TALES FROM THE COOP foody.org/coop.html
BRAT BEATS PATRIARCH: THE ANNUAL MEETING
"Free food!" shouted coop secretary Eric Schneider when the chair announced that he'd won the presidency by a vote of 46-32, defeating his opponent, the coordinators' patsy Electromagnetic Israel. Free food is beyond Schneider's mandate. Since the presidency has little power except in time of crisis, he won't do much with it except be an even greater pest than he is now.
In a more important win, Israel was reappointed to the board of directors by a vote of 201-34, buoyed by coordinator Joe Holtz's proxies and despite member unease over Israel's preelection support by Holtz. Israel's only opponent, Andy Kaufman, lost his board bid by 12-128, his worst coop election showing ever. Melinda Antirevolutionary Marx, not present, was reelected vice president. Well-respected staff bookkeeper Tricia Leath was reelected treasurer. Cute unknown member and "lawyer in training" Riana McLoughlin, suddenly nominating herself to keep any coop officer from doubling as secretary, was elected to that post to wide acclaim.
The meeting began with the coop accountant's annual financial statement. Despite buying the Building Next Door, we have a lot of handy cash, in part because members are generous with new loans to the coop. The state is trying to nail us for back taxes it thinks we owe. The coordinators are battling that.
Israel, ever eager to play Polemarchus ("Tell me, Socrates, how wise you are"), asked how we knew we were free of fraud. "In life, there's always the possibility of fraud," replied the accountant, earning loud laughter. But he added that too much investigation is expensive. So, he said, a middle ground of checks and balances was good protection. The food coop's member labor, he said, makes difficult the collusion necessary for fraud, since secrets are hard to keep, and vast records must be kept. Hundreds of member cashiers annually accept $9 million in cash; hundreds more members handle inventory; different members do bookkeeping. Also, we have no stock sales or performance bonuses to inspire the staff to fudge figures. "You've had a pretty good system, though sometimes it drives us crazy," he concluded.
We moved on to fill an expired term on the board of directors. Board member Electromagnetic Israel had been the only announced candidate, but now member Andy Kaufman nominated himself.
Israel's statement was simple, asking for reelection for another three years. Andy Kaufman, his chicken legs barely clad in horrifyingly loud shorts, talked about his past failed bids for board election, and how no one wanted him even on small committees. This campaign, too, would be useless, he said. "Joe is sitting there with 300 proxies in his pocket. Are you going to give me some of your proxies?" he asked a silent Holtz. "I didn't think so," he nattered on. "I represent a lot of people who aren't here, who are scared and intimidated" by the General Meetings. "A lot of people think I'm an idiot. I am because I keep going to GMs. . . ." The chair tried to get him to wrap up. "He wants me to shut up. Is anyone timing me? I could go on but he's going to kick me off the stage. . . ."
The first member to comment said that Israel had left her a phone message urging her to come to the Annual Meeting. He hadn't said he was running, but she was "kind of offended" by him spamming her and the rest of the membership. Israel replied that he had called a small number of people, and from his own home. Later, when asked how he'd picked whom to call, he said that he'd called his own friends, and had also asked Holtz to give him a list. The audience hissed like a punctured tire. "Is it routine that staff members give lists of names to candidates? That's a shock to me," complained another member. "Perhaps you'd like to explain why that shocks you," said the chair, adding, "It might help Joe answer."
After the snorts and laughter died down, Holtz got up and said that while he had done nothing wrong, he now realized it had been impolitic, and that he wouldn't do it again. Another coordinator said that she was glad that someone was urging people to attend the Annual Meeting. A member said that the woman who complained of Israel's spam call should get a life, since Israel hadn't even promoted himself in the call.
Actually, Israel's stumping was not limited to phone calls. At a restaurant one recent night, even as he ate tofu with gloppy orange sauce, he had recognized a nearby coop member and asked her to vote for him at the Annual Meeting. When she said she had better things to do on her birthday, he had insisted that voting for him would make it memorable.
When asked at the Annual Meeting to say what he stood for, Israel gave an evil look and threatened to read his prepared statement unless the questioner was more specific. So the questioner asked about Building Next Door planning, and projected budgets. Israel said that other people were working hard on those, and that the questioner should go to General Meetings. The questioner blew up, shouting that Israel's arrogant tone showed no respect for questions he was obligated to answer.
