by Anne Senni
Each year the Brattleboro Food Co-op holds elections for new members of the Board of Directors. In early 2014 I started kicking around the idea of running for the position. It’s a big commitment and I did not take it lightly. To better understand what it entailed and how the board operated, I spoke with directors and visited board meetings. I spoke with members to get a sense of their concerns. The BFC’s website gave me access to background information, history, and organizational details that I admit I had only perused in a peripheral sort of way before that. I think that’s true for most of us as shareholders—we care, but, “we’ve got lives to live, heah?” as I once heard a Red Sox fan yell at a slow pitcher.
So I studied old board minutes, the candidate info packet, and info about Policy Governance, which is the organizational system used for the framework of the board’s operational process. I decided I would run and was elected to the board for a three-year term. I was inspired to do so at this time for a few reasons. Personally, I was at a stage in my life where I had the time to dedicate to volunteering, taking my turn. Philosophically, over my years as a struggling retail business owner I had come to believe that the old rules of economics were shifting, and the cooperative model seemed to be the way of the future.
There is great power in the choice to bypass greed and simple self-interest for the sake of the larger group—cooperation and collaboration are ideals I can get behind! (The International Co-operative Alliance has a great resource available online called Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade for any of you who may want to explore these ideas!) Aside from being a strong Brattleboro business to be proud of and a great food co-op, our Co-op is significant in a broader sense—creating a healthy, socially-decent anchor in our community.
Working with this group has been fascinating—I won’t call it fun exactly, although there are a lot of laughs shared—but compelling and empowering are adjectives that come to mind. It has also been daunting at times. We have real challenges before us to balance the needs of maintaining a viable long term business with our old term values—there is some talk that we are becoming “corporatized” and losing our guiding spirit of democratic cooperation. I hate the new use of the term “corporatized” to imply a negative connotation—I was incorporated for 20 years, most businesses are, and it is simply a definition of legal entity, neutral in terms of political or ethical attitudes.
In fact maintaining the cooperative values we all hold near and dear is a defining factor for the board. We are guided expressly by our Ends Policies, and our policies and procedures are generated from the Ends Policies, and are regularly monitored to make sure that they continue to lead back to those core values. Our obligation is to meet our shareholders’ needs. We search for better ways to communicate and welcome all input. Meetings of our Shareholder Forum, which I myself attend, show us both how we may be falling short and how we can improve going forward. Encouraging and inspiring discussions are happening at these forums and I urge any members who are interested to attend. We can always use fresh thoughts! The meetings are generally on each third Sunday night from 5 to 7 pm in the Co-op community room. We have a Circle of Understanding planned with the forum that we hope will facilitate a trusting and productive working relationship going forward. We also recently sponsored an informational workshop about our system of governance to help build understanding and cohesion and are considering our next step in this area. Stay tuned for more info!
The fiduciary responsibility of the BOD includes the oversight of all BFC concerns, in particular all financial operations. Although I am still learning about the complex subtleties, I am extremely impressed with the mastery shown by Alex, Ken, and our previous BODs in navigating very difficult economic seas. Major unforeseen setbacks in our facility upgrade coupled with treacherous economic times presented a huge challenge. We have a ways to go, but we are holding our own and moving steadily in the right direction. As an old retailer, it warms my heart to see solid sales growth during such tough times. Kudos to all, including the hardworking employees who tough it out each day!
I would encourage anyone
interested in the operations of our board, or anyone interested
in running for the board, to pursue that curiosity! It is a dynamic, exciting, very hard-working group and it’s an honor to be a part of it. Members of the Board Candidate Search Committee are Harriet Tepfer, Jon Megas-Russell, and me, but any board member will be happy to answer your questions.