have disciplinary authority to act for the annual conference in establishing ERIP. Decision 831 states “An Annual Conference cannot restructure in such a way as to constitute unauthorized delegation of its authority to a committee.” Decisions related to annual conference clergy support—in this case, post-retirement benefits—are to be made by the annual conference after receiving a recommendation from the council on finance and administration (See ¶ 613.1). Further, pensions and benefits programs are to be recommended by the council on finance and administration to the annual conference for action and determination even if the requisite funds are not from apportionments (See ¶ 614.1d). The bishop has ruled that the request was not germane to the business of the annual conference. Even though the Core Leadership Team did not include the matter in its report, the ERIP was at least twice presented to and approved by the annual conference in the report of the Board of Pensions and in the report of the Group Health Benefits Committee. The request for a ruling did relate to the business of the conference, but the annual conference’s authorization was after the fact in that the Core Leadership Team prematurely implemented ERIP.

Decision

The request for a bishop’s decision of law in the Texas Annual Conference concerning implementation of the Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP) was germane to the business of the annual conference session. The Core Leadership Team lacked authority to give implementing approval to the ERIP because only the annual conference has the authority to do so. It cannot delegate that authority to any other body. Decisions related to annual conference clergy support—in this case, post-retirement benefits—are to be made by the annual conference after receiving a recommendation from the council on finance and administration. Further, pensions and benefits programs are to be recommended by the council on finance and administration to the annual conference for action and determination even if the requisite funds are not from apportionments. The bishop’s decision of law is reversed.

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