How joyfully I am counting down the minutes to the end of the Co-op election on April 30. I confidently predict that after the new Board has been seated, regardless of who wins the election we will never have another dismal Board meeting of the sort that occurred on Wednesday, April 27.
True to form, the Board accomplished precisely zero at this three-hour meeting. There was barely a quorum; fully five Board members (Michael Bettman, Sarah Blum, Victoria Fullerton, Tony Roisman, and Brett Tofel) were absent. I know that some of these absences had to be legitimate but, as a collective performance, it’s lame.
Theater of the absurd was the order of the day.
John Rosenquest – a board member who is not seeking reelection and is thus on his way out the door – nevertheless made a big show of tendering his immediate resignation as treasurer, for reasons that he did not disclose at the meeting. This forced the Board to go through the ritual of electing another Board member, Benoit Roisin, to serve as treasurer between now and the May meeting. Since Benoit is himself among the ten candidates vying for five seats on the Board, it’s possible he won’t be back next month either.
Though Rosenquest didn’t disclose what was eating him, he made a rather inflammatory but unexplained comment during – oddly – discussion of the previous meeting’s minutes and whether they called for certain comments of Board members to be made available to the membership. Rosequest said he agreed with not making the information public “after the experience of this week and the liability we could face as a Board for the republication of irresponsible and flatly false statements that no amount of sorting the comments will protect us against that.” Whisky Tango Foxtrot!?! I yearn for more transparency and, ergo, less accusatory obscurantism.
The longest discussion of the meeting had to do with how the Board should do nothing about the results of its just-completed self-monitoring exercise. “We have a bare quorum” of six Board members present, said Rosenquest. “Three of us who are here will not be in these chairs at the next meeting. That’s half of our bare quorum and, of the folks who are absent they include vocal critics of the way this particular population of the Board thinks we ought to do business. This leaves me feeling this is a bit of an empty exercise. . . . Frankly, progress on this is going to be made, or not made, more as an outcome of the ongoing election than anything we have to say to each other tonight. We’re rather preaching to the choir.”
It reminded me of what they used to say in the Soviet Union: This year we have nothing like we’ve never had nothing before.
All of that ‘much ado about nothing’ might be worth a shrug if the Board were not failing to confront the obvious tailspin into which the Co-op seems to have gone. As noted in the part of the Board packet released to the membership, “Consolidated sales for the quarter ended April 2, 2016 totaled $17.1 million, or approximately $717 thousand (-4.03%) under budget for the period. Consolidated food store sales for the year were under budget by $578 thousand (-3.42%).”
General Manager Terry Appleby attributed lackluster sales figures for March to the fact that Easter Sunday – a day the Co-op is completely closed – was in March rather than April this year. But the reality is that the Hanover store has not been doing what it was expected to do after its $5 million renovation.
“What is your current thinking of the likelihood and the magnitude of any so called ‘bounce’ in sales in the store as a result of its being fully opened in renovated form?,” Rosenquest asked Appleby.
“Well, it hasn’t happened, that is for certain,” the general manager replied. “Part of what is going on is we’re still adjusting some things. Prepared foods is one area we’ve still got some work to do. . . . I don’t disagree that sales have been disappointing this year so far. We’re not making budget.”
The general manager went on to explain that the number of customers is not the problem. “People are coming through the door; we are up 3 percent in visits,” he said. “It’s the basket size that’s problematic and its not just us. . . . You can see it pretty much across the board with co-ops across the country.”
In characteristically earnest form, Terry made his quarterly financial report to the Board along with a forthright declaration he did not regard himself as in compliance with its requirements in light of the poor financial results. But Rosenquest was able to prevail on his colleagues to vote unanimously to find the general manger in compliance nevertheless. According to Rosenquest, “a modest quarterly loss” is not a “failure.”
Though Michael Bettman, who chairs the “Succession Planning” task force (more accurately described as the committee recruiting candidates to replace the soon-retiring general manager), was absent, fellow Board member Harrison Drinkwater of that committee said he had some “late breaking news.” It was that the Co-op’s newly hired headhunting consultant (from the Gallagher Flynn accounting firm that also does the Co-op’s annual audit) was “doing his initial review of six very good candidates and will report that back to the committee . . . as early as May 2, Monday.” According to Drinkwater, “if all goes well,” finalists will be invited to Hanover by late May and the committee would recommend from one to three candidates to the full Board in “mid-June.” According to Drinkwater, the committee’s plan is for the Board to make its ultimate choice in executive session.
Not if I have anything to say about it! See Article V, Section 8 of the Bylaws (“All binding decisions of the Board shall be made by recorded votes in open sessions”).
After tributes to departing Board members Rosenquest, Susan Sanzone Fauver, and President Margaret Drye (wrapping up 13 years on the Board after never missing a meeting) as well as possibly departing Board member Benoit Roisin (who is seeking reelection), the Board went into executive session to discuss an unspecified “legal matter” with the general manager and the personnel director. At the conclusion of the half-hour executive session, the Board announced it had taken no votes during the executive session and promptly adjourned.
As I said above, this was a sad Board meeting of the sort I am certain will not recur next year. In my judgment, almost all of the ten people running for the Board this year would, if elected, bring positive energy and a renewed spirit of cooperation to the Board’s deliberations. And, frankly, the optimist in me thinks that even those few candidates about whom I have my doubts will rise to the occasion because there will be positive group zeitgeist. It is imperative that things turn around. The ongoing sales trends are disturbing, the looming selection of a new general manager is a huge deal, and nobody deserves another year like the one just now ending. As for next year – the 82nd Board of Directors – well, I plan to be there, either sitting at the Board table or sitting in the audience continuing to clamor for transparency and cooperative connection with the membership.
Don't forget to vote between now and April 30 at mycoopvote.com. You can also vote on paper at any of the stores.