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Food Fights

By Blair Jackson |

A firm divide amongst the seven Ozark Natural Food board members has created a majority alliance that recently resulted in the termination of general manager and longtime employee Alysen W. Land.

The decision to fire Land was made during a board meeting March 26, when four board members  — Jim Roughton, Kathryn Scherer, Sue Graham and Linda Ralston — voted to remove Tuesday Eastlack and Colleen Pancake from their respective positions of president and vice president.

The majority then put Roughton and Scherer in their stead and carried on with a revised meeting agenda that included an executive session, the result of which was the termination of Alysen Land.

Land, who was officially terminated without cause, has been described by various people as having a “strong personality” and experienced a similar conflict with last year’s board. The previous board attempted to fire Land, alleging that she had created a hostile work environment among her staff.

As the current board gave no cause for the reasons behind Land’s dismissal, it leaves only room to speculate to the actual reasons behind her termination. There was no succession plan in place, other than the one Land herself had created, which promoted Mike Anzalone to the position.

A blanket statement from the Board reveals that, similarly to the decision to terminate Land, they needed no cause to demote Pancake and Eastlack from their positions.

“All officers serve at the pleasure of the Board and any officer may be replaced when, according to the

Photo by Blair Jackson: Celi Birke shops in the cereal aisle at Ozark Natural Foods.

bylaws, it is in the best interest of the cooperative. Various actions … by the previous president and vice president influenced the decision of the Board to replace Tuesday and Colleen. The bylaws do not require any violation of duties since the officers serve at the pleasure of the board.”

The decision to remove Eastlack and Pancake from their positions as president and vice president was twofold as it allowed the majority to create an agenda to terminate Land as well as to cancel a special meeting that was scheduled to take place later in the week.

The special meeting was called by Eastlack during her presidency in response to fellow board member Garrett Brown’s petition. The agenda of the meeting was to discuss the dismissal of two board members: Sue Graham and Linda Ralston. Eastlack consulted with the ONF lawyers on how to proceed, but the majority says it was never clear exactly why Graham and Ralston were being petitioned for removal.

“The petition reasons given were very vague and legally insufficient for removal,” reads the blanket statement issued in reference to grievances against Graham and Ralston.

Brown said members of the staff cited harassment and abuse from the board members, but Brown could not go into details because it would be a classified personnel matter.

“Grievances have been filed against Linda, Sue and Jim based on their interactions with staff,” said Brown.

The special meeting was canceled on Monday, giving members only 48 hours notice of the change. In an email, Ralston dismisses the grievances as “bogus petitions of removal” and urges members to ignore the meeting as illegal.

The Board’s emphasis on legality is the result of the board’s new lawyer, John Eldridge III, who replaced Ozark Natural Foods legal counsel after the special meeting was announced in February. The attorney advised the board that the bylaw concerning director removal were “not proper and violated the state statute under with the co-op was created.”

“The state overcomes bylaws of what was once a buying club that turned into a cooperative,” said Graham in defense of her position that the special meeting was illegal.

Advised by the board’s attorney that no board members could be dismissed if no crime had been committed, the majority players deemed the meeting illegal and did not attend.

But many people did.

At least 175 owners shared information and concerns and opinions about the future of the co-op. And many people shared the sentiment that they wished they had been more involved.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XA5yjC8rTck[/youtube]

Employees of the Ozark cooperative pooled their funds to rent the meeting space, and after asking for donations to alleviate the costs, more than $800 was

donated to the cause.

The end decision was to use the extra money for the next special meeting, but with litigation undermining the validity of the meeting, the results of subsequent meetings could easily be overlooked by the board.

After validating that the voters were active members, the count of 175 votes represented a strong public opinion to dismiss the board members in question, at 143 voting to remove, 10 voting against and 22 undecided.

But to the board majority, the votes mean nothing.

“The meeting last night had no outcome. If anyone thinks there is, they are incorrect,” says Graham.

Though some may argue that adhering to state laws is a means by which to restructure bylaws, others would argue that the laws are being used to wield power and intimidate employees.

Marketing director Alexa Griff  was one of the employees who stood up at the special meeting. She spoke on behalf of her fellow employees who were “terrified of the board.”

Photo by Blair Jackson: Madalyn Watkins (foreground) is both an employee and shopper at Ozark Natural Foods.

“They heard that this lawyer had been telling [the board] that they are in charge of everything and they can fire you for whatever reason. One of the board members even told a staff member that they could fire her for wearing a green dress,” Griff continued. “I’m prepared for them to fire me for speaking tonight.”

