The Davis Co-op Membership Intiative Process

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davis_food_co-opby Gene B. –

We have often discussed the issue of process here on this blog with regard to city governance. Currently, an issue  at the Davis Coop is raising some troubling considerations of process. The necessary signatures appear to have been gathered. to meet the Coop bylaw requirements to put a membership-generated measure on the upcoming Spring Coop membership ballot that would call for  instituting  a  Coop boycott of Israeli products and potential Coop  divestment of any investments in Israel. On Feb 7, the Coop board decided to deny the initiative a place on the ballot because it was “illegal”.

It is not my intention to have a highly charged “debate” on  reasons to support or oppose a Coop boycott of Israeli products and divestment.  I want to speak here only of process.

On Feb 7, approx 30 days before the deadline to get the measure on the Spring Coop ballot and after a signature-gathering campaign appears to have gathered  more than enough membership signatures, the Coop board has denied this ballot initiative, claiming that it is illegal based upon anti-boycott laws in the Export Administration regulations of the US Department of Commerce.

This  interpretation, reportedly “offered” to the Board by their counsel appears to be quite problematic  The law referenced is acknowledged by the US government to have been enacted  to prohibit “persons”(business, corporations) from supporting/participating with  official  boycott programs instituted by  foreign governments(specifically, Arab government boycott laws directed against Israel in the 70s). This clearly does not apply to a local grassroots-based  Davis Coop boycott initiative with no connection to any foreign government.

The Davis Coop was founded as a membership owned and controlled entity. The member bylaws are clear that a ballot initiative will be allowed if the appropriate number of membership signatures are collected and all other bylaw stipulations are met. While this initiative issue  generates high emotion and potential friction within the Coop membership community, the Board should follow the rules set out in the Coop bylaws.

If  the initiative  gains majority support on the ballot, it then would return  to the Coop Board who are charged with considering  the vote results and making a decision. While not definitively determined at this time,  it does appear that the results of the initiative would most probably be advisory and not mandatory.

Full, fair and mutually respectful  airing of  controversial issues along with maximum Board  transparency  is essential if Coop  members  are to have the ability to fully exercise their Coop membership rights. This is, in large part, what separates our Coop from  other business models.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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14 thoughts on “The Davis Co-op Membership Intiative Process”

  1. Ryan Kelly

    Why would you try to force Co-op members to pick a side? I really dislike the behavior of both sides of this issue – internationally and locally. Don’t force others to be involved in your bickering. I am a member of the Co-op and I fully support the Board on this. If individuals don’t want to buy the products produced by their sworn enemies, that’s fine. It is your right. You can gather support and get people to do the same. But the removal of products from the store and forcing everyone to participate in your strike against your sworn enemy is just wrong.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    “If the initiative gains majority support on the ballot, it then would return to the Coop Board who are charged with considering the vote results and making a decision. While not definitively determined at this time, it does appear that the results of the initiative would most probably be advisory and not mandatory.”

    This reminds me of the Gaza controversy at the City Council – in which the City Council wisely decided not to meddle, bc the issue was not an appropriate one for it to get involved with – it was outside their official purview. Doesn’t the same thing apply here? Is an initiative on a political issue appropriate for the Davis Food Co-op to even weigh in on? I have a real problem with entities speaking “on my behalf” telling me “what my position is” on some pet political issue. The City Council exists to take care of city business, just as the Davis Food Co-op exists to serve its customers/owners with food options.

  3. rusty49

    Nice move Co-op, by making this an issue you’re now going to end up either pissing off the pro-Israel or the anti-Israel factions which will lead to less revenue. What a way to run a business.

  4. Steve Hayes

    As I left the Co-op yesterday, I was once again assaulted by the “cause of the week” petitioners. Is the new motto of the Davis Co-op going to be “Let’s fight to the death for peace?!?”

  5. westof113

    Gee this IS Davis after all… where overwrought idealists spar with windmills and each other ad infinitum. I personally really like the Co-op for SOME things.

  6. davisite2

    While all of the above comments are interesting expressions of personal opinion, the issue addressed in the guest commentary is not whether the initiative idea is a good or bad one but rather whether the Coop bylaws protect the right of members to put an initiative on the Coop ballot if they fully meet all of the requirements outlined in the bylaws. Information has been received from the US. Dept. of Commerce,today, that the statute used by the Coop board to declare this initiative illegal does not apply and cannot be cited as a reason for its illegality.

  7. nedavis

    The Davis Food Co-Op does have a member-supported initiative process and is following it scrupulously.
    It is contained in Bylaw X Section 2 and reads as follows:

    An issue submitted by petitions signed by not less than five percent of shareholders in good standing which specify any lawful and proper purpose shall be presented to members within six months of such submission either at a regularly scheduled balloting or by balloting specially called for the purpose. The determination of five percent of shareholders in good standing shall be made based on the last day of the month preceding the date on which petitions are submitted.

    [highlighting added for emphasis]

    http://www.daviscoop.com/bylaws2.html

  8. nedavis

    Davisite2,

    You have stated: “Information has been received from the US. Dept. of Commerce,today, that the statute used by the Coop board to declare this initiative illegal does not apply and cannot be cited as a reason for its illegality.”

    Please post the complete information which you seem to be paraphrasing. I strongly doubt that the Dept. of Commerce has done any such legal review of the initiative in question or has rendered the legal opinion that you allege.

    Nedavis

  9. davisite2

    “Member support for honoring boycotts was strong. The co-op honored all UFW boycotts, which then included Campbell’s products, and we also boycotted Nestlé, Del Monte, and Dole products, and all yellow-fin tuna.”

    nedavis… thank you for posting the bylaws. This initiative has complied with all of them. As to your highlighted items, the “lawful” issue has been resolved by an email and return phone call from a US Commerce Dept representative who unequivocally stated that,given the facts as were presented to her, the law cited by the Board is not applicable and cannot be used to declare the initiative’s intent to boycott illegal. You are correct that no formal written legal opinion has been rendered as yet but an email inquiry to the US Commerce Dept(how-to is found on their website) will get you a phone reply within 24-48 hours(quite remarkable). As to the “proper” reference, I refer you to the quote above taken from the Coop’s website on the history of our Coop.

  10. mariana

    Gene, I so respect your stand. As a co-op member I too am somewhat shocked by the action of the Board. I joined the Davis Food Co-op knowing fully well that I would not be saving money – if I wanted to do that I can shop at Safeway. Rather, I wanted to shop a locally owned and democratically run business. At this point I can only [u]highly question my decision[/u] my decision. The Davis Food Co-op needs to “Rights this Wrong”.

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