TALES FROM THE COOP foody.org/coop.html
PERENNIAL ANALITY AT THE ANNUAL MEETING
This is the big annual meeting, coop fans. Once a year and you are here! This is long but worth it: We elected two new board directors, somewhat violently.
The meeting, held in a church, began by fighting over whether to allow proxies. Counting only 89 members present, which is 11 fewer than the needed quorum of 100, the chair asked that proxies be counted for inclusion. Proxies had been signed by those who couldn't come but wanted to support nominees for directors.
Standing in the center aisle, opposition leader Stewart began a shouting match with the chair by demanding a recount. If enough new people trickled in, proxies would not be used -- especially the proxies held by the coordinators (paid staff), which if stockpiled in large numbers would squash the opposition like cold-pressed organic EVOO. Stewart and the chair howled at each other until the former was ordered to shut up or leave. By allowing proxies, another member complained, you're denying power to those who bothered to come. No, countered the chair, you're denying the proxy-signers their right to vote. Top coordinator Joe, who held the pro-staff candidate proxies -- a huge fistful of paper -- pledged no first use. His deterrence policy, straight out of the nuclear arms race, was appropriate for the explosive mood. If the opposition used their fewer proxies, Joe could annihilate them with his own.
By now, all proxies had been counted. One opposition board candidate held 3. Andy Kaufman on a Bad Day, who had for days accosted coop members on the shopping floor and had rudely shoved proxies at them, held 16. Holtz held a staggering 205.
Some spoke in favor of proxies. Some then said that Robert's Rules of Order allowed new motions. The chair and pro-staff members rebutted that: for the coop, Roberts applied only in procedural vacuums, which this was not. Now that new motions had been proven out of order, Andy Kaufman moved to overrule the chair. He then said that he would vote his proxies: "No one's going to take away my sixteen votes." The crowd groaned: Andy Kaufman would prompt Holtz to vote his massive bloc. Holtz then generously saved the opposition's ass by pledging to vote only as many proxies as would the opposition. Applause. With proxies canceling each other out, now only attendees' votes mattered. Blood pressure dropped. We even had a friendly belly laugh when a confused man who had signed proxies, but had come anyway, said he wanted to leave, and when people began vigorously debating his personal right to go or community obligation stay, he fled, announcing, "You don't seem to be getting anywhere!"
After 45 minutes of this, we were ready for the election.
The four candidates were two coordinator nominees, Angela and Nancy; and two opposition nominees, Chandra and also Andy Kaufman. Coordinator nominees can be good. Really! The food coop's board of directors is a contrivance to validate the votes of the General Meeting (GM), the coop's directly democratic and only legislature. If a GM is insane, the directors can negate its decisions, which are, legally, only nonbinding "advice" for the board. If a GM is sane, the board should rubber-stamp its approval, as it always has in the past, respecting the votes of the GM, respecting the GM as an institution.
Popularly, the coordinators are seen either as wise businesspeople, or as irresponsible autocrats manipulating ill-attended GM voting. The opposition is seen either as paranoid refined-sugar-haters trying to hobble coordinator decisions, or as true democrats wanting to broaden power by expanding voting to the teeming masses who don't go to GMs, which only 1 percent of members attend because the meetings are inconvenient, anal and, most important, pointless for those who just want to shop and who like the status quo.
Historically the board has always been lackey-staffed, always rubber-stamping to back coordinator power and ensure stability. If it gets more opposition members, with two rebels on the board already, the board might begin nixing GM votes for any reason, on the ideological grounds that the GMs don't represent the whole coop. This could force the GM to pass decisions approvable only by an opposition board. At best, that could create forums in which thousands, instead of tens, could vote. At worst, it could cripple management by not allowing the coordinators to fart without first a slow referendum on the passing of gas.
And if Andy Kaufman gets on the board, the opera buffa would become absurdist Ubu Rex on granola. If he behaves as I've shown him in past posts, as a single member, what would he do on the board?
The chair asked for two-minute speeches by the board candidates, brilliantly decreeing reverse alphabetical order to force logorrheic Andy Kaufman to be first and concise. I was too distracted by the big hand-lettered sign he had hung over his butt: VOTE BY PROXY DEFEAT THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE. Then the three other candidates spoke. Angela, a coordinator nominee, spoke crisply on coop politics. Nancy, apparently a rubber-stamping coordinators' classic who had served as a director for many previous years, spoke blandly. Chanra spoke aggressively and clearly about a need to broaden democracy beyond the General Meetings, not just for the sake of numbers, but for diversity, and she boasted that for an important issue, she'd vote against the GM if she thought the GM was not representative of the coop.
Q&A time. Angela and Chandra were asked to address rubber-stamping. Angela said she respected the GM; Chandra said the GM was too limited. Andy Kaufman was asked if his self-confessed troublemaking was cooperative. He praised his own "militancy." Nancy was asked for her past achievements as a board member; she cited excellent attendance and avoided admitting that she'd never brought an issue to the floor. When a coordinator later tried to help Nancy out by praising her record and asking her to document it, she mentioned serving on a committee. A coordinators' pet can be just a lump, that's one way of nominating someone who will respect the GM by rubber-stamping its votes . . . but it makes for a weak campaign. When Joe, the hoariest of coordinators, asked opposition candidate Chandra why she thought she could judge issues better than the GM, Chandra sounded more electable than Nancy even when Chandra repeated that the GM should be disregarded if the "pulse of the membership" beat otherwise. Andy Kaufman asked Joe if the only standard for coordinator nomination to the board was best attendance as a GM member. Joe agreed. Andy Kaufman then asked all the other candidates, pointedly Nancy, if they had relationships with staff. Nancy said her marriage to a coordinator was irrelevant: her vote was her own. Chandra agreed that personal relationships were no one's business.
All four candidates were then formally nominated. Andy Kaufman, after a roomful of long silence, had to nominate himself, after which he thanked the room. The secret-ballot vote, in which you could vote yes or no for all candidates, took place. During the vote count we argued over whether we could move to accept an accountant's previous report (which we'd forgotten to do) since the previous refusal to allow motions had been such a political stink.
Angela topped the voting with an overwhelming 107 votes; to her went a full, three-year term on the board. Chandra won 76 votes, and as second in place she received a departing member's remaining half term. Nancy finished with 65 votes, and received condolences. Andy Kaufman, the chair said awkwardly, got "fewer yesses than nos." Andy Kaufman permitted the chair to announce his tally: 23 yesses, 86 nos. And those yesses had included his 16 proxies!
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