Saturday, April 11, 2015

Who I'm voting for in Vancity Credit Union election

Vancity Credit Union is having its annual election for board of directors. 3 seats are to be filled.

I'm voting for:
  • I haven't taken the time research the candidates in detail this year. If you know of any useful online reviews, please let me know.
  • I avoid the recommended candidates because recommendations entrench the controlling clique, as explained in this earlier post.
  • I have worked with Lisa Barrett on democratic reform, and think highly of her -- an easy first choice.
  • I like Man-kit Kwan's straightforward emphasis on the community of members as owners.
  • I like Vittoria DeMichina's personal history of pulling herself up by hard work.
Other info:
New independent website -- Vancity2015 Collaborative Democracy Wiki -- for sharing info on election candidates. Looks promising but still evolving towards being useful and convenient.
Vote by April 24 on Vancity website

Friday, March 20, 2015

@MEC ramps up suppression of member #democracy

Is Mountain Equipment "Co-op" still a co-op?

Co-ops are democratic organizations controlled by their members (see fundamental principles of co-ops). Look at the evidence that MEC has become an undemocratic organization controlled by its entrenched board:

In 2012, the board persuaded unsuspecting MEC members to give it the power to disqualify any member from running in board elections. Supposedly this was to improve the quality of candidates, but that excuse can easily be used to eliminate candidates that challenge the board.

In 2013, the board used that power to prevent former MEC board member Anders Ourom from running. Anders has often spoken up in past MEC AGMs. It's notable that in 2015, when Anders did not put his name forward to run, board experience is now considered sufficient to qualify: "...the minimum qualifications (experience sitting on a board or ...)".

In 2014, 27 MEC members wanted to run in the board election. The board blocked 2 of them, and the board chair claimed that this power increased the board's accountability to members (on page 2 of the minutes).

This year, 23 MEC members wanted to run, and the board blocked 7 of them.

As the notoriously corrupt Boss Tweed used to say: “I don't care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.”

With such a sanitized ballot, it's no wonder that MEC's voter turnout remains below 1/10 of 1%. Russell Brand was right on target in this video: “It's not that I'm not voting out of apathy. I'm not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class”.

Of course, Russell was talking about UK national politics. But don't look to MEC for democratic governance.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

@Coast_Capital credit union members could set Board pay by median vote

In April 2013, Coast Capital Savings Credit Union members approved by 79.7% majority a special resolution that “...the members of Coast Capital establish the remuneration for the directors of the credit union...” The resolution, put forward by a group of members called Compensation Watch, did not specify a process for members to do that.

In April 2014, Compensation Watch and the Coast Capital Board put forward two duelling resolutions to specify how Board pay would be determined. However, neither resolution got the 2/3 member voting approval required for implementation. Details are in my previous blog post and in this Victoria Times-Colonist article: "Credit union votes fail to resolve board pay dispute".

So I am proposing another way that we Coast Capital members could determine our Board's pay: Vote using a menu of possible total Board pay pay levels, and set pay at the median voted amount. For example, we could submit it to member vote like this:
How much should we Coast Capital members pay our Board, as annual total compensation?
□ $200,000
□ $300,000
□ $400,000
□ $500,000
□ $600,000
□ $700,000
□ $800,000
I've fleshed out the proposal, with an example, in this 3-page pdf.

I emailed it to the Board on May 8, and promptly got this reply: "Your email has been received and will be forwarded to the Board of Directors. Please expect a response in due course." No further response yet, but when it comes I'll post an update in this blog.

Friday, May 2, 2014

@Coast_Capital vote results: Board oligarchy maintains its power

At the Coast Capital Savings Credit Union Annual General Meeting on Wednesday April 30, results were announced for the member votes in the director election and on the 8 special resolutions. Unfortunately, none of the democratic reform candidates were elected, and the 4 member resolutions did not get the 2/3 vote required. The Board used its control of information sent to members, to maintain its grip on power for a while longer. On the plus side, the Board's 4 undemocratic resolutions also failed to get 2/3 voting approval. Details are in these links:
- Director election results

- Resolution vote results

- Compensation Watch post: A sad day for democracy

- Times-Colonist article: Credit union votes fail to resolve board pay dispute

- Coast Capital news release

- My previous summary post: Vote for Member #Democracy @Coast_Capital Credit Union
Coast Capital members will continue to work for democratic reform. I will still be involved, but perhaps not as vocal on this blog and twitter; so to hear what's going on, I recommend the Compensation Watch blog. You can "Follow" them to get an email when they post something.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hear @Coast_Capital vote results at AGM Wed April 30

Coast Capital Savings Credit Union's Annual General Meeting of members is this week:
DATE: Wednesday April 30.

TIME: Registration & refreshments from 4:30pm. Meeting starts 5pm. Cutoff to register 5:15pm, but members can still enter the meeting.

