Monday, June 24, 2013

WSM Board - The Election That Might Have Been ...

The filing period for nominations to the Weaver Street Market Co-operative Board of Directors closed today. I had been intending to submit my name in nomination as a Worker-Owner candidate, until I realized I would not be eligible this year.

Next year, maybe? Unless POP VOX takes off! In the meantime, what follows are what would have been my answers to the questions to which would-be candidates are asked to reply in writing:

"Current profession or occupation:

Hot Bar cook in the Southern Village store. Active worker-owner advocate with the Weaver Street Market/Panzanella Co-operative, who believes that it is the role of the WSM Board of Directors to lead discussion in our co-op, not to make all the important decisions on its own, as for example with the question of whether or not we should be building more stores. I am standing for the Board because I believe that decisions of this magnitude should be made by vote of the owners and the workers.

Previous profession or occupation:

I was trained as a lawyer, and practiced in the UK and the US, concentrating on progressive social advocacy. For example, I spent several years in a historically disadvantaged region of Appalachia, assisting in establishing a community law practice for working people.

I developed a secondary career as a values-driven community business consultant and company director, again in both the UK and the US. I specialized in troubleshooting for businesses that were experiencing serious financial or organizational difficulties.

That meant mediating disputes, opening new channels of communication and creating values-based strategies that encouraged the Boards of those companies to understand that the most important assets of any enterprise are fulfilled workers and happy consumers.

In 1996, I decided to leave behind my conventional corporate career to focus instead on social entrepreneurship and my creative pursuits (writing, composing, acting and occasional stand-up comedy) – which is what brought me to Weaver Street in 2005.

Current community involvement:

Weaver Street Market Co-operative’s governance process – as a concerned worker and owner, seeking first-time election as a Board Director. The return of our co-op to authentic co-operative values of democracy, worker empowerment and genuine community focus is a huge task, allowing little room for other community involvement.

At the moment, I monitor our co-op’s corporate office and its Board of Directors, in part through the medium of my co-op blog. In part by engaging in the few owner discussions that are allowed.

We stand at a crossroads in our co-op. Either we turn the other way, and permit the WSM corporate office management team to lead us, without proper discussion, into a new expansion experiment, which last time left us with a debt ($6 million) that is still costing us $500,000 a year in bank interest.

Or, we respectfully request that any expansion or ‘invigoration’ should occur only after a vote of all workers and owners. And that, in the meantime, we focus our money and our energies on getting our existing operations and benefits right.

Previous community involvement:

I have taken an active role in my local community since the age of 16, gaining experience which I believe will help me, on your behalf, to negotiate the complexities of our governance process, and to create space for all of our voices to be heard more clearly.

I have been a City Councilor and Council Committee Chair, a Special Needs School Governor, and I served on the Development Committee of Carrboro/Chapel Hill’s WCOM radio co-operative – so, I know how to engage in consensus governance in a way that encourages all points of view to receive a fair hearing.

I was a progressive social campaigner at the national level in the UK and the US (with special emphasis on poverty and immigration rights), and a broadcaster and committee member with WCOM (Carrboro’s co-operative radio station) – so, I’ve had the opportunity to work with others to assist them in expressing their concerns in a way that makes a difference.

I was an actor and Board Chair with a community theatre in North Georgia, wrote the By-Laws for a US domestic violence non-profit, and served on Weaver Street’s Elections Task Force – so, complex policy-making and intricate group dynamics don’t overwhelm me; actually, I really love working to bring both together so that the end result always serves people, and not the other way round.

Why would you like to serve on the Board of Directors?:

I love our co-op, and I want to give something back. But I think we are about to lose our way, all over again. We last engaged in a huge expansion exercise in 2007-2009. It left us frustrated, unfulfilled and some $6 million in long-term debt.

I’m not saying we should not grow. What I am saying is that the decision to engage in further massive expansion, including building three more stores, should be made by workers and owners, not just by the Board of Directors alone. Don’t you think that, in a democratic co-operative, a decision of this magnitude should be subject to a vote of all consumer-owners and all workers?

