By Theresa Forsman
At a special meeting on Sunday, Jan. 23, the membership of our Society voted overwhelmingly to ratify the Board of Trustees’ decision to hire current Interim Leader Curt Collier as the Society’s leader. Among the 70 members who attended the special meeting, held on Zoom at 12:30 pm, 65 voted yes, three voted no, and two abstained.
During the meeting, Rob Eigenbrod, a member of the new leader Search Committee, which had recommended Curt to the Board of Trustees, explained the search process. “We put out the word in a number of places and got 40 to 50 responses. A handful looked as if they would be promising,” he said. When the committee further engaged the leader candidates, they concluded that “far and away, Curt Collier is the most qualified and the best fit for our Ethical Culture Society,” Rob said. “That’s why we made the recommendation.”
For this special meeting, the Society’s Constitution required a quorum of 20 percent and a positive vote of three-quarters of attendees in order to ratify the board’s decision to hire Curt as leader. Both of these requirements were met.
Thanks to the Search Committee
Before the vote, member Eric Sandhusen thanked the Search Committee for doing a thorough job. The members of the search committee, chosen with an eye toward diversity in gender, age, and parental status, were Chair Dwight Panozzo, Rob Eigenbrod, Janet Glass, Tracey Kelley, Susan Lesh, Wes Matsui, Paulo Ribeiro, Esther Sandrof, and Ron Schwartz,
In response to a question from member Gregg Gordon, search committee member Susan Lesh said, “Curt was not a slam dunk. We did ask probing questions and we received full answers. He had a very full vision of who we are and where he would like us to be.”
President Jim Norman pointed out that the Board of Trustees’ vote to ratify the Search Committee’s recommendation was unanimous.
The need for diversity
During discussion before the vote, member Jessica Schwartz said she is concerned about what she sees as lack of diversity among the Society’s platform speakers. Jim said that although a discussion of diversity was not part of the meeting agenda, “I know Curt shares these concerns. These are big issues, and I think we’re going to be as responsive as you would like us to be.”
Search Committee Chair Dwight Panozzo agreed. “I feel certain that Curt will work strenuously to address concerns of diversity.”
Search committee member Ron Schwartz reminded everyone that a good forum for airing concerns could be “Chat Time with Curt,” held most Thursday evenings at 7:30 pm on Zoom.
‘Can’t wait to get started’
After the voting, Curt joined the meeting in its closing minutes: “I’m happy to be a part of this community, and I can’t wait to get started,” he said. “Thank you so much.” At the end of his platform address, before the special meeting, Curt voiced his hopes that Society members engage in activism and the “pulse of life,” and said such activism today would benefit members’ children and grandchildren.
After nearly 15 years of work as the National Youth Programs Director for Groundwork USA, Curt will transition to a nearly full-time status at our Society in mid-February. This is a big change for both organizations, and Curt said he requests members’ patience as he takes the time to handle this huge transition, which includes relocating to New Jersey.
Experience and education
During his Ethical Culture career, Curt has had leadership roles at three other societies, including Riverdale-Yonkers, New York, and St. Louis. Curt has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Texas A&M University, a master’s degree in communication disorders from Texas Tech University, certification in counseling from the Post Graduate Center for Mental Health in New York, and he has completed coursework for a doctorate degree in pastoral counseling from Hebrew Union College.
The Society is planning an installation ceremony and celebration on Sunday, May 15, Ethical Culture Founder’s Day. Details will be firmed up in coming weeks.
As leader, Curt follows Dr. Joseph Chuman, who retired in December 2020 after 46 years as leader of the Society.
Theresa Forsman is a longtime member of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.