 

During the same executive session during which it was decided to fire Land, another employee was also terminated. Stephanie Conway, part-time secretary, was fired without cause, and her position was absorbed by a former employee who had resigned under duress during Land’s leadership.

“I demanded answers,” said Conway, who was given no cause. “I loved that job. I love the co-op. I love doing that job, so I was extremely upset when I found out. I’ve been a dedicated employee for a long time.”

The majority says no decision was made to terminate Conway, but others say the vote was clear.

Conway has hopes that the board will vote to rehire her, and she will gladly take the position. “It is more than just a grocery store. A lot of people really care about the co-op.”

When the board was asked about Land’s termination in relation to other ONF’s employees job security, the majority of the board stated,

“Any employee of any company in the State of Arkansas who does not have a contract for employment is an ‘at will’ employee.  The Board has been advised that any employee at any company may be discharged without cause, provided it is not for a constitutionally prohibited reason like age, race, sex, religion, etc., so this discharge should not cause any employee to be concerned beyond what the law already provides.  The Board’s intent was to convey to the employees through the interim General Manager (IGM) that we did not intend to take further staff action. The General Manager, over the years, terminated employees in the same manner.”

Employee sentiment at the Thursday meeting was strongly in favor of Alysen Land’s leadership, and her business record and reputation in the national co-op grocer community is expansive. With more than a decade of general management experience, Land took the co-op from financially bankrupt to a multimillion dollar store.

Whether or not she would be willing to take the position if rehired, is unknown as Land was unavailable for comment.

Brown, whose term will end at the end of the current election cycle, says he thinks the root cause of the conflict between members of the board can be summed up in one word: “power.”

“I believe that the other four want more power and are doing whatever they can to get that,” he says.  “I want less power and less hands-on daily functioning of the store.”

“I don’t believe a board of seven owners is adequately trained or has the background to run a grocery store. I don’t have the experience or desire to run a grocery store at a micro-level,” he says, adding that it’s difficult to direct a GM when there’s no way to know how those orders play out and affect the organization.

This coup d’état will be the final feat of this board, as the election process is nearing an end.

To become involved with the co-op, you can visit Ozark Natural foods at 1554 North College Avenue in Fayetteville or you can visit their website at www.OzarkNaturalFoods.com.

 

OFFICIAL OZARK NATURAL FOODS STATEMENT

 

We are well aware that there is a conflict going on within our Board. This conflict is one that will likely work itself out in the next few weeks with the end of an election and the seating of new Board members. With 7 people serving on a Board to represent over 9,300, there are likely to be differing viewpoints and that can lead to issues. We are hopeful that these issues will all be resolved in a few weeks.

We only had about 4% participation in this current election and we would love to see that percentage greatly increase. We believe that owner involvement is important and necessary in the co-operative business model. We ask our 9,300 owners to get involved in the happenings of the Co-op. Involvement can happen through voting for our Board, attending Board meetings, running for our Board, and attending owner forums. The democratic process is the cornerstone of the cooperative business model. And when the ownership is engaged in the process, the direction of the co-op becomes clearer.

 

34 Comments

ONF employee April 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I would like to say from the standpoint of an Ozark Natural Foods employee who has worked for Alysen Land for two years: The staff loves Alysen. She takes care of us, she is like our mother. When she is threatened, we feel threatened. And we fear that without her, we will not be as great as we have been while under her wing. Also, the recent actions of these board members have been akin to bullying, and the chain of events leaves an indication of guilt of the two board members in question, Graham and Ralston. As staff, we only want to serve our community – for the good of the community, for the good of our co-op, and for our own good. Our goal each day is to serve our owners, but the goals of these board members is to run the store as they wish and do as they wish with the hard earned funds of the store. We just want to pay off our building, go debt free, and offer great food at the lowest possible prices we can.

Reply to this comment
Melissa Ryce April 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm

This article was not objective. Reasearch in the history of the GMs conflict with other boards needs to be closely examined. She stays behind the scenes and has her children, I mean staff go on personal attack of elected board officials To heck with firing her, I would have sued the pants off of her.

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Owner April 5, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Melissa- I think you forget an important fact; many staff are OWNERS. No one has to get the staff to go on “attack”.
As owners, we each have one vote. Staff or not, we are equal and we spoke loud and clear at the meeting.

Reply to this comment
Evan R. Press April 5, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I’m just wondering why they paid for a meeting space! The Jones Center, for one, would be a viable meeting locale…and it’s free…

Reply to this comment
Owner April 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm

We paid for the space because it is a central location. I for one, walk everywhere and I would have to get a ride out to the Jones Center.
As an owner, I am appalled that our voice at the meeting was unimportant to certain members on the board. We spoke loud and clear to dismiss Linda and Sue from their responsibility to the co-op.
I hope this will all end swiftly and we can get back to cooperation.

