September 21, 2016
A Message to Members about Changes to Board Elections and SFZC’s Bylaws

A letter from Central Abbess Eijun Linda Cutts, SFZC President Susan O’Connell, and Board Chair Larry Bye.

Dear Sangha Members,

We want to tell you about some changes to the process of selecting members to serve on the San Francisco Zen Center Board of Directors, as well as to some other aspects of the San Francisco Zen Center bylaws.

First, some background: The procedure for electing directors to serve on the San Francisco Zen Center Board has already changed a few times over the years. It has always been a time-consuming and somewhat expensive process, and it has never worked very well. For a time, it consisted of the Board nominating twice as many “candidates” as there were seats to be filled. While having contested elections had the virtue of including an element of democracy, it came with a really unfortunate cost: By definition, half of the people who had come forward, willing to serve the San Francisco Zen Center sangha, were rejected. There were hurt feelings and it was discouraging to many of those people, who were as a result less inclined to get involved with building San Francisco Zen Center and nurturing the sangha, and we lost their valuable contributions of skill and effort.

Some years ago, the bylaws were amended to change this process to the one now in place. Currently, the Board nominates one person for each open seat, and then an election is held in which the membership can either approve or reject those decisions. To date, the nominations have always been approved. (While there is the option to “write in” a candidate, there has never been any significant interest expressed in doing so.) The result is that we still have the expense of time and money involved in holding “elections,” without having any truly meaningful participation on the part of the sangha.

At the request of the Central Abbess, the Board has reexamined this process and decided to do two things to increase the level of actual participation by the sangha while making the process more authentic and less burdensome. First, there will be a concerted effort to obtain input from the entire sangha into the nomination process. We hope to accomplish this by making regular, public appeals (consider this the first) through Sangha News, announcements at events and meetings, and through the many groups within San Francisco Zen Center, asking everyone to suggest potential Board members for consideration. To do so, one need only contact the Secretary, Jeremy Levie, at or call 415-354-0376.

At the same time, the Board has decided to stop using the current election process in which the only real choice has been whether to approve pre-selected candidates. Instead, the Board will formally do what it has already been doing informally — namely, simply select the individuals who will fill open seats — but with greater input from the entire sangha. This will relieve those working in the administration of a great deal of unnecessary work, save money, and be more in accord with our commitment to a sincere and transparent process.

The Board has unanimously adopted amendments to the bylaws to put that new process in place. Other amendments were adopted as well. The Ethics and Reconciliation (“EAR”) Council — which never functioned successfully, and has not functioned at all for some time — is formally abolished, and replaced with a new, more effective procedure for resolving conflicts within the sangha. The length of time that the Board chair can serve on the Board has been increased, from 6 to 9 years, out of recognition that there is a “learning curve” before anyone is able to assume that role and become truly effective. Then there are a few housekeeping changes that involve taking out language that has nothing to do with how SF Zen Center actually operates anymore.

These amendments will be submitted to the membership for a vote. The bylaws provide that the amendments will take effect unless a super-majority of the members votes against them. Those of you who are members will receive a ballot — along with a more detailed explanation of the amendments — and we urge you to examine it carefully and cast your vote.

Yours in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,

Eijun Linda Cutts, Susan O’Connell, and Larry Bye