TALES FROM THE COOP

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BUILDING-NEXT-DOOR REFERENDUM APPROVED

January's Park Sloop Food Coop General Meeting was reportedly (I didn't go) as cooperative as caged hyenas being thrown one tiny steak. The Location Study Committee -- called the 784 Study Committee till pressure to consider buying addresses besides the Building Next Door made that name impolitic -- presented its final report on what, if any, building the coop should buy. That huge report reported on three of 40 possible sites, two of which sucked, the other being, to no one's surprise, the Building Next Door.

The meeting was to decide -- with a two-thirds majority required -- whether to hold an all-coop referendum to approve or deny such a purchase. The committee asked the "uniformly intense crowd" to "relax a little" before explaining its reasons for settling on the Building Next Door, which is now a carpet-cleaning and sales store. But whether for or against the plan, all attendees listened intently to the committee's rationales: the Building Next Door has a great location (it's next door); it's not chemically contaminated; it's good for traffic; and it will both ease overcrowding for current members and easily serve new ones. Also, the Building Next Door might soon be sold to someone else, someone who might object to the coopers' usual habit of turning the sidewalk into a parking lot.

The coop is now miserably packed, and there's increasing organic-food competition in the neighborhood. More space would accommodate more members and give them better service, and lead to bigger discounts for buying in greater bulk. The committee's traffic study, demographic predictions, pollution test, and financial forecasts pointed, to different degrees, to one conclusion: if the coop don't grow it will stagnate; if it relocates it will lose its most faithful (and laziest) members; and if it spawns a satellite it will hemorrhage money and labor. The coop has to do something to expand.

Or does it? Others favor alternate plans, which include moving everything to a bigger location, opening a satellite store, sending missionaries to begin other coops, starting complex marriages with other coops, and making the existing coop as unpleasant as possible until enough people quit in disgust. Expansion opponents, whether coordinator-haters or not, cite the financial risks, the edenic good old days, and the nasty capitalist obsession with growth and competition. Those giving up on preventing the referendum insist on delays into the mid-twenty-first century for more discussion, or on Byzantine voting procedures that would confuse even the observers.

The committee made its presentation. As in any parliamentary meeting, those whose proposal was on the agenda -- the committee -- had the most time to state their case. Five of the six committee members supported the Building Next Door purchase; the sixth member surprised even her fellow committee members by giving an unexpected dissenting report. The floor was then opened to short queries and comments, also customary. What was uncustomary was the verbal melees that followed: not vicious arguments not over whether the General Meeting should approve a referendum, but what was right or wrong with the report. Loud applause for speeches favoring the report feuded with support for what the coop newspaper delicately calls "a highly vocal" minority against it.

The committee refused friendly amendments that would have recommended also the satellite and alternate locations in the referendum, saying, "We specifically didn't include [them] because that would be suicide. You asked us to do this. We're not some alien body that came down to ruin your lives. Those two options are suicidal and we thought it would be irresponsible and make our work look silly if we said, 'We think you should vote on suicide.'"

After more noisy fighting, the question was called (members voted to shut up and vote), and then came the vote on whether to hold a referendum: 100 yeas, 37 nays, 8 abstentions. To "a hearty round of applause," five members of the board of directors then voted to approve the General Meeting's motion, with sixth rebel director Paul Sheridan voting nay in protest of what he called "dysfunctional governance."

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jkarpf@echonyc.com