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Laurie April 9, 2012 at 8:38 am

The meeting place was the one already decided on for the meeting canceled (wrongly) by the board majority. It was only $150, and as the piece stated, it was paid for by the staff. The bigger question is why the board majority has spent over $12,000 of owners’ money in the last couple of months on this new attorney???

Reply to this comment
Susie Byrd April 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm

I do not have space in Evelyn Hills but I do have about 2100 sq. ft. of space just off North and Garland that I would be happy to let this group use for this intent any time. I have known the former GM for many years from many different perspectives, from GM to being the parent of my son’s best friend. Her management skills are in my opinion the reason the co-op is not only still in existence but is successful. I am appalled and outraged at her dismissal and saddened for the owners. Please feel free to reply and I will make myself and my building available for this purpose.

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onf refugee April 5, 2012 at 9:00 pm

i, for one, am pretty tired of all the ridiculous in-fighting caused by the former GM and i’m glad she’s gone…she created artificial alliances based on fear, scared her staff half to death with bogus allegations about mass firings and could not, for the life of her, get along with either the current or previous board. i think the fact that the ENTIRE former board resigned b/c of her lack of real leadership and ability to represent cooperative business decisions speaks volumes. it’s time to move on and get down to the business of why/how the Ozark Cooperative Exchange (ONF’s legal name) was founded – to provide great food at affordable prices to NWA families. when everyone is done fighting, i’d like to have my co-op back now. please and thank you.

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concerned April 6, 2012 at 7:37 am

Shame on you free weekly for hanging out Ozark Natural Foods dirty laundry. Maybe you could help alienate even more people from wanting to shop there. All you people who keep complaining through social media etc, if you cared about the coop you would not post this kind of stuff here and on Facebook. Is your goal to make ONF look bad? Is that helping the situation? Its making it worse. Deal with it with your meetings in a fair and respectful way. The coop will survive, you can help it by opening up your mind and start acting mature.

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ONFboardmember April 6, 2012 at 10:08 am

Owners of ONF and outside observers;
Below is an email exchange between an employee and Linda Ralston.
The exchange clearly shows the reasons for the petition for removal of Linda.
During the time she has served on the board, she has shown an incredible lack of respect, to the staff, the general manager, other board members, for the policies and bylaws of this cooperative and now the owners.
Linda Ralston and Susan Graham have ignored the voice of the owners and continue to intimidate staff and fellow board members. This was a hostile takeover with no attempt at communication or cooperation. Whatever their intentions, the effect has been as devastating as an orchestrated sabotage campaign.
As a board member, I feel harassed, abused and definitely NOT cooperated with. Their behavior is the antithesis of cooperative.
There has been a real lack of process and a great deal of disinformation put out by these ill informed board members.

