TALES FROM THE COOP foody.org/coop.html
MOUSEKETEERS SPEW CHUNKS OF BUILDING MATERIAL
A wildlife rehabilitator who had to rush back to Stamford to feed her animals began the General Meeting. Her plastics firm, incorporated on "April Fool's, 1990," wanted the coop's waste, and she passed around a chunk of plastic log to show how yogurt cups could be turned into compost bins and picnic tables. No one knew why she was there till the Environmental Committee, prompted by a coordinator, said that since we'd lost our usual plastics recycler, this wild-animal woman was a good prospect, to be discussed later in the meeting.
Mecha-coordinator Joe Holtz gave the financial report. Shrinkage (mostly shoplifting) is still bad, but membership is increasing nicely, and many members are throwing cash loans at the coordinators for the Building Next Door.
A "very major thief" had been caught four weeks before, reported Holtz and other coordinators. They added that shrinkage had then shrunk a little. The stealing member -- not an outsider, like the thief of four years ago who'd cost the coop $40,000 -- had "returned" items by removing them from the shelves and walking back to the entrance desk, which gave him returned-purchase forms that he cashed in on his way out.
The coordinators -- who had caught him by noticing that one person was repeatedly returning identical items -- used the incident to frame the new antitheft campaign they'd launched a few months ago. Product returns would now require a register receipt as proof of purchase. The video cameras on the entrance door, exit door, and supplements shelves -- installed hesitantly after an uncooperative armed robbery a year and a half ago - have been repositioned a bit.
But the vegetarian audience wanted blood, not policy updates. Many were "shocked" that the thief had not been mentioned before. "Why wasn't this reported?" the chair asked incredulously -- especially, he added, since it was a major element in Holtz's financial report, and since Linewaiter's Gazette coverage might warn off others considering the same trick. Coordinators replied that because the thief had decided to resign with no chance of rejoining, there had been no Disciplinary Committee hearing to report in the Gazette. And since a member accomplice had confessed and offered to pay damages, the case was still unresolved. Police were not brought in since the proof was limited and arcane: signed return slips from the "major thief" totaling at least $160.
Board member and newly minted president Eric Schneider, after a joke about babies at GMs constituting abuse (it fell flat: did he mean abuse of babies or abuse of GMs?) and a smarmy reference to new secretary Riana McLoughlin's "lovely Irish lilt" (when he does it, it's smarm; if I do it, it's journalism) announced that he'd asked McLoughlin to begin writing short meeting minutes.
He asked the chair if that required GM approval. The chair said yes, so Schneider asked McLoughlin to write a resolution authorizing her to draw up minutes. At that point, board member Electromagnetic Israel, defeated for the presidency by this young pup, asked what committee Schneider was representing. When Schneider said just himself, Israel demanded to know by what right Schneider, coop president but still a lowly individual, dared to subject us all to his opinion. The chair said he'd recognized Schneider. "It's not fair," snarled Israel. The chair apologized.
Then came the gristly meat of the meeting: the report of the Building Next Door's renovation committee. Several subcommittee members lined up like a gang of Mouseketeers. One by one they spat out indigestible chunks of construction data like Heimlich-propelled cinderblocks. If information overload was considered assault, any jury would convict.
The first presenter's news was the biggest: the committee had dropped the original architect-and-construction-manager team. To meet bank-loan deadlines, incomplete plans had been submitted to the city. But new priorities had been set, thanks to member input, and the old plans meant overspending by $200,000. The architect wanted $200/hour for further changes. Since the construction manager owned the blueprints, the renovation committee couldn't even borrow them for second and third opinions, and the construction manager refused to alter the contract. (Consider the architect's frustration with endless changes from an indecisive coop committee, and the construction manager's prospect of donating labor to accommodate such whims.)
So the renovation committee hired a new, grocery-store-oriented designer, Tony Bucci, and a new construction manager, Ron Ogur, will draw up wholly new plans this autumn. The committee representative said that the final blueprints would nearly double coop retail space, would mean $15 million in increased sales within a couple of years of occupancy, and would emphasize high-density shopping and inexpensive member labor.
