Panel To Explore Joint Federation CEO

A fairly routine board meeting of the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul on Wednesday night ushered in what could be the start of massive changes to the Twin Cities’ Jewish Community and the way it does business.

The St. Paul board unanimously approved the recommendations of the Twin Cities Jewish Community Cooperation panel, which made its report at the end of a two-year-long study. The group was formed after the St. Paul Federation’s community-wide listening process of a few years ago. One of the five “pillars” that came from that process was increasing collaboration with Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Federation board will be presented with the recommendations in October.

St. Paul’s board has joined Minneapolis’ in approving the formation of a 10-member panel that will explore whether or not to pursue the hiring of a joint CEO to oversee both Federations. Both Federations are in the market for new chief executives after the retirement of St. Paul’s Eli Skora and the departure of Minneapolis’ Stu Silberman.

The resolution reads: “The Executive Committee recommends to the Board that an exploratory committee be created consisting of 5 members from the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul and 5 members from the Minneapolis Jewish Federation to explore whether or not to pursue a joint CEO for both Federations. The members of the committee will be appointed by the presidents of the respective Federations, but the Presidents of the Federations will not serve on the committee. The Committee will convene when all of the members have been appointed and will report back to their respective Presidents within 30 days after all of the members have been appointed.”

The six-person panel – made up of three people from each city – was co-chaired by Jon Parritz and Kris MacDonald, past-presidents of St. Paul and Minneapolis, respectively. The Minneapolis Federation board will be presented for with the recommendations in October; St. Paul’s board approved them unanimously.

These approvals come a week after community members presented a letter with more than 170 signatures (and counting) to the Twin Cities’ two Jewish Federations urging more collaboration. There is now a first, concrete step towards that end.

“For me, the biggest revelation was that the key to this whole thing was taking merger off the table,” Parritz said. “We aren’t talking about a merger. We can merge a lot of things without disassembling each community. That was a real groundbreaking idea. Once we took that off the table, people relaxed. It totally changed the dynamic and people’s attitudes.”

Part of the process was to research other areas that had two large cities neighboring each other to see how they function as separate entities. The panel looked at: Central Florida (Tampa, Pinellas County and Orlando), Dallas/Fort Worth, Massachusetts, Northern California and South Florida. Each of those communities worked on some collaborative efforts, with the general exception of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation where traffic and distance difficulties pose a large obstacle.

“There are a lot of other communities like us,” MacDonald said. “You don’t have to merge to work together on specific things that are both programmatic and administrative. If we had been talking about a merger, it would’ve been an entirely different conversation. We’d have had to get into financials, infrastructure, that we didn’t over the last two years.”

“Doing programming things together isn’t necessarily easier or less expensive. We do it because it’s better for the community. It sometimes costs more, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.”

The recommendations from the panel include: Establishing a Minnesota Jewish Collaboration Council, convene “mini-general assemblies” for Minnesota Jewish Professionals and/or lay leaders, and appoint collaboration liaisons from each Jewish agency.

“This work is the result of two years of conscious effort by both boards. Its design and intention is to set the agenda for the future 10 or 20 years. It goes far beyond our current needs,” Parritz said.

When this group was first pulled together, the state of the Federations was in a very different place, and the collaboration discussion didn’t come about from Skora and Silberman leaving their posts.

“We didn’t write these two years ago; we wrote them two months ago,” Parritz said. “It’s the result of our current thinking about the current realities.”