Saturday, August 31, 2013

@modo_carcoop meeting Sept 23 to vote on rule changes #coop #democracy

Vancouver-based Modo the Car Co-op is having a Special General Meeting of members on Monday September 23, to vote on eight resolutions proposed by the Modo board, for changing the co-op's rules:

  • Resolution 1: Correction of oversights or typographical errors; clarification; and removal of obsolete or redundant items
  • Resolution 2: Create a Nominations Committee and define its accountabilities
  • Resolution 3: Create alternatives to in-person voting at annual meetings for elections
  • Resolution 4: Create an option to use alternative voting systems in elections
  • Resolution 5: Permit the co-op to pay interest on members’ shares
  • Resolution 6: Permit an organization to become a Business Member of the co-op, and to appoint a Delegate to represent it
  • Resolution 7: Authorize the Board to invest funds with reference to an Investment Policy
  • Resolution 8: Change the name of the co-op to Modo Co-operative
Full details (text of new rules, reasons etc) are accessible only to Modo members (like me) logged in at

As you can see from my posts on this blog for the past year and a half, I've been very critical of the boards of some large co-ops, which have persuaded their members to approve rule changes that shift power from members to the board. The boards have not described it to members as a power transfer, but in substance that's what it is. The changes undermine Co-operative Principle #2 -- democratic member control -- and open the door to corrupt abuse of power by boards. Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is a prime example.

So I'm happy to report that, as far as I can tell, the rule changes proposed by Modo's board would strengthen, not weaken, member democracy.

When I first saw Modo's list of resolutions, my biggest worry was Resolution 2 -- creating a board-appointed Nominations Committee. If a Nom-Com has the power to block members from running for election, for example based on the nom-com's subjective assessments of candidates' skills (like at MEC), then that would seriously disempower members, letting the board undercut democratic competition and thus accountability.

Fortunately, Modo's board is not proposing to give the Nom-Com such veto power:

Wording of new Rule 9.05A
The Directors must appoint a Nominations Committee. The Nominations Committee shall:
(a) Invite Members to submit nominations;
(b) communicate to Members the Directors’ views on the desired skills, experience and other attributes needed at this time by Directors of the Association;
(c) identify and recruit candidates so that the number standing for election exceeds the number of vacancies;
(d) receive nominations and verify that nomination papers are in order and that the candidate is eligible to serve as a Director;
(e) hold a meeting of all candidates to review the election process and timing;
(f) approve for publication to Members the list of candidates and the candidate statements they have provided.
It seems to me that the above wording serves the legitimate goal of encouraging the selection of candidates that will bring valuable skills to the board, without giving the board a way of eliminating competition and entrenching itself.

Resolution 3 would bring an even more crucial improvement: voting via internet (and/or other means) without having to attend the annual meeting in person. When I attended the January 2013 Modo AGM, I was surprised to see that the directors of an 8,000-member organization are elected by only about 70 people willing to take the time to show up. I don't blame the others for not showing up -- people have busy lives. Internet voting should greatly increase voter turnout and democratic legitimacy.

Legitimacy, however, also depends on voters being well enough informed. That too is hard to achieve when people are busy. Internet voting must be accompanied by a well designed internet voter information system. Such a system has to balance busy voters' preference for speed and simplicity, with enough depth and variety of insight to ensure intelligent choices and competition.

Unfortunately, this system design challenge gives boards another opportunity to shift power from members to boards, by controlling the information flowing to members when they vote. Boards at some large co-ops seem quite willing to take advantage of the opportunity. Vancity Credit Union, for example, displays the board's recommended candidates first on the ballot, with the word "Recommended" next to them. I showed how that affects voting results, in this letter to the B.C. Financial Institutions Commission.

Instead of letting the board monopolize information to voters, any members' opinions about candidates could be shared in an online forum. Insightful and helpful opinion sharing could be further encouraged by competitions like those tested successfully at the University of British Columbia's student union -- see Experiments in Voter Funded Media.

I welcome discussion on any of the eight resolutions, via comments below or email to mark[at] Some discussion has also begun on Modo's Facebook page.

See you (well, maybe 70 of you) at the SGM!

No comments: