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Voices / Letters from readers

Disheartened that our co-op speaks with one voice and listens with one ear

Editor’s note: We only rarely withhold names on material we publish in this section. In this case, this letter was signed by five people with various relationships to the Brattleboro Food Co-op, including several employees. As paranoid and absurd as it might sound, all the parties demonstrated what we determined to be reasonable concern about the workplace consequences of conducting a civil adult discussion about the governance of a member-owned, community-engaged business. Given the very relevance of those concerns to the content of the letter and, in turn, the relevance of the letter to material recently published in these pages, we are publishing it anonymously. We do so with respect to all parties involved, including the management of the Brattleboro Food Co-op and the Putney Food Co-op, to whom we extend a warm invitation to engage in this conversation.

RE: “Losing our principles” [Viewpoint, Jan. 14]:

Recently, The Commons printed an article and letters regarding the Putney Food Co-op, proposed changes to its by-laws, and its involvement with CDS Consulting.

As members — we mean, shareholders — of the Brattleboro Food Co-op, we assume that means that the Putney Co-op is going to become like our co-op in Brattleboro; perhaps not in size, but in the management structure, profits, and corporate feel.

In August a few disheartened shareholders started the Brattleboro Food Co-op Shareholder Forum — for shareholders, by shareholders. We meet on the third Sunday of the month from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Co-op Community Room. All are welcome.

The forum is intended to give us a voice. It was created after a troubling situation back in May when six disheartened employees met with two board members to share their concerns about working at the Co-op.

The board members listened — we emphasize that they listened. They were careful not to speak for the board and made it clear that they were only there to listen. They then directed the employees to bring these concerns to the whole board.

The meeting did not interfere with union negotiations and was approved by the union representative. Also, a National Labor Relations Board representative saw no problems with this meeting.

The employees’ concerns ought to be the concerns of the board, especially after the 2011 workplace murder of Michael Martin by Richard Gagnon. That workplace murder did not occur in a vacuum.

Two of our elected board members felt the employees ought to be heard. It was a reasonable human act, in a cooperative built by and sustained by people: its members and its workers.

We all learned quickly that our Brattleboro Food Co-op board speaks with one voice and listens with one ear. By listening, these two board members “broke the Code of Conduct” (a document that is nearly identical in co-op boards across the country) and felt compelled to resign, otherwise having to accept the notion that they had behaved unreasonably.

This incident is one of many that woke us up to the fact that we do not know what is going on at our co-op. Some questions we are asking at the forums:

• Is policy governance working at our co-op?

• Is it the policy-governance model or our board’s interpretation of policy governance that is or is not working?

• What is the role and history of CDS Consulting in our bylaws? Our co-op?

• How can a general manager as the highest-paid employee (secret salary) work without a job description and be able to self-report his progress?

• Why are employees not permitted to speak to board members about their concerns?

• What caused the resignation of two board members earlier this year?

• What is the structure of our co-op?

• Do we need a general manager?

• How is an individual member represented by the board of directors?

We are seeking answers and transparency because we believe in cooperative principles and we believe in our co-op. We don’t want a Whole Foods — we want to revitalize our co-op and bring back our principles.

Typically, the forums are held on the third Sunday of the month, weather permitting. Our next meeting is Sunday, Feb. 15 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the community room of the Co-op; the entrance is on Canal Street. All voices are welcome!

Names Withheld
Brattleboro

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Editor’s note: Our terms of service require you to use your real names. We will remove anonymous or pseudonymous comments that come to our attention. We rely on our readers’ personal integrity to stand behind what they say; please do not write anything to someone that you wouldn’t say to his or her face without your needing to wear a ski mask while saying it. Thanks for doing your part to make your responses forceful, thoughtful, provocative, and civil. We also consider your comments for the letters column in the print newspaper.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #290 (Wednesday, January 28, 2015). This story appeared on page D2.

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