LETTER: Disservice done to Kootenay Co-op’s longtime manager

Reader Deirdre Collier asks Co-op members to examine more closely the events of the past few months.

I am writing today to express my deep concern regarding the happenings at our Kootenay Co-op these past few months. I have been expressing my concerns in writing to the board of directors; I have been communicating with other member-owners; and I attended the public portion of the board meeting on May 26.

Sadly, I am left feeling like the heart of this issue is being avoided and I am very concerned about the precedent being set if we continue to sit by quietly and let this happen.

First and foremost, I am acquainted with and have had direct experience with several members of the board and I know their capacity for good intention.

I believe I have some understanding of how much work they have put into serving as board members. For this, I am deeply grateful! I also understand, however, that any person can get off track occasionally and become narrow in his or her focus, especially when influenced by the momentum of a group.

At this time, with the co-op’s undertaking a project of unprecedented proportions such as the Nelson Commons, it is especially wise to avoid narrow focus, and even more important to be open to new and more expansive and inclusive ways of visioning! Does this recent series of events demonstrate wisdom?

During the board meeting, the importance of bringing co-op employees to a “living wage” was discussed. The feeling was one of support at the co-op’s continuing role to pave the way as a fair employer. Although I completely agree with this, I also found it bitterly ironic. There is a process going on right in front of us that appears to be unfair and questionable on so many levels. And that process is how the board handled the situation with long-standing general manager Deirdrie Lang.

Without any instigation or agreement on her part, Deirdrie was stripped of her duties as GM and re-assigned to the finite position of Nelson Commons project co-manager, as of yet (to the best of my knowledge) without severance benefits, despite 28 years of service. The board then sent out a notice advising members, which glossed over the drastic and life-changing action and certainly left the impression to me that Deirdrie was on board with what had transpired.

In fact, that post was quickly edited and the photo of Deirdrie removed. I have yet to receive an answer to my question regarding why that happened, although I have asked on two separate occasions.

I have been assured via an email from Paula Sobie, member outreach committee chair, “Further to your questions about recognizing Deirdrie’s longstanding service to our co-op, please rest assured that the board supports Deirdrie in her new role and has every intention to honour her dedication to the co-op and her role in helping steward the Nelson Commons project.”

I am left wondering exactly how that “intention to honour” is, and will be, taking place?

At the board meeting, I learned from a past board member who spoke that, after an uprising of sorts several years ago, specific policies were put in place to guide board members through such an event to protect all involved, if ever such a thing were to happen again. The board didn’t respond to this during the meeting. It is the duty of the board to ensure policy is being followed and upheld so that employees are protected and ethics maintained. Did that happen in this case or not?

In a query about board minutes from February being redacted in May from the public post, I understood the board’s response to be that a member-owner pointed out the redacted information should have been discussed in an in-camera setting, not public, so the minutes were moved to the in-camera portion.

None of the board members noticed this before approving the minutes and posting it for membership to see. Why wasn’t this clearly explained to the membership once the redaction took place?

It appears the current leadership of the board is sadly inefficient in its capacity to be transparent, authentically communicative, and cooperative with its membership and perhaps even with each other. I see a significant opportunity here for the board to define a leadership role in our community and begin operating in alignment with these principles. This is an incredible chance to move forward in a truly inspirational manner! I have expressed this to the board, both in my letters and orally at the meeting.

I am fully in support of Leon Pigott’s suggestion to strike a panel to delve more deeply into what has transpired. If everything has been done in accordance to policy, ethics, and Canadian labour laws, as the board states, then there is no risk to abiding this request. (Also in Paula Sobie’s email: “The board feels very confident that our actions were in line with the co-op’s rules and policies, as well as the laws of Canada.”)

I ask the board once again, and I implore the membership to join me in asking, that a special meeting be held so that members may hear what the board has to say and that we may also be heard. We need to get back on track with our leadership and we, as member-owners are the ones to ensure that happens.

A great disservice has been done to a person whose stewardship has brought our co-op to one of the most successful in the country! Yes, change is inevitable. Yes, it is within the board’s scope to evaluate and determine the best fit for role of general manager. However, if the board has decided that it is now time for stewardship to be shifted, then, at least let that decision be made through a co-operative, respectful process that upholds policies and deeply honours the service of Deirdrie Lang, while communicating clearly to the membership along the way.

Our society has become dependent on apathy. Just take a look at our government’s lack of accountability! Good-hearted working people with full lives have very little time to invest and often feel discouraged as to their efforts making any difference. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I trust that we have the capacity to move forward in a proactive and inspirational manner.

Deirdre Collier

Nelson

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