———————————–
Linda,
I feel it is my duty as Owner Services Coordinator to speak for the owners that expressed themselves at the meeting that was held last Thursday night. I would like to point out that we had a higher owner attendance at that meeting than we did at the Annual Owner Meeting. 145 ballots were handed out to owners at the AOM and our quorum of 160 owners was achieved by using proxy ballots. At the meeting that was held on Thursday March 29th, we achieved quorum without the use of Proxy ballots. 165 active owners cast ballots on the questions of removal for you and Sue at that meeting. A greater number of owners showed up to the Thursday night meeting than came to our Annual Owner Meeting, and that cannot be ignored. Furthermore, I think that the facts surrounding the Thursday night meeting make the attendance number even more powerful.
The first fact I am speaking of is that Garrett called for the removal of you and Sue from the Board of Directors in vague terms. This caused confusion among the ownership and they wanted to know what was going on. The staff members were instructed to respond to any owner that asked about the circumstances involving the meeting with, “There is a conflict on the Board of Directors and you will have to come to the meeting to find out what is going on.” The fact that the staff was not allowed to speak about the issues seems to show that the owners that attended the meeting came because they wanted to know what was going on with their Co-op, and not because they had already formed opinions, or were told what to believe.
The second fact about the meeting is that you and Sue both took part in the vote for the cancellation of the Special Meeting. The integrity of the vote was compromised when you and Sue voted on the matter to cancel the meeting that was called for your own removal. Instead of standing up and defending yourself by explaining your side so that the owners could understand the happenings regarding all of this from your point of view, you cancelled the meeting. The owners had a right to know your version of the story and you not only failed to present it, but attempted to deny their right to hear the other side of the story as well.
The third fact regarding the meeting that occurred on Thursday, the 29th of March, is that a vote was cast for your removal. I realize that the legality of the vote is in question because of the circumstances about the meeting, but the voice of the ownership is not. 143 of the 165 votes cast were for the removal of both you and Sue from the Ozark Natural Foods Board of Directors. There were 10 votes cast that were against the removal of Sue and yourself, and 12 undecided votes. You cannot simply ignore the owners. Whether the vote is an official vote or not, the owners spoke loudly and you should listen. Instead of spending more Co-op money on legal fees, many Co-op owners have expressed their feelings that you and Sue should both consider resigning your positions as Directors on the Board of ONF.
Before concluding this message, a couple of other issues that are not necessarily related to the Thursday night meeting, also need to be addressed. The first is that the staff is scared and that is your fault. A cashier was told by you, personally, that she could be fired for the color of her dress. The legality of a termination based on someone’s choice of clothing is not the issue here. The issue is your leadership as a Board member. You have failed in your roll as a leader for Ozark Natural Foods and in doing so you have caused an environment of fear among the staff in the Co-op. Another valid reason for fear is the termination of Stephanie Conway, the Board scribe. The decisions that you and the Board have made recently have had a very negative effect on the staff and the Ozark Natural Foods cooperative in general. You should be ashamed of yourself.
In closing, I want you to know that Ozark Natural Foods is the greatest place I have ever worked. The open communication is amazing and I have never witnessed such a devoted staff. Unfortunately, this controversy is damaging the reputation of ONF in the community and especially among our owners. You, as a Board member, are supposed to make decisions in the best interest of the owners and your recent actions show that you are not only refusing to take their opinions into consideration, but that the owners’ opinions are of no concern to you. I have written this letter because I feel it is my duty to do so as Owner Services Coordinator. I admit that I am nervous about sending this to you because I feel it could cost me my job. I am not only sending this response to you, but to all Board members and staff, so that if I am terminated, everyone will know that it was not without cause, or for the color of my shirt, but for standing up for the owners of Ozark Natural Foods, which I feel is my responsibility.
Should you decide to stay on the ONF Board of Directors, I will meet with you about an owner forum because it is part of my job as Owner Services Coordinator.

Sincerely,

Tony Gray

——————————————————————————————
Tony,

First let me say that I did not intend to send my message to you and Alexa without copying Mike, which has been the usual protocol.
I am not aware if your copying the staff will automatically now go to Mike, so I’m adding him to this message.

I assure you that Susan and I are still legally full-fledged current directors and are more dedicated to our cooperative than ever before!
Just because another director brought forth bogus petitions in February and the President improperly and illegally allowed them to go forward without Board review is not my fault. Nor are the chain of events and the layers of costs that have followed. Susan and I along with the co-op’s attorney did our best to make them aware of the legal consequences. A blind eye was apparently turned on all this, allowing an illegal and improper domino effect that continues to tumble out of control, costing our co-op not only financially but emotionally throughout our membership and beyond. And for that I am deeply distressed by my fellow board members that they have led the chaos and the fear that is continuing to emerge.

When I talked with cashier “M” recently at the registers, she asked me to explain Alysen being released “without cause”. You know me, Tony, I am a very friendly person and have always strived to help others in the store, especially now as a director. So in my attempt to answer “M”, I used an example that Jerry Huddleston shared with some of the directors before–his example used the color of someone’s shoes. I followed Jerry’s explanation then and stated that an employee in Arkansas could be released because of the color of one’s dress.
Of course no employer would be so foolish as to tell an employee that was actually the reason they were fired. Obviously “M” misunderstood what I was trying to explain and it has now gone viral, wow!
I know now that anything I say may likely be held against me and I am amazed by the mis-interpretations. So if the staff truly fears that the board would really take such meaningless action against a staff member, I hope all being copied on this email will serve to put the staff’s minds at ease that that kind of action will not be taking place nor has it ever.

It’s obvious to me that the owners are again concerned, confused and upset and no one seems to know the bigger truthful picture.
For that reason, I am anxious and excited to help bring about a series of owners’ forums as soon as possible. That’s the reason why I wanted to know about the status of the May forum. Can you tell the directors if this has been placed on the calendar yet?

I also take my responsibility to the owners very seriously. I am totally dedicated to them and will continue to serve them to the best of my ability–by asking questions, researching, educating/enlightening myself and others, and communicating with as many of them as possible. They deserve the full truth and deserve to be involved much more fully in the future of our co-op!

with free flowing cooperative optimism,

Linda

Reply to this comment
Wilma April 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I am an owner and I attended the special meeting to find out what was behind the rumors flying around. I wanted real information including relevant history of GM/Board relations that had resulted in the dismissal of Land and the changes to the Board.