The next renovation committee member presented finances. The loan to buy the Building Next Door was $860,000, and the construction loan -- so we could actually do something with the building -- would be hair over $1 million. The Building Next Door had cost $895,000. $109,000 had been spent on the past architect, asbestos renewal, and other pre-construction costs. The coop owes $213,000 interest on the acquisition loan, is paying $45,000 on taxes, insurance, and electricity for the building in its current white-elephant phase, and can expect to spend $1.4 to 1.7 million for the renovation.
Another renovation committee member said that the floor plan, though not yet ready for us to "drool over," incorporated lots of committee teamwork and decision making. A previous representative had said that they liked Bucci the more they worked with him. This rep added that Bucci was a sound choice, and that all that "should put the membership at ease." Former Project Development Team member Doyle Warren is not at ease; in e-mail, he complains that the coordinators avoided considering a grocery-store specialist in the first place, and have now picked "a coop member, and one of their darlings."
A construction subcommittee member reported that construction would be "industry standard." (That promise may not be entirely compatible with the use of money-saving member labor. For instance, the previous designer had been frustrated by coordinator Mike Eakin's reported wish to have members string phone lines, instead of planning a wiring backbone ahead of time to accommodate future expansion.) The subcommittee rep also said that refrigeration systems would be late because of their esoteric environmental-efficiency designs, and that construction would attempt to disturb normal operations as little as possible, thanks to narrowly targeting tasks.
The final committee representative said that to keep costs down, ambitious and utopian plans had to be tempered. We'll continue using refrigerators' waste heat to warm the building, but we won't be generating our own power with solar panels or windmills. She said that the committee had hired an environmental consultant. That generated no audience reaction except from a friend, who squawked sotto voce that the food coop was already littered with environmentalists, and that even her son could do for high-school credit whatever the renovation committee wanted.
The chair, frustrated by the gang presentation that had left only three minutes for discussion, asked whether the audience would extend the meeting time. Ten minutes of squabbling over whether and how to extend the meeting ended in a yea vote for 15 more minutes.
A labor-minded member asked whether we'd be using union workers, and whether we'd ensure subcontractors' fair pay. A committee representative said no. Then he backtracked and said they hadn't yet discussed it. An Armageddon-minded member asked what the committee was doing about Y2K. Nothing, another representative said. He did not agree to convert the Building Next Door into a bunker to shelter coop members.
Electromagnetic Israel and Doyle Warren asked about the past blueprints and future costs. A committee member reiterated that the past plans were owned by the construction manager, and that the coop hadn't purchased them because so many more design changes were needed. The past architect/contractor had cost us $80-90,000; of the new contractors, Ogur is charging us $15,000 to draw up new plans "from soup to nuts," and Bucci has a cap of $6,500.
Member Jerry Whiner said the coop should consider solar power because the earth is warming, and he challenged the committee to learn the implementation costs.
The chair closed the renovation committee presentation, and moved us on to recycling. Our previous recycler had stopped working with us six months before. The plastic log lady would be happy to take over our plastics waste, but her factory is in Stamford, which would mean added delivery expense. How would we subsidize the extra cost, and could we get more member labor for the recycling workslot? We discussed having northern suppliers -- or even upstate coop members -- trucking our trash to Stamford, or our shipping it via UPS.
One member asked why handling plastic recyclables needed more member labor when members were already processing bottle returns and compost, and bruised produce for the soup kitchen? A coordinator replied that most of that actually involved paid, coordinator labor. No, most of it was member labor, replied the member. No, most of it was coordinator labor, replied the coordinator, "very involved." (Why are coordinators doing this work? Is it an expensive misuse of labor, symptomatic of the bloating of our staff? Or do they have to do it because members are too disorganized or too repulsed by the dirty work?)
Another coordinator said that we needed to learn more about the efficacy and costs of our plastics recycling before we drive stuff up to Stamford, paying tolls and adding to exhaust emissions. It might not be worth the effort. We don't get may returns from members. We should be handling more plastic, countered the environmental committee member; more and better publicized days for accepting plastic returns would help. An audience member agreed on the spot to donate labor.
This had been only a discussion, with no need to vote. It's likely that the coordinators will have the Environmental Committee's enthusiasm to work with Obex, a firm that, its own profit motive aside, has actively reached out to the coop to help recycle plastics New York City won't touch.
The chair closed the recycling discussion, and Joe Holtz led the board of directors in formally not voting on anything since no resolutions had been passed.
Back to list of dispatches.