Wednesday, February 4, 2015

We're Off to See the Wizards, the Wonderful Wizards of the Board...

So possums, I attended the Board meeting last night at the Honest Weight Food Corpop as a participant and an observer for one half of an hour. It was my first Board meeting as well as my last. I found it enlightening and somewhat entertaining. I also found that everything I already knew about the Board was spot on and for that reason I don't think I could tolerate going to another Board meeting.

Let me describe the scene before I get into my observations. Demography? White. Culture? Mostly Social Liberal corporatism. Religion? Predominately Liberal Corporatism. The scene: The president of the Board sat at the centre of the rectangular table. He spoke in such low tones that I, sitting at the other end of the table, could hardly hear him. I began to wonder whether his conscience was getting in the way of what he was saying. The LT, the Leadership Team, sat next to one another on the right side of the table while other members sat on the left. I sat at the other end of the table from the president along with another Board member and other interested non-Board members. Some of those at the table listened, Some ate and presumably listened, some played with their smart phones and presumably listened. The accountant sat on the right side of the table playing with her tablet and presumably listened.

Now on to my observations. I want to break these down into two categories: Orwellian doublespeak and obfuscations. Orwellian doublespeak first. Classic Orwellian doublespeak erupted as soon as the meeting began. The president of the Board read the minutes from the last meeting, a summary that claimed that one member of the Board, the Cooperativist, was "excused" from the last meeting. The Cooperativist was, as anyone who knows the facts about what happened, was not "excused" from the "executive" session of the Board. He was excluded. Reality can be a bitch.

Now the obfuscations. These were flowing like vodka at a raucous party in Moscow. First, many of the Board members claimed that Liz Leukakis spoke about the potential dangers of staff/members/Board member involvement in the evaluation of the LT at the Membership meeting last May. Actually Leukakis, even if she phrased this in an unfortunate McCarthyesque manner, was concerned about the presence of too many staff members serving on the Board. Ironically, I talked with the president of the Board about this very thing after sending him a letter demanding a new Board election because, I argued, Leukakis's statement had tainted the Board election that followed. He agreed that Leukakis's statement tainted the election but he couldn't, or so he claimed, call another election. I still think the election was tainted irrevocably and should have been done over. Second, one Board member, claimed, on the basis of information she received from a national coop organisation, that all coops excluded staff/member/Board members from evaluation. In reality such fundamentalism, quoting a national coop organisation that has an ideological and social interest in making such claims without any skepticism about the source of the claims, is simply false. There are worker coops, producer coops, and consumer coops--Honest Weight was once the second and is now the third--around the globe and in the United States. Since worker and producer coops, in many cases, do not have corporate style management the issue of evaluating management never comes up.

Thanks to the president of the Board I was able to ask questions of Board members. I asked how many hours the ad hoc committee that evaluated the Board, an evaluation accepted at the Board meeting in which the Cooperativist was exiled, involved. After asking the question a second time the Accountant answered. She said she put 25 hours into the evaluation. Let's put this in perspective: that is less than 10 hours observation of each member of the LT, much much less hours than the hours put into evaluating general staff. Note that she didn't say at what times and in what places she conducted the evaluation. I asked the Board to note what real conflicts of interest might arise if staff/member/Board members were involved in the evaluation of the LT. One Board member said, as I noted earlier, that it was because other coops do it this way, the follow the leader perspective. A member of the LT said it was because of perceptions of conflict of interest that might arise, the it may not be real but we have to deal with socially and culturally constructed perceptions anyway. I am willing to concede that many create their own mythical and fictional realities but that doesn't mean that we should ignore real reality. I asked why it was that there seemed to be no problems with the Cooperativist's involvement in previous evaluations of the LT several years ago. I got no answer to this. Given this silence I am left to conclude that the real reason the Cooperativist was excluded from the evaluation was ideological. He is a coop kind of bloke, they are corporate types.

I want to end this brief essay with an irony because I love ironies. After I left the Board meeting, according to sources who were there, the Board addressed the issue of the Corpop's upcoming audit. The Board, according to these sources, accepted the suggestion of the Accountant that they hire a particular accounting firm to do the audit. Talk about perceived AND real conflicts of interest! When this potential conflict of interest was pointed out to Board members, some Board members apparently dismissed the criticism because the Accountant was, they claimed, a "professional". Needless to say, there are enough perceived and perhaps real conflicts of interest to go around at the Corpop raising the question of why the powers that be emphasise some (which really aren't) and ignore others (which really are). But then some humans are very adept at creating realities that "see" what they want to see and ignore that which they want to ignore. So what do I take away from this? I take away the moral that some members of the Board divide the world into "professionals" and "non-professionals", put staff in the latter category (despite, by the way, their backgrounds), and rationalise, in the process, the actions they take. Why this is the case I don't know. Is it because we staff are too proletarian? Is it because we don't accept the points of view of the corporate "professional" crowd as "gospel"? Is it because they can't comprehend that anyone could or would disagree with them, the "professionals"? I leave it to you, dear readers, to draw your own conclusions.

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