Are We Transparent Enough?

The decision-making in a co-operative – and the preceding discussions – ought to be totally transparent. Are they in The Weave?

At recent Weaver Street Board meetings, it has not always been easy to follow a lot of the discussion because so many of the documents before the Board have not been available to we visiting owners.

I have written to Jacob Myers, Worker-Owner Director candidate and the Board Chair these past three years, to ask if all such documents could be made available to visitors in the future.

As a consequence, we got to see many of the financial reports at the September Board meeting. We were not, however, ‘allowed’ to take away with us copies of the Draft Audited Accounts.

This is a little peculiar because anyone who understands the function of an outside Auditor will know that the Audited Accounts are produced for the Owners, not management nor the Board. The Accounts are Audited to comfort Owners that their investment is safe.

In other words, the Audited Accounts are the property of the Ownership, and we should be allowed to have as many copies as we like – to do with as we like.

Moving right along, the Board have decided sensibly (in my opinion) to move much of their administrative business to a new Google group/Forum, in between meetings, so as to free up time in meetings themselves to address the concerns of Owners and Workers.

The problem is that the Google group is not (at the moment) open to Owners and Workers to see what the Board is discussing among themselves – and on our behalf.

Now, I take the view that all deliberations of the Board should be held in public, unless there is good legal reason. I really don’t think that ‘convenience’ is a compelling legal reason. Do you?

Two matters on the Board Agenda were recently moved into private session for allegedly legal reasons: discussions with the Auditor, and real estate matters.

I served on a City Council back in England. I made it clear, from Day One, that if we went into private session (which they tried to do a lot), and I found that the only reason we were in private session was that it might be embarrassing to have the discussion in public, then I would suggest we report on the discussions in open Minutes.

Private sessions almost completely disappeared. I would like to see the same practice instituted with WSM Board meetings.

As I have already mentioned, an outside Auditor is commissioned each year to produce an independent analysis of the financial dealings of our co-operative.

The ensuing Auditor’s Report and Audited Accounts are produced for the benefit of Owners and Workers. Not for senior management. Nor for the Board. But for Owners and Workers. To let them know their investment is safe.

I can think of no deliberations involving the Auditor that should be hidden from Owners and Workers. And I have 30 years experience of ‘good business practice’ (the excuse proffered at the Board meeting in question for having the discussions both about the Auditor and about real estate dealings in private session.

As to holding discussions about real estate dealings in private session, a lot of us have questions about what is going on with Weaver Street and its real estate dealings. Indeed, there are those who wonder what a co-operative is doing having real estate dealings in the first place.

I am hoping that, after this forthcoming Board Election, the new Board will take a good, hard look at these WSM real estate dealings, wondering whether they should exist or not, and wondering if they really should be private or not.

Now, there is some good news here. Those of us who served on the WSM Elections Task Force earlier this year spent time examining what we could do to make it easier for Owners and Workers to know what was going on in their co-operative, and to be able to have a say about it.

The common verdict was that an online Forum for Owners and Workers, where the Board and senior management are under strong encouragement to respond, would be a great idea.

Two committed Consumer-Owners, Jamie Bort and his wife, Sarah Kahn, have invested a lot of their time setting up a trial Forum. I have helped a bit with the protocols for using it, and the suggested protocols for senior management and the Board to respond.

We are hoping that the Board will recommend that WSM formally adopt the Forum, so that we can then complete the two-step process whereby a user is first verified against the Owner/Worker database, and then, quite separately, is able to sign up and post with complete anonymity – if they so choose.

It is not a difficult process. Most online Forums use something similar. But we realize it is important that some people (particularly Workers) have absolute confidence that they can be free to say whatever they want without recrimination.

Equally, Weaver Street will want to know that everyone participating is a bona fide Owner or Worker, even though they will not know who GoogleFries is!

Clearly WSM already likes the idea of Forums, because it has set one up for Board use. So, there should be no reason why WSM will not agree to let the ‘Bort Forum’ be an official communication vehicle for use by WSM Owners and Workers.

All of our thanks should go to Jamie and Sarah. They are the very definition of engaged Owners – even if they do cycle an awful lot! Geez, I need a nap every time I see them!

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Published in: on September 22, 2008 at 8:51 am  Leave a Comment  

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