Sunday, April 26, 2015
A Board Application in Search of an Honest Weight Board Position to Run For...
So off we go…
Preface: I write this in pen because though I am a “professional” I also like the human touch.
Questions and Answers
1: What are some of the “Co-op”activities you have been involved in (cashiering, stocking, committees, etc.)?
Since starting working at Honest Weight I have been involved in membership work (with Nate), stocking, and cashiering. As a working member—the only type of member you could be at Bloomingfoods Coop in the late 1970s and early 1980s--I worked stocking teas and herbs.
2. Have you ever served on the board of directors before? If yes, please describe your experience(s). If not, what experience do you have with other organisations that will be useful in your work as a “Co-op” Board member?
First part, no. Second part: I have been involved in a variety of activist groups, including the Mormon Peace Gathering in which I, the only “gentile” on the planning group, helped teach cooperative governance to a group of Mormons. Additionally, I have been involved in academia since the 1990s, an involvement that requires me to partake of a variety of bureaucratic procedures now and again.
3. Please describe your experience with and approach to group decision making processes? What do you think makes for good group processes and what are some of the challenges to group decision making process?
I have, as I mentioned earlier, been involved in social activism, Quaker and peace activism, which involved consensus forms of decision making. I also served on the coordinating committee of the Mormon Peace Gathering, a group that was planning to and did go to the Nevada Test Site outside of Las Vegas to protest American nuclear weapons testing in the desert. This involved a good deal of consensus practise and dealing with those who had opposing views. Finally, let me note again that I was a member of a real Co-op in the 1970s, Bloomingfoods, which engaged in consensus governance until it, like Honest Weight, evolved or devolved from a workers cooperative that was for members only to a consumer “cooperative”. I learned a lot in my earlier coop involvements in "cooperative governance".
As to the second part of the question, as with acting, listening and respect makes all the difference when involved in decision making. I have not, by the way, found this at Honest Weight during my years here. When I attended a Board meeting I saw members of the Board and members of the LT, as a dissident Board member spoke, play with their ipads and their smart phones while that member spoke. This is hardly active or respectful listening.
4. Please discuss the skills you could bring to the HWFC Board.
I think I can bring intellectual, analytical, and problem solving skills to the Board. After all I have degrees in Religious Studies (a BA), Cultural Anthropology (MA), and History (a Ph.D.). My academic background means that I have a healthy understanding of statistical analysis and an ability to critically think about and analyse whatever is before me. I thus could bring a set of “professional” skills to the Board. I also, since I have studied the history of coops, know something about coops and their evolution or devolution.
5. Please describe your understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the board of directors.
As I understand it the Board’s first responsibility is to the membership. The Board, again as I understand it, is supposed to act in the name of the membership and assure that what it has voted for is followed in the “Co-op”. At present, on the basis of my observations over the last several years, the Board is not living up to these promises. Instead it, because certain members of the Board are too close to management (a real and perceived conflict of interest) and as a result are largely acting as a rubber stamp for management decisions some of which have violated the reality and spirit of the “by-laws”, are not acting in the name of the membership but are acting in the name of the management.
6. What do you think the major issues that the “coop’s” board needs to address over the next five years?
a. What Honest Weight is or should be is an important issue. Honest Weight, at present, is a hybrid. On the one hand, it is, thanks to its history as a worker cooperative, a coop. On the other hand, thanks to changes since the 1980s and the fact that Honest Weight has ties to organisations like the National “Cooperative” Business Association and UNFI that have routinised, professionalised, and rationalised the once workers coop, the "Co-op" is also a corporation. I think members need to decide which one of these Honest Weight's Honest Weight wants to be.
b. Given our problems with Whole Foods (in reality Whole Food isn't doing as well as their bureaucrats prophesied) and the current downturn in finances perhaps we can talk to Wheatsville, the “coop” in Austin, Texas, home of Whole Foods, about how it survived the Whole Foods onslaught, if we already haven’t.
c. Process. A biggee. Currently, process is broken at the “Coop”. There have been several instances where the management group has acted unilaterially and been backed up by rubber stamps on the Board, and that needs to change.
d. Democracy? Another biggee. If you think that elites using and abusing their power to keep members off the ballot is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think Board members dissembling about the real reasons someone was kept off the ballot is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that the vetting or censoring of member questions is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that printing ballots so small as to not allow for write in candidates (something New York State does not even do) is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that not accepting nominations from the floor is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that providing no written information on an issue to be voted upon is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that "successful" is all you need to know about something before you vote on it, then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you. If you think that excluding an elected member of the Board from a secret meeting that an unelected member of the Board attended is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy for you. If you think that a concern about perceived conflicts of interest in certain instances but not in others is "democratic", then Honest Weight has a "democracy" for you.
7. How will you use your skills to contribute to addressing the above issues?
As an ethnographer, as someone who almost took a Ph.D. in sociology, and as a historian, I am fully aware of the evolution or devolution of “coops” from charismatic worker ones to bureaucratic consumer ones guided by boards and management teams. I hope to work with Board members who are more cooperatively oriented to return Honest Weight more closely to its real cooperative roots.
8. Please list any potential conflicts of interest you might have. (Conflicts of interest will not preclude you from serving on the Board, but helps establish open communication).
None. I am a staff member but I am also a professional. As a professional with a passionate dispassionate temperament I can analyse anything systematically without emotional attachment. As to another potential or real conflict of interest I know members of management but I am not close to them, indebted or emotionally attached to them, or emotionally disattached to them. Ergo, there is no potential or real conflict of interest here.
9. In order to maintain our liquor license all elected Board members must be able to pass a background check conducted by the New York State Liquor Authority (NYSLA). If there is anything that may preclude you from passing a background check, please feel free to ask a Board member. Please keep this in mind during the application process.
None that I know of. I have been arrested at protests—Quaker protests against nuclear power and nuclear weapons—but those are misdemeanours. I am, by the way, quite proud of this activism.
To the contrary: One Board member, one of the few I actually have a respect for--he is honourable and does not have moral deficit disorder (mdd)--argues that members of the Board were not afraid of me. The Board member, he says, who wrote me about my membership made a mistake when she said I had to have this in order by the 31st of March and that it was this the reason I was kept off the ballot. OK. But if this is true then clearly the Board cares more about petty bureaucratic technicalities than about fairness. Such an obsession with petty bureaucratic technicalities should not be surprising given that most members of the Board are of the bureaucratic variety. But the question still remains, why did the Board not decide that since mistakes were made in my case by members of the Board I would be allowed to run? This only seems fair after all. Was it because it was me?
Anyway...Call me radical...Call me bad...Call me nationwide...