PLACE: Sheraton Guildford Hotel, 15269 – 104 Avenue, Surrey. Free parking for members attending AGM.

WEBCAST: Live at this link.
It should be an exciting AGM this year, because we'll hear the results of the battle for the hearts and minds of Coast Capital members, between the incumbent Board and some challengers (whom I support). You can see what it's all about in my March 16 blog post.

See you there!

Friday, April 25, 2014

@MEC pretends to be a #democracy -- AGM report

Mountain Equipment Cooperative announced its director election results at the 2014 Annual General Meeting yesterday (April 24). While claiming to be improving the election process, the incumbent board now exercises great control over who gets elected. Not only do they put their candidate recommendations on the ballot, but they also prevent some candidates from being on the ballot at all.

For this year's election to fill 4 director seats, the board recommended these 8 candidates:
Ellen Pekeles
Dale Mills
Gord Howe
Doug Brownridge
Daniel Blanche
Tamara Paton
Jonathan Gallo
Bill Gibson
They also allowed onto the ballot these 6 candidates, whom they did not recommend:
Jake Burlet
Pat Maher
Stephanie Bird
Bob Brent
Alex Beaskow
Tom Webb
These 4 were announced at the AGM as having been elected:
Ellen Pekeles
Tamara Paton
Jonathan Gallo
Daniel Blanche
As you can see, only "recommended" candidates were elected. I've documented elsewhere how boards can and do use on-ballot recommendations to ensure that the only candidates who get elected are those that do not challenge the incumbent board. This reduces the board's accountability to members, which opens the door to corruption.

The board chair claimed at the AGM that these recent election rule changes are "good governance" recommended by "experts". The "expert" he cited is often hired and paid by boards, and often gives advice to increase boards' power. I emphasized the obvious self-serving bias in a letter to FICOM, the regulator for B.C. credit unions: It is natural for directors and their payees to say: "To improve governance, we should give more power to directors."

But the MEC board has gone much further than the credit unions I wrote to FICOM about. As we saw last year, they used their new power to prevent a highly qualified candidate from even getting onto the ballot. So we only get to choose among candidates who don't rock their boat.

I thank Melissa Fong for sharing this quote from Noam Chomsky in a recent tweet:
"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."
One of the fundamental principles of co-ops is: "Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members". Which raises the question:
Is MEC a co-op?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Vote for Member #Democracy @Coast_Capital Credit Union

SUMMARY:                         [中文]

To control excess director pay and restore member democracy at Coast Capital Savings Credit Union, I recommend voting:
AGAINST the Board's resolutions (numbered 1, 2, 3, 4)
FOR the member resolutions (numbered 5, 6, 7, 8)
(Resolutions booklet here.) In the director election I recommend voting for three candidates not recommended by the Board. I'm voting for Lisa Barrett, Bruce Batchelor and John Fryer.

Vote now through April 8: You can fill in the paper ballot and submit it at any branch. Or vote online at log in, then click Online Voting tab at lower left. (Joint account members and business members can't vote online, so must use the paper ballots.)

Please spread the word to your friends who may be among Coast Capital's 500,000 members in southwestern British Columbia.

In 2007, the Board persuaded members to let the Board set its own pay based on a pay "philosophy" document. By 2011, the Board had raised its pay to more than double that of Vancity Credit Union's Board -- details here. (Vancity is similar to Coast Capital in size and location. Both have about 500,000 members.)

Members were unaware of this dramatic rise in director pay, until in 2013 two members created the Coast Capital Compensation Watch website, and gathered over 400 member signatures to put this resolution on the ballot:
"Be it resolved that, the members of Coast Capital Savings Credit Union establish the remuneration for the Directors of the credit union and that the amount paid to each Director is published in the Annual Report."
The Board put the member resolution and its supporting statement on pages 10 and 11 of this 12-page booklet, most of which was designed to persuade members to vote against the resolution. Examples of the Board's spin:
Page 5: " are being asked to vote on a special resolution brought forward by a member named Phil Embley..."
-- No mention of the over 400 members who signed petitions in support of bringing the resolution to members' vote.

Page 5: "...every three years the Board Governance Committee works with an independent external compensation consultant who reviews director compensation..."
-- Of course, the "independent" consultant is selected by the Board.

Page 8: "Coast Capital advises our members that some of the facts alleged in the [resolution's supporting] statement are inaccurate and misleading."
-- They gave no specific backup to this accusation, in spite of the many pages of their arguments in the booklet where they could have done so.

Page 9: "Vote “Against” if you agree with the 2007 member-approved approach to establishing director compensation"
Fortunately, members were able to see through the Board's spin, and voted 79.7% in favour of the member resolution! Voter turnout in 2013 set a new record of over 23,000 compared with less than 14,000 in 2012 and less than 20,000 in 2011.

