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BEERS FOR THE RENOVATION COMMITTEE
It was my first General Meeting in months. Since I'd begun my day at the dentist, why not end the day in as much pain? The chair committee had grown in my absence, bulging to six members sitting at their front table. The one who was chairing the meeting for her first time ran it well, receiving complaints only for cutting off people too abruptly. At the GM, people need to be cut off.
Especially the Label Guy, who had previously written two very popular "Linewaiter's Gazette" articles about how the coop's abandonment of price labels on items was illegal and had probably led to member overspending. He was annoyed that he hadn't made this night's agenda, so during the Open Forum, he ranted about item pricing till the chair shut him up. Another member said during Open Forum that she'd heard that some of the coop's produce had been irradiated. The coordinator (staff member) who buys produce said he'd heard no such thing, and that such food could not be considered organic.
Fiscal coordinator Mike Eakin's balance sheet showed an income loss that he said was predicted and would be constant thanks to the investment in the Building Next Door expansion. One member asked about an additional cash loss; it turned out to be the fault of a larcenous cashier whose fate is in the hands of the Disciplinary Committee.
Lead coordinator Joe Holtz gently announced the results of the beer referendum -- 1,513 yea, 962 nay, a 61-39% vote. Holtz said the coop would proceed carefully. To avoid in-store drinking, the coop would never sell it cold. Beer would receive limited, obscure shelving so it could not tell shoppers -- as Holtz said, briefly channeling beer -- "Hi, I'm beer, come and get me." The coop will buy only regional organic, free-range beer.
Surprisingly, most coordinators are said to have voted against beer. They like selling shiny, wastefully packaged, non-nutritious or nonfood items, but beer will be a legal and recycling headache for the coop staff.
Several probably teetotaling audience members asked about compliance with laws over the ages of buyers and sellers of beer. If you have to be over 18 to sell beer, for instance, can you be a seven-year-old "helping" your indulgent parent total up brewskis at a checkout counter? Holtz said he would read the laws thoroughly and involve the GM in decision making over ages. He admitted that educating checkout workers about age verification would be slow since "we have a lot more checkout workers than any single store in the nation."
The Renovation Committee's grand hurrah of a "final report" was the first agenda item. First came someone from the financial subcommittee, who stressed that the Renovation Committee had spent no more than the $3.7 million of the funds allotted to it. This glossed over the preceding waste of $277,000 from Holtz's dissolution of the cranky committee that had preceded the Renovation Committee, which meant extended mothballing of the Building Next Door till new plans were ready. He also called the extra loan drive a "show of support" by members instead of a desperate strategy needed to fund necessities like elevators.
But no one harshed the mellow of the financial presenter. After all, the 2001-2002 renovation had been a lot smoother than the above-budget, dragged-out 1989-1991 expansion. He also said that the expanded coop is exceeding past growth projections thanks in part to increased sales per member, and that since coop growth boomed after the previous expansion, past performance should guarantee future results, keeping the coop out of jeopardy.
The room applauded the entire committee. The financial guy then terrified the room by saying that others "might want to speak about their experiences on the committee." He had taken so long that if all 11 committee members standing spoke, we'd be there till 4 A.M. Maybe audience questions could wait till the other committee members had made their presentations, suggested the chair. No other presentations were planned, said the finance guy. "So you've got nothing," said the chair to some laughter.
The committee did stay up to answer audience questions. The coop secretary asked for an explanation of the formula by which the bank lending the renovation funds could seize control of the coop if business slows too much. The finance guy said he couldn't explain it, and Eakin breezily said that it was "uninteresting," and that the bank will forgive us if we dip below the formula for the first couple of years. "We'll be fine, unless we do something stupid. I hope we don't."
Label guy erupted again, asking if increased sales per member had been the aim of ending item pricing. "No," said Holtz. When asked if there'd be more bulk items, Eakin said that around 20 more were coming, in new silos.
After more questions, and praise for the Renovation Committee and the new Building Next door -- "A camel is a horse designed by a committee; we have a great camel," said one person -- the chair dispatched the committee before it could bask in more glory, and so we could debate the next proposal, giving the general coordinators a raise.
The Personnel Committee (which advises the staff) suggested a 4% raise, said it would cost the coop only $1 per member, and that the coordinators deserved more, that the shaky local economy and the unknown future growth meant a conservative crisis. The general coordinators make around $46,000. Holtz said that historically, most general coordinator raises were small, the last "big" one being in 1985. Coordinators have sometimes declined raises, said the Personnel Committee.
The coordinators' self-abnegation established, board member Electrogmagnetic Israel, the coordinator favorite, proposed, in addition to the raise, a $1,000 bonus to show appreciation for surviving the Building Next Door renovation. But both the original proposal and Israel's amendment sowed confusion. One audience member thought that the Personnel Committee was asking for a raise for itself, instead of for the coordinators. Also, the committee had wanted raises for only the general coordinators, who are the full-time staff who administer 26 additional, wage-earning area coordinators, who have fewer administrative duties. The general coordinators, not the Personnel Committee, govern the area coordinators, and had already been giving the area coordinators raises.
Now that is was clear that the Personnel Committee wanted raises for only the general coordinators, Israel proposed $1,000 for all coordinators. Did the committee even have the authority for such largesse? After huddling with Joe, the committee rejected the amendment, saying it had already begun looking at future rewards. Israel withdrew his amendment, and the original raise resolution passed 61-2 with 2 abstentions.
Over a year before, Israel had stumped at GMs for the creation of a coop-sponsored, tax-exempt, charitable foundation. His dream had now become a committee of five members, one of whom discussed their findings as the third agenda item.
"Of course we all want to save the world, but we decided on Brooklyn first," she said. The tax-exempt foundation would advocate for good nutrition, environmentalism, and all things warm and fuzzy. It would also solicit grants from bigger foundations and disburse them to local projects.
Weirdly, the foundation's name can't include "Park Slope Food Coop," since it can't legally be called a coop, and since could have nonfood activities such as tree planting. So the tentative name is the "782 Union Street Foundation." The committee rep said they hoped that the curious might visit the address and discover the coop.
Everyone hated the name, especially a coordinator who said that the original idea had included promoting the coop via the foundation. She also wanted the coop to actively oversee the foundation since the former's reputation was involved, yet worried that the latter's administration would consume too many coordinator hours. The committee rep said that the foundation's board members were expected to be hardworking administrators themselves, not just policy makers.
Her depiction of the foundation-in-planning's current committee and future board members as super-hardworking, super-dedicated, and super-responsive people was backed by a long and fairly thorough summary of goals and plans. But other people said they were worried about foundation management burdening the coop, and some legal beagles in the audience challenged the committee's ideas about fundraising methods and the ability to limit foundation membership to coop members. The committee rep disagreed, saying that lawyers had already hashed out such details. "I sense a little defensiveness from the committee," one critic said later, at the meeting's end.
One person complained that the mission statement was too broad -- would it be to open for interpretation by the foundation board? "A good board always has a good fight," said the representative, suggesting, with a grin, the coop itself. "So board member A turns to board member B and says, 'That's not "good nutrition' ." That's strictly internal."
It was getting late, and Israel, who'd been mostly silent as other discussed his baby, moved to extend the meeting for more discussion. But the audience voted 13-28, with 13 abstentions, to go home instead. The coop's board of directors then voted 6-0 to confirm the "advice of the membership," i.e., the referendum for beer and the GM vote for the coordinators' raise.
Back to list of dispatches.