The irony is that Israel couldn't answer those questions if he wanted to, since his policy is to stay ignorant of activity outside the monthly General Meetings, on the principle that board members should act only to review GM decisions. At the Annual Meeting, he said he'd vote against the GM only if its decisions were dangerous, and that that had yet to happen. "The coop has acted wisely. . . . We're not on the Titanic, kids! We don't have to put our lifeboats on! We're on a solid ship of state." Later he further praised the status quo. "Five thousand [member] employees; can you imagine the madhouse this would be if it weren't run well? Top-drawer people! Choice! Platinum! I see the energy!"
When it came time to vote, the audience was tallied: 96 vegetarians, four short of the quorum needed to make unnecessary any coordinator-stockpiled proxies. A member complained that at the last Annual Meeting, board member Melinda Marx had received more no votes than yesses, but that such proxies had forced her onto the board. "In interest of respecting Israel's hard work in bringing people in," she pleaded, "don't use proxies to sway votes." Joe actually held only 72 proxies. Israel held 57, and a few other members held a few more. The chair twice refused to explain whether a threshold of members was needed to disqualify proxies, saying only that proxy holders could now use or not use them as the holders saw fit.
Finally, we voted. After a long count, Israel was announced elected by a vote of 201-34 (58-28 without proxies). Andy Kaufman was announced dead meat by a vote of 12-128 (8-51 without proxies). Since voting no is optional, Andy Kaufman's trouncing was especially humiliating, even more so than his 1996 board-seat defeat at a comparatively mild 23-86 (with proxies).
While we waited for the count of the board-seat vote, the chair suggested that we elect coop officer positions: "We'll start on treasurer and work our way upward." The current treasurer, staff bookkeeper Tricia Leath, was nominated. She gave a short speech. She also endured the usual suggestions that her treasurer duties crippled her staff duties, and that the latter created a conflict of interest. She insisted that neither was true. One member complained that that the coop was paying Leath for her hours of work as an officer. Another member said that since no one else wanted the job, so what?
Soon the chair proclaimed Israel reelected to the board, so we segued into the presidential campaign. Holtz described the responsibilities of the coop president (nebulous), and closed by saying that any of the presidential candidates there that night would be fine -- praise that silently excluded board member and current president Doyle Warren, who was not present. As president, Warren had refused to sign the contract for the Building Next Door purchase loan. As a board member he had proposed, without any preceding General Meeting discussion or vote, to recreate the Holtz-axed Building Next Door Project Development Team, a novel board resolution that had failed to carry in a 3-3 vote.
Current treasurer Eric Schneider said that whether the role was symbolic or active, he would be an asset. He said he "brought us all together . . . across our ideological spectrums," as with the mass Special Meeting that overturned the rebel board vote against pursuing the Building Next Door.
Israel, whose speech began with a warm and fuzzy prophesy about a "caring committee" for ill shoppers, and the joys of planting trees, said that Schneider "was a good person, would not be irresponsible." Israel then tore into him, thundering that as a board member, Schneider had tried to restore the Project Development Team that had been dissolved by Holtz. Such board activism was not against our bylaws, said Israel, but was against our traditions. Board membership should be a minimalist role, he said.
Schneider tried to rebut Israel, but the chair instead allowed a speech for the nominated-in-absentia Warren. Erach Screwvala, speaking extemporaneously for Warren, called him a "pigheaded pain in the butt" but said he was still a worthy candidate for reelection as president.
The chair then let Schneider speak. In his usual upset tremolo, he said that Israel's charge was untrue, that he too had thought the Project Development Team dysfunctional, and that it should have been dissolved, only that Holtz should have waited for member input before doing so.
We cast our ballots, and as the votes were counted, we began the elections for vice president, treasurer, and secretary. Discussion was muddled. We had tiredly twice voted to extend the meeting. Israel spoke for absent board member Melinda Antirevolutionary Marx, who is also solidly pro-staff. He cited her willingness to sign the Building Next Door loan contract when Warren had refused to do so.
Riana McLoughlin, a new meeting attendee with a light Irish brogue and who identified herself as a "lawyer in training," spoke in surprise of any coop officer also becoming secretary. Since no one was running for the job, she soon nominated herself. In a confusing multiple ballot for these three remaining posts, a process for which I have shitty notes since I was talking to a friend, Marx was reelected vice president, Leath was reelected treasurer, and McLoughlin was elected secretary.
Holtz led a follow-up board of directors session that confirmed the evening's votes by a director vote of 4-0. The meeting ended. Some newcomers said they were astounded by the antics. Some planned to return the next month for more spectacles. Others fled forever. As one member had said earlier in the meeting, "I spent some time in Cuba. I know dysfunctional democracies."
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