Group of bishops proposes compromise on thorny issue of paying House of Deputies president

June 28, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] A group of bishops has proposed a compromise on the question of whether the president of the House of Deputies should be paid, an issue that has proved divisive at previous General Conventions.

The compromise comes as the result of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s desire for the issue to get a “full and fair conversation” in the House of Bishops, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania Sean Rowe told Episcopal News Service June 28.

That conversation began informally at the House of Bishops meeting in March. Rowe and the group then crafted Resolution B014 that would direct the church’s Executive Council to pay the House of Deputies president director’s fees “for specific services rendered in order to fulfill duties required by the church’s Constitution and Canons.”

The resolution, and others related to the issue, will be debated during the July 5-13 meeting of General Convention in Austin, Texas.

Corporations typically pay director’s fees to board members for providing services to the corporation. Rowe acknowledged that directors of nonprofit corporations and organizations are not always compensated in the same way. However, he said, “it does happen.”

Resolution B014 addresses two important concerns that the bishops’ group gleaned from the conversations, Rowe said. One was that the House of Deputies president role requires a significant enough time commitment that some aspects of the work need to be compensated. The other concern was that the compensation should happen in a way that does not change the polity of the church.

Providing director fees, the resolution’s explanation says, “does not alter the governing documents of the Episcopal Church or the scope and responsibilities of the position.”

Rowe officially proposed the resolution, and Diocese of Southern Ohio Bishop Tom Breidenthal and Diocese of Western New York Bishop Bill Franklin are the endorsers.

The question of a salary for the now-unpaid position of House of Deputies president prompted a rare conference committee between bishops and deputies in the waning hours of the last convention. The 2015 meeting of convention eventually agreed to postpone making a decision, instead calling for the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies to appoint a task force to study the issue.

The Task Force to Study Church Leadership and Compensation concluded in its report to convention that the work of the House of Deputies president amounts to a full-time job. Its Resolution A-028 calls for a salary but does not set an amount.

The task force asked Executive Council to include a proposed salary in the draft 2019-2021 budget, which it gave to the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) in January. The council did not set an amount, but it included $900,000 for a full-time salary and benefits for the three years in the draft budget (line 557 here).

Diane Pollard, who chaired the task force, told Episcopal News Service that she appreciates the effort at a compromise solution and supports Rowe’s resolution.

“We can do no less than to come together around this issue and move it forward in a definitive way in which it can be effective,” she said. “If [Rowe’s] resolution will do that, fine. If they want to take [the task force’s] resolution and do it, that’s fine, too.”

Pollard said the issue of compensation is both a justice issue for any potential holder of the office and an issue of widening the pool of those potential candidates. “You either have to be wealthy or old, because you have to have income,” she said. “You give up a lot.”

She added that, despite the tendency to personalize the issue, “this is not about getting a salary for an incumbent.”

In addition to chairing the House of Deputies during convention, the president also is canonically required to serve as vice chair of Executive Council and vice president of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, or DFMS, the nonprofit corporate entity through which the Episcopal Church owns property and does business. He or she has a wide swath of appointment powers. The president also travels around the church, speaking at conferences and other gatherings, meeting with deputies and other Episcopalians.

The position, which is filled by election during each meeting of convention, has a travel budget and a paid assistant. Each president is limited to three consecutive terms.

The president’s role has been changing since 1964 when the convention gave the position a three-year term instead of simply being elected to preside during convention. Three years later, it made the president the vice chair of Executive Council and thus a vice president of the DFMS, and defined the president’s authority in making appointments. Rowe’s resolution notes that expansion of the duties of the office has paralleled an expansion of the presiding bishop’s role.

The deputies who served on the task force have issued questions and answers about the issue of compensating the president of the House of Deputies.

Meanwhile, Province IV of the church proposes a different approach to the salary issue. Its Resolution C042 would have Executive Council set what it calls per diem compensation for the president when she or he is at council meetings, consults with the presiding bishop in making appointments required by canon, and is doing official work related to General Convention. Calling it a way to address the “short-term fairness issue of compensating the president,” the resolution also proposes that a special task force “clarify and enumerate the comprehensive role” of the president.

The issue of compensating that officeholder has been discussed for decades. General Convention considered the salary issue in 1997, 2000 and 2015. Each time, Rowe said, the deputies were clear that they wanted to see their president compensated.

Supporters of the change say making the office a paid job would broaden the pool of people able to consider running for election. No House of Deputies president has held regular paid employment since the election in 1985 of the Very Rev. David Collins, who retired early at age 62 from his position as dean of the cathedral in Atlanta in order to adequately carry out his presidential duties, according to the report.

The task force suggested that only people who are older and/or have what it called favorable “personal economic circumstances” can realistically hold the office. Thus, presidents are not always chosen based solely on gifts and skills, the members said.

“The task force came to the conclusion that providing a salary for the president of the House of Deputies is not only a good thing, but also essential for the growth of the Episcopal Church,” the task force said. “Moreover, it is demanded by good stewardship of the human resources entrusted to us in those who would devote their full-time service to the Episcopal Church.”

Others disagree, some saying they fear “mission creep” in the form of an expansion of the president’s duties and authority.

Some cite Resolution A099 proposed to this convention that would allow the president to call a meeting of the House of Deputies at times other than the triennial gathering of convention.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.