Co-op Voters Give Split Verdict

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/2/2016 11:45:11 PM
Modified: 5/2/2016 11:45:14 PM

Hanover — Members of the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society on Monday interpreted the mixed results of last month’s board of directors election as a rejection of reform-establishment factionalism.

Two current employees, Kevin Birdsey (1,389 votes) and Edwin Howes (1,138); two members of the watchdog group Concerned About the Co-op, William Craig (1,195) and Liz Blum (1,090); and a 43-year Co-op member, Dana Cook Grossman (1,289), all won seats on the board in voting that ran through April.

“I was surprised,” Cook Grossman said Monday afternoon. “I frankly had no idea how the election would turn out — I couldn’t get a reading on it — but I was fairly sure that most people would be inclined to vote a straight slate,” either with Concerned About the Co-op, she said, or with those who “feel that things were more or less fine.”

Cook Grossman, a Thetford resident and former director of publications at what is now known as the Geisel School of Medicine, said she fell in the second category.

Howes, a 22-year employee who now serves as the Co-op’s category management coordinator, said he was focused on the future. Although he said he appreciated Concerned About the Co-op’s emphasis on transparency, expertise and experience were needed to govern the institution, he said.

“I believe the people who were elected expressed themselves the best as being dedicated to making a difference and moving forward — and moving forward is key,” Howes said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we need to do it as a board.”

“Hopefully now we can get back on track,” he added.

Birdsey, a shift supervisor at the Hanover Co-op, also has been critical of Concerned About the Co-op, though on his Facebook campaign page before the vote he encouraged members not to support a “slate” of factional candidates. He declined to comment Monday.

Hartland residentDon Kreis, a former director and board president who, finishing sixth, just missed a spot, attributed the results to a desire from members to resolve their differences and move forward.

“I think (the outcome) just suggests that the membership of the Co-op is hoping that both of the perceived factions on the board will be able to work together for the greater good of the Co-op,” said Kreis, who, along with another candidate who fell short, Phil Pochoda, had support from both the protest group and some pro-establishment members.

A priority for the newly elected board will be to find a replacement for General Manager Terry Appleby, who is departing the Co-op after more than 20 years there.

“To replace somebody who has expanded the organization so significantly during his time as Terry has is quite a challenge,” Cook Grossman said, “and it’s going to be a difficult job because it’s a big organization.

“It’s a $70 million-a-year business with over 400 employees,” she said, “and that’s not a kind of organization that can be run with good intentions alone. That absolutely requires somebody with a lot of business experience, particularly in the grocery industry, because the margins are razor thin.”

This year’s election saw 2,367 votes counted, according to the Co-op’s website. In 2015, a year where two popular employees’ terminations sparked a protest movement and talk of unionization, there were about 2,600.

Compared to that number, interest this year would appear to have waned.

Yet April’s elections still saw a higher turnout than usual, according to Board President Margaret Drye. For comparison, she said, 2014’s election saw 1,486 votes, and 2013’s only 659.

Soon after results were announced on Sunday, activist directors-elect Blum and Craig said that the split results indicated Co-op board members needed to “listen respectfully” and work together.

With their election, Concerned About the Co-op has five members on the board.

Ten candidates were running for five seats on the 12-member panel, and only six had been deemed “suitably qualified” by the Co-op’s nominating committee.

The top four vote-getters will serve three-year terms. Blum, the fifth-place candidate, will serve for one year, finishing out the term of a board member who had resigned.

Another task for the new board will be to elect a president; Drye, who currently holds that position, is leaving as well.

Drye said on Monday that as she steps down as a director, her greatest hope for the Co-op “is that more and more of the members would realize how special it is.” 

“And peculiar, in a good way,” she added, referring to “the unique position that it holds in our community and as a business model.”

She noted, for example, that 76 percent of Co-op employees work full-time, and only 24 percent are part-time or per diem. The proportion for grocers nationally, she said, is inverse.

Drye, a Plainfield resident, also pointed out that the Co-op this year has hit a milestone: its 80th anniversary.

”It means that we’ve been established for a long time in the community,” she said. “The Co-op has been around for a long time; there must be something good about it.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.




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