We are in the throes of election season here at Willy Street Co-op, preparing to introduce a ballot of Board candidates and other assorted items to vote on. There will be two areas on the ballot that seem worthy of description. Both might seem semi-confusing in their bylaw/ballot language, so I hope this might help untangle them a bit.
DOES THE BOARD really WANT MY MONEY?
One of the items to be voted on is a change to the way the Board is compensated. I’m excited to attempt a description of this, as I believe strongly in the transparency of Board decision-making.
Currently, Board members are compensated for our work, in the form of a 15 or 20% discount at the register. Compensation is a relatively standard practice for Owners who serve on boards and committees of grocery cooperatives around the country. In discussing the dispersion of this benefit, we began to look at ways to make the compensation more equitable between Board members. For example, if one has a larger family (or perhaps a larger income to spend shopping at the Co-op), the amount they save using their Board discount might be much larger than a Board member who has a lower income and/or buys for only one or two people.
We researched ways that other similarly sized grocery cooperatives compensate their boards, and examined what the average monthly amount of discount savings was for the Willy Street Co-op Board members over the last three years. In light of these findings, the conclusion that seemed most equitable was to propose a change from a percentage discount to a monthly $100 gift card.
In the awkward process of making such changes, it was discovered that nothing in our bylaws prevented the Board from making this decision and implementing it (without Owner vote). There was a bit of discussion about this, and we came to the conclusion that this policy change inherently contains a conflict of interest for all of us. As a Board, we voted to put this item on the ballot, and see this as a more equitable direction for Board compensation. However, it is ultimately up to Owners to take interest, inquire, and make the final decision.
One last point of clarification: the proposed change to this compensation policy was not due to any complaints from current or past Board members, nor was the purpose to “get more” for the time and energy investments that Board members make. Rather, we were looking towards the future and attempting to make equitable decisions that will last beyond any of our individual moments on the Board.
There will be four separate (but related) bylaw changes to vote on in the upcoming elections. Each proposed change deals with voting timing or process.
The first two changes would shift our election cycle to allow Owners to vote at our Annual Meeting and Party (AMP). This change was proposed as a way to include more Owners in the decision-making process. The Annual Meeting & Party is a well-attended event, and an opportunity for Owners to engage with current Board members and potential candidates. The proposed changes to our bylaw language would shift the elections to take place slightly sooner than they currently are and have been. In order to do this, the changes to be voted on would involve language around the election cycle itself, and the timing for candidates to get on the ballot. If approved, these changes would be implemented in 2015. (Note: Beyond the timing factor, there are no other changes to the candidate nomination process.)
The third change regards adding a clause to specify what happens in the unlikely event of a tie in the Board candidate election. Currently, there is no language in our bylaws that explains how atie would be resolved, so we are hoping to create a transparent way to clarify that process.
The fourth change involves the process by which an Owner might add an item to the ballot. Currently, the language in our bylaws focuses on the Annual Meeting, which establishes that particular context as the only way for Owners to propose a ballot item. This method relies on a particular time (once per year) and particular group (Owners in attendance at the Annual Meeting & Party). As our Ownership continues to grow, it seemed necessary to update this process for more democratic participation.
The proposed language in the bylaw change will allow Owners to add items to the ballot with a percentage of signatures. The timing for the item’s vote would be based on the amount of signatures. If 5% of Owners submit a petition to enter an item on the ballot, it would be added to our next scheduled election. If 10% of Owners submit a petition to enter an item on the ballot, it would be put to a special vote within 30-75 days of the submission.
THE JOY OF QUESTIONS
Perhaps one of the reasons why I am such a big fan of cooperatives is the inherent demand to maintain good communication and transparency in order to engage people in democratic decision-making. To me, power is much more complicated and interesting when we include one another and value each other’s contributions.
To that end, I really do enjoy critical inquiry, and have a strong curiosity about process. How decisions are made, who is left out, what values are taken into account, and how to empower one another are all aspects of making these choices together.