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 roach-infested church, began by fighting over whether to permit proxies. Counting only 89 members present, which is 11 less than the needed quorum of 100, the chair asked that proxies be counted for inclusion. Proxies are signed by those who cannot come but want to support nominees for directors.

Standing in the center aisle, opposition leader Stewart Martin demanded an attendance recount, beginning a shouting match with the chair. If enough new people were trickling in, proxies would not be used -- especially the pro-staff proxies held by the coordinators (paid staff), which if held in large numbers would squash the opposition like, well, roaches. Stewart and the chair howled at each other until Stewart was ordered to shut up or leave. By allowing proxies, another member then 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. Coordinator Joe Holtz, who held the pro-staff candidate proxies -- a huge fistful of paper -- pledged no first use of them, a deterrence policy straight out of the nuclear arms race and appropriate for the explosive mood, for if the opposition used proxies, Holtz could annihilate them with his own. By then all proxies had been counted. One opposition board candidate held 3. The erratic Andy Kaufman, who had for days accosted coop members and rudely shoved proxies at them, held 16. Holtz held a staggering 205.

Some spoke in favor of proxies. w 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. 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 all around. 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 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-nominated stooges, Angela Riley and Nancy Mehl; and two opposition nominees, Chandra Hauptman and Andy Kaufman. Stooges can be good. Really! The board of directors was a corporate invention to make legal 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 by corporate law only non-binding "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, and respecting the GM itself.

Popularly, the coordinators are seen either as wise business people, 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% of members attend because the meetings are inconvenient, anal, and most importantly pointless for those who just want to shop and who like the status quo.

Historically the board has always been stooge-staffed, always rubber-stamping, unduly backing coordinator power but ensuring stability. If it gets more opposition members, with two rebels on the board already, the board might nix GM votes, which the board members might dislike for any reason, on the ideological grounds that the GMs don't represent the whole coop. This might force the GM to pass decisions only approvable by an opposition board. That could be politically exciting, forcing the creation of new forums in which thousands, instead of tens, could vote. But it could also cripple management by not allowing the coordinators to fart without long referendums first.

And if Andy Kaufman gets on the board, the opera buffa would mutate to absurdist theater, Ubu Rex on granola, which is fun to watch once but makes for a shitty polity. If he's as disturbed as I've shown him in past posts, as a simple 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 Kaufman to be first and concise. I forget Kaufman's speech since I was 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. Riley, a coordinator nominee and possibly the first black female candidate in coop history, spoke crisply on coop politics. Mehl, apparently a classic, rubber-stamping coordinators' candidate who had served as a director for many previous years, gave a bland and muddy speech. Hauptman spoke aggressively and clearly about a need to broaden democracy beyond the General Meetings, not just for the sake of numbers, but for ethnic 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. Riley and Hauptman were asked to address rubber-stamping. Riley said she respected the GM; Hauptman said the GM was too limited. Kaufman was asked if his self-confessed troublemaking was cooperative. He praised his own "militancy." Mehl was asked what were her past achievements as a board member; she cited excellent attendance and avoided admitting she'd never brought an issue to the floor. When a coordinator later tried to help Mehl out by praising her record and asking her to document it, she mentioned serving on a committee. A coordinators' stooge 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 pathetic campaigning. When Holtz, the hoariest of coordinators, asked opposition candidate Hauptman why she thought she could judge issues better than the GM, she sounded more electable than Mehl even when Hauptman repeated that the GM should be disregarded if the "pulse of the membership" beat otherwise. Kaufman asked Holtz if the only standard for coordinator nomination to the board was best attendance as a GM member. Holtz agreed. Andy Kaufman then asked all the other candidates, pointedly Mehl, if they had relationships with staff. Mehl said her marriage to a coordinator was irrelevant: her vote was her own. Hauptman (who has no conflicts of interest that I know of) retorted 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, sarcastically thanking everyone. The secret-ballot vote, in which you could vote yes or no for all candidates, took place, and 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.

Riley topped the voting with an overwhelming 107 votes; to her went a full, three-year term on the board. Hauptman won 76 votes, and as second in place she received a departing member's remaining half term. Mehl finished with 65 votes, and received condolences. Andy Kaufman, the chair said awkwardly, got "fewer yesses than nos." Andy Kaufman permitted the chair to document the humiliation: 23 yesses, 86 nos. And those yesses had included his 16 proxies!

Next dispatch.
Previous dispatch.
Back to list of dispatches.


jkarpf@echonyc.com