Recognizing that excess pay indicated a lack of Board accountability to members, a group of concerned members (including me) worked with Phil and Scott at Compensation Watch to review Coast Capital's governance rules. We were dismayed to learn how the Board had written the director election rules to give themselves effective control of who gets elected, while maintaining a facade of democracy: They put their chosen candidates first on the ballot (in bold face, flagged as "recommended"), and prohibit campaigning. Candidates are not allowed to mention their candidacy on the web or by email or in the media, else they will be disqualified -- see 2014 Campaign Regulations (especially rules 4, 5, 6, 7). For data and analysis of how recommendations on a ballot affect elections, see my letter to the B.C. Financial Institutions Commission.

So we drafted four resolutions to help re-establish member democracy:
  • 12-year director term limit.
  • Disclose pay of top 3 executives.
  • Allow director election campaigning.
  • Set specific pay for directors, at Vancity's pay levels.
Several of us also offered to run for election to the Board, even though in 2014 we would still be subject to the ban on campaigning.

As in 2013, we had to gather signatures from at least 300 members to get these resolutions on the ballot. We got over 400 signatures on each. Here's a photo of me helping deliver them on January 24:

This year, the Board realized it would take more than spin to sway member votes their way, so they drafted four resolutions with the same headings as our four, and placed them ahead of ours on the ballot. Again, they drafted the member voting information booklet with many pages of their spin. Here's a link to the booklet and some rebuttal to their arguments:

Page 3: "Four individuals are bringing forward disruptive Special Resolutions ... which will threaten our great products and services."
-- All four of our resolutions are already in effect at successful financial institutions. Vancity's pay levels attract well qualified directors, who run for election with campaigning allowed. 12-year term limits are a well accepted practice, as is disclosure of executive pay. Each resolution is well supported by the statements on pages 6, 8, 10 and 12 of the booklet. On the contrary, a lack of accountability can threaten the success of a financial institution, as the 2008 financial crisis showed us, so we should strengthen accountability of Coast Capital's Board to us, the members. Similarly, a "democratic deficit" in the UK Co-operative Group was a causal factor in their 2013 scandal.

Page 3: "These individuals are aligned with a small special interest group known as Coast Capital Compensation Watch. Their name is misleading. This group is not the voice of your credit union. It represents the views of only a few supporters – not Coast Capital’s 512,000 members."
-- 79.7% of voting members said that last year's Compensation Watch resolution represented their views better than the arguments of a small group known as Coast Capital's Board. That small group seems to have a special interest in increasing its pay and its grip on power. More members voted for the 2013 Comp Watch resolution than ever voted to elect any of the current directors.

Page 5: "The Individual Resolutions are unnecessary and costly."
-- These resolutions were made necessary by the Board's unreasonable pay increases and unfair election rules. Compare 2011 Vancity Board pay of $366,000 to Coast Capital Board pay of $750,000 and other comparisons here. Also, the resolution proponents have taken care to time their submissions to coincide with director elections, so as not to require a costly extra mailing to all members.

Page 7: "We're already implementing term limits this year."
-- The Board's Term Limit resolution was drafted after the members' Term Limit resolution, in response to it, so there's no "already" about it. It even refers to the members' resolution, giving itself the power to override if both are passed. How can they even be allowed to put their resolution first on the ballot? And the Board's resolution would ignore the 20-plus years that two directors have already served: "... only an individual’s years of service as a Director of the Credit Union beginning on or after April 30, 2014 will be counted..." (page 16) So those two directors would have served at least 32 years each before their "12 year limit" resolution would term them out!

Page 9: "We already do this."
-- The members' resolution calls for disclosing the top three executives' pay individually, to the extent permissible by law. Coast Capital is only disclosing the sum of the top nine executives' pay, which hides information by lumping it together, as explained in the supporting statement on page 8 of the booklet.

Page 11: "Keep our elections democratic."
-- It amazes me that anyone could consider it democratic to silence election candidates and control voter information as tightly as this Board now does -- see 2014 Campaign Regulations (especially rules 4, 5, 6, 7). Even the organizations I criticized in the paper We Want Our Co-ops Back do not silence candidates as Coast Capital does.

Page 13: "Your Board also commissioned an independent member task force to review the credit union’s philosophy that sets Director pay."
-- The Compensation Task Force process was orchestrated by another "independent" consultant chosen by the Board and Board-overseen staff. It concluded by proposing another pay "philosophy" that would continue to give the Board leeway in setting its own pay -- more on that at this Comp Watch page.

[About the author of this post: Mark Latham is a Vancouver-based financial economist (cv: specializing in governance reform of co-ops, democracies and corporations. He was appointed by the Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to represent individual investors on the SEC’s post-financial-crisis Investor Advisory Committee.]

[Last updated on 2014-04-06.]