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Executive Council trims meetings' length to accommodate budget reduction
Election of new member set for November 15

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
[Episcopal News Service]  The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church decided November 13 to reduce the number of days it meets during the 2007-2009 triennium, in response to having had its budget cut by a fourth during the 75th General Convention.

The council agreed to meet for three days, rather than its normal four, for most of its meetings, beginning in the fall of 2007. That timetable was required because the meetings department of the Episcopal Church Center's General Convention office had to sign contracts for the first two meetings of the 2007-2009 triennium. Those meetings will be in Portland, Oregon, in March and Parsippany, New Jersey, in June.

Council members said they would need a four-day meeting in January 2009, when they must develop a proposed budget for the entire church during the 2010-2012 triennium. That budget must go to the General Convention's Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance Committee (PB&F) in advance of the 2009 General Convention.

Reducing the meetings by a day will be aided, council members said, by their willingness to conduct some committee meetings electronically in advance of the each council meeting.

The 75th General Convention cut the Executive Council budget for the 2007-2009 triennium by one-fourth. General Convention manager Lori Ionnitiu told the council that the reduction means that the council will have $75,000 to spend for each of the council's canonically required three meetings each year (Canon I.4.4(a)), as opposed to the $100,000 that was available in the 2003-2006 triennium.

Ionnitiu said that the average cost of an Executive Council meeting during the 2003-2006 triennium has been $92,178. The cost of the triennium's nine meetings ranged from $74,214 to $125,694, she said, adding that those amounts do not include the costs incurred by Church Center staffers who attend the meetings, and invited guests. The most expensive part of the meetings, on average, is the $31,340 spent for lodging, she said.

Ionnitiu presented the council with a variety of options for changing its meeting structure and locations. They included:

  • reducing its meeting time from four to three days (saving between $15, 000 and $20,000 per meeting);
  • moving the meetings from hotels to conference centers;
  • meeting in the same location and thus locking into potentially lower rates with a long-term contract;
  • forging some combination of those three options;
  • retaining the same pattern and try to find a way to increase the council's budget.

The council generally meets in a hotel for four days, either over a long weekend or during the week. It travels to a different location within the Episcopal Church each time, attempting to meet with diocesan officials as part of its work and worshipping at least once with a local Episcopal congregation.

The council left the details of arranging the meetings' locations and facilities to the General Convention office, aside from noting the desire to meet at least once in the triennium at an Episcopal Church-related locale outside the United States.

The members also stressed the need for private accommodations.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori noted that the members said it is "essential" to have email and cell phone access at the meeting locations.

"Most of us are not willing to take a three-day silent retreat to do this work," she said, adding that lack of electronic connections prevents people from being in touch with the rest of their lives.

The Executive Council carries out programs and policies adopted by the General Convention and oversees the ministry and mission of the Church. The council is comprised of 40 members, 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons, and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by provincial synods, plus the Presiding Bishop and the president of the House of Deputies.

Executive Council began meeting November 12 and will continue until November 15. Twenty-two of the church's commissions, committees and one board will then meet jointly from November 15-18. Both meetings are held at the Chicago Marriott O'Hare hotel.

In other business, the council on November 13 accepted the resignation of the Rev. Titus Presler, a council member elected by General Convention whose term expires in 2009. He told the council that he was leaving "with regret" and with "gratitude for many friendships and collegial relationships on the council and with best wishes for the council for its future work."

Jefferts Schori thanked Presler, who teaches and is Sub-Dean at the General Theological Seminary, for his service to the Council.

The council will elect Presler's replacement November 15 under its prerogative in Canon I.4.2(c).