To the editors:

Bryan Miller’s Neighborhood News on Unity Temple (October 13) is full of misstatements of fact which could easily have been avoided by consulting actual documents instead of relying on oral reports by those trying to stampede the congregation of the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Oak Park into accepting the demands of the Board of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation (UTRF).

As immediate past president of the congregation (my term expired June 30, 1989) and a member of the negotiating team set up between the church and UTRF to work out administration of tour revenue, I am familiar with the facts.

I will deal only with inaccuracies relating specifically to the disagreement over administration of tour revenue for restoration of Unity Temple. Other inaccuracies, from the reason for return of the kitchen cabinets to the church to the condition of the concrete eaves, serve only as red herrings diverting attention from the real issues: responsibility for care of Unity Temple and accountability for that care.

1. UTRF was not organized by a group of architects, etc., as stated in the story. UTRF was organized by members of the congregation. It grew out of the church’s Restoration Committee which had already raised, and spent, many thousands of dollars on restoration of the building. When originally chartered UTRF’s 7-member Board included 3 members appointed by the congregation (43%). Over time UTRF expanded the size of its Board without increasing the number of church appointees. By 1986 its 22-member Board still had 3 members appointed by the church Board (14%). That year 2 additional members were added: one appointed by the church, one not, giving the church a 17% vote on its 24-member Board. With this tiny minority answerable to the church, UTRF is effectively no longer accountable to the owners of the building (the congregation). I know of no institution that permits an outside group to conduct capital campaigns and control how funds are spent on restoration or improvement, without accountability to the parent institution. Usually this is achieved by maintaining majority voting membership on the governing board of the capital campaign under control of the parent institution. In our case such a majority interest does not exist and other arrangements to assure accountability to the church are required.

2. Your story says the church Board has tried to assert 100% control of tour revenues. In fact a joint team of church and UTRF representatives were working to develop a long-term formal agreement for administration of tour revenue when the UTRF Board, on June 26, 1989, passed a motion that UTRF would not negotiate further unless the church Board first entered into a long-term agreement granting sole control of tour revenue to UTRF. In effect UTRF demanded as a precondition of negotiation that the church cede the major point being negotiated. There was only one further negotiating session, at which UTRF representatives communicated this demand to church representatives. Another session was scheduled for July 9 but was cancelled by UTRF because the church Board had not accepted UTRF’s precondition.

3. Also on June 26, UTRF set up a committee to study its own dissolution. The church Board was not trying to destroy UTRF but UTRF was considering killing itself off.

4. It was in light of these UTRF actions in June and July that on August 4 the church Board unanimously voted to sever the relationship, with the proviso that if UTRF would drop its precondition for negotiating the relationship would immediately be restored. Instead, UTRF appealed to church members who were not on the Board or the negotiating group to petition for a meeting of the congregation and overturn the church Board’s action. At that meeting, on September 25, the congregation voted to restore the relationship for a six month period so that negotiations without preconditions on either side could be conducted. Unless UTRF drops its precondition regarding control of tour revenue there will be no negotiations. This is essentially the same position the church Board took on August 4. In effect the congregation did not disavow the Board’s action.

Your story also does not acknowledge the relationship between our church and the Landmark Preservation Council of Illinois. In 1987 we granted a Preservation Easement to LPCI. This is a unique document; it is the first time that any church anywhere has granted a preservation easement on its building to any outside group. Under the terms of the easement the church must open the building to the public for a stated minimum number of hours annually; hence the church Board’s decision to offer tours when the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio Foundation stopped scheduling tours of Unity Temple. This easement also obligates the church to preserve Unity Temple in at least its then-current state of restoration. As further restoration is accomplished the congregation is responsible to LPCI for additional preservation as well. LPCI has the right to conduct annual inspection, to notify the church of needed repairs, to get the work done if the church does not, and to bill (and presumably sue) the church for all costs incurred in such repair work. Under the terms of this easement UTRF has no obligation to spend any funds on work directed to be done by LPCI. Only the congregation is obliged.

It is curious that a representative of LPCI is quoted as suggesting that the tour revenues, earned by the church opening the building to tours over the years, remitted to UTRF, and now in UTRF’s treasury, would revert to the “donors” in the event of UTRF’s vote to dissolve itself. It is my understanding that in the event of dissolution UTRF’s legal documents call for their treasury to go to a successor body which would use the funds for the purpose for which they were collected, namely the restoration of Unity Temple. One would assume that LPCI would want that to occur.

I do not want UTRF to dissolve. I hope an administrative process can be developed by which we, the church, can carry out our responsibility, to ourselves and to the wider community, to assure that Unity Temple is preserved. I hope UTRF can be involved in the process.

Joyce M. Marco

Oak Park

Bryan Miller replies:

Actually, a lot of the things Ms. Marco labels “misstatements of fact” are really differences of opinion. In preparing my story I interviewed 22 people–on both sides of the issue and nonpartisans–and gathered all the pertinent facts I could. Unfortunately, a number of other people who might have supported some of Ms. Marco’s positions were not cooperative, and several documents that I sought were withheld. I stand by the overall accuracy of my story.

Her first point is partially correct: UTRF was organized by the congregation as a means to bring in the architecture buffs, et al, who have since worked very hard on the congregation’s behalf. Her second point neglects the rather pertinent fact that the congregation’s emissaries went in demanding that UTRF fork over the tour revenues, a clear break with precedent. That’s when the UTRF board passed its motion.

Ms. Marco posits UTRF members were outside agitators who talked church members into petitioning the church board to permit a congregational vote. That’s not the way I heard it, from either side, and I doubt that the church members who urged that the congregation overturn the board’s action will appreciate being portrayed as puppets. She also fails to mention that the church must also drop its precondition regarding the tour funds for negotiations to go forward.

I did originally mention the easement to LPCI, which is an extremely positive step for the church to have taken; unfortunately, that part of my overlong article was cut.

I attempted to be scrupulously fair to both sides, as well as accurate. I hope the church and UTRF can come to an agreement. I doubt Ms. Marco’s attitude will help the process.