In addition, there is much we still need to get right from that last expansion, in terms of operating processes, equipment and worker benefits. For example, WSM claims that it offers a living wage. It does not. We offer the same starting wage we did when I joined WSM eight years ago. Don’t you think we should focus on making our existing WSM family happy, before we think about expanding the family?

On a more general note, I believe we have reached a situation where the WSM Board and its corporate office management team are out of touch with shopfloor workers and managers because too little attention has been given to genuine two-way communication within our co-op.

I wonder if we could not usefully spend more time reforming the communication and democratic structures within our co-op, so that we get more accurate information, and so that decision-making is truly collaborative, and not merely imposed from above.

It is no good inviting feedback, or holding discussions, or even making it easier to become a worker-owner, if no attention is paid to what we say, and we are still not empowered to make the important decisions.

I have some ideas for how we can address these matters – together. I discuss these suggestions at length on my co-op blog. And I'm happy to discuss them directly with you, if you’d like to contact me.

Briefly describe any experience you have had with worker or consumer co-operatives or with other small community-minded businesses:

My LinkedIn and Facebook profiles demonstrate a history of successful engagement in the self-empowerment of various small community-minded businesses.

Right now, I am assisting in the implementation of a business plan to help a semi-retired chiropractor re-establish his practice in Hillsborough in a manner that allows him to maximize his retirement benefits while creating a lasting holistic enterprise that will benefit our community.

One of my happiest ventures was assisting a co-operative radio station in the UK, owned and run by its workforce, to re-structure itself and win one of the UK’s premier FM broadcasting licenses.

I have always and passionately practiced the belief that the key to any successful and sustainable business is happy and fulfilled workers and consumers.

If our co-op would trust its workers, respect our talents and expertise, reward us meaningfully and empower us to make our own decisions, rather than stripping us of our dignity, treating us as numbers, and imposing faceless gameplans from above, including the latest one about ‘invigoration’ and further expansion, then we would be truly inspired to achieve genuinely sustainable profit and productivity, along with excellent customer service.

Briefly describe any experiences you have had developing organizational policies or plans that reflect the values of that organization:

As a lawyer, management consultant, social entrepreneur and elected official, I have had the good fortune to be able consensually to develop values-based organizational plans with all sorts of different enterprises, whether for-profit, non-profit or governmental.

Over the course of eight years with WSM, I have written a number of strategy documents for the consideration of our Board and administrative office management team. The most recent (Opportunity Knocks) was in response to the WSM Employee Survey in 2011. Does any of its content ring bells for you?

Include anything else about yourself that you may like others to know:

This election is not about me. It’s about you. I want to know what YOU think, and what YOU want. Please feel free to chat, or to contact me at:

This is probably the most important election in the past eight years. The expansion project will radically change our co-op. I want we workers and we owners to be the ones making the decisions about expansion. If you do too, then I would welcome your input and your support.

Oh yes. Some of you have been kind enough to attend one or other of my gigs locally, when I have performed as ‘Pop Vox.’ Many thanks!"

Sunday, June 9, 2013

POP VOX - Thank You - The Cave - June 1

Thank you everyone who came to the gig last evening. I apologize for the fact that everything was not 100%. Flu will do that. But you were magnificent. And I think we all had a blast. Sharing our magic in all sorts of different ways!

There were about 70 folks in total, on and off during the evening. So, we are growing. And again, I emphasize 'we.' You are as much the performers in the interaction as me. And the interaction was outstanding!!

There will be continuing gigs. Plus, I'm going to spend time this summer looking to flesh out the sound, both recorded and live onstage, with some remixing efforts.

So, if you know of someone who makes synth/pop style beats and backing tracks, a sequencer, beatmaker, DJ or producer of dance music with electro-pop sensibilities, please let me know.

In the meantime, if you want to stay in touch with developments with POP VOX, I invite you to follow me on Twitter, or on my POP VOX Facebook Page, or on my ReverbNation site, or even on my brand new Tumblr blog, because I'm told Facebook is so yesterday.

See y'all again, real soon. Hmm. Which reminds me. Time to touch base with the admin office at WSM, to see how my request to appear on the lawn at the Carrboro Weave is progressing, and to find out what is news about 'Weavestock.' Ah well. Many thanks one more time ... !!