What I got instead was a meeting run by staff and Board members opposed to Ralston and Graham. More than one former Board member who dared to speak up in order to bring some perspective on background issues was loudly booed and interrupted by staff and management.

At one point Huddleston tried to shout down a former Board member as she responded to a question from the floor about the recent dismissal of a very long-time ONF staffer– Huddleston shouting from the floor that personnel matters were not to be discussed. So under the guise of protecting the rights of a staffer, he attempted to obscure relevant information from the membership at large and intimidate members outside the staff/management cabal. Hardly democratic.

Indeed it has been almost impossible to find an objective source of information about all this. Rank and file staffers seem to want to assert their ‘right of expression’ to do and say whatever they want and the Interim General Manager has encouraged and assisted them in this.

But let’s be clear – the staff, by virtue of their contacts within the store, have inside information and a conflict of interest that set them apart from the vast majority of ONF members.

One might wonder in fact whether staff who were vocal in their disagreement with management on the Ralston/Graham issue would be placing their jobs at risk. Every statement I heard made by staff workers at the meeting were unanimous in condemnation of Ralston and Graham. Are we to believe that job security had nothing to do with their enthusiasm for management’s position?

There are so many issues to be clarified. The special meeting only served those insiders who minds were made up. As a long time member I say the staff needs to be reigned in and restrictions placed on their ‘rights’ to run meetings and monopolize the information stream. Management is not doing its job in this regard and is perilously close to being seen as fomenting discord within ONF for its own ends.

Hear this, managers at ONF: You are not serving the best interests of the membership or the store by allowing this kind of activity to continue.

ONF, the store we all love and have supported thoughout years of ridiculously high prices, will survive this crisis at it has so many others regardless of who sits in the GM chair or the position of any given management person or staffer. Those of you running things should take great care not to sabotage ONF at this very delicate time.

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Fred F. April 6, 2012 at 1:02 pm

In order for ONF to become the organization we know & love, I think we need to get our hearts & minds around the following picture:
Organically (legally speaking) the Owners come together in order to benefit themselves (the Mission) (not *pay what the market will bear.*) For this reason ONF is taxed on its profits–it is not a non-profit org.
In forming a Cooperative, the Owners (actually the Funders of the org.) Elect a Board which will hire the manager who they think is most capable of fulfilling the Mission of ONF. The manager then hires the folks to help in this Mission. As Wilma so aptly points out the fact that the Staff are also Owners is a confounding situation since most of us are unable to wear two hats @ the same time–which might get sorted in court.
The Board is responsible for all Balance Sheet matters: long-term planning, risk management, investing (including buying buildings), the payment of Dividends to the Owners, etc. They also oversee Budgets presented by Management.
The fact that the Board did not tell management that the decision to “pay off the mortgage” is none of management’s business–is to all of our discredit. The fact that this idea of “debt-free” has any currency at all, speaks to the financial ignorance of all of us.
Management should have its hands full with personnel and operations (Income Statement affairs) and have little time for all of this other nonsense.
The fact that the Manager

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Wendel April 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm

When an ONF employee states that the General Manager is “like our [the employees’] mother”, he/she may be on to something.

If employees see themselves as a Family, under the “wing” of the General Manager, they may have lost sight of their status as paid employees with job descriptions and legal rights .

Employees are on site many hours a week, under management’s thumb, and close to the path of management’s discourse, and as long as they feel comfortable being led and sheltered they have faith in what they’re told.

I haven’t heard employees ask to see financial statements or any other documentation of what’s behind the ongoing dissension. I hear only: Board bad, Management good. And “I may lose my job.”

Is it possible that employees have been fed a bit of a line and reiterate it without question? Owners who are not employees of ONF aren’t caught in the same conflict of interest (job security versus free inquiry) and so we owners are the ones who need to push for the facts. The Free Weekly has done a great service by looking so well at some of them. Thanks.

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naturalfoodfan April 6, 2012 at 2:31 pm

As someone who worked for the co-op, I think these are old political issues that are very deep rooted. There has always been problems there. That place runs off favoritism as bias’. I don’t think Alysen has done much for a long time. Really, Mike Anzalone’s pretty face is a giant part of the problem too. Look at what he has done, and who he has fired that worked there SOOO long. I think people who work there have generally not been able to voice concerns to Mike or Alysen. If you were to voice it, and disagree you are sure to be fired or treated poorly.

Reply to this comment
James Selvey April 7, 2012 at 10:34 pm

As an owner and a former staff member I have to say that this “divide” was created by Ralston, Graham,Roughton,and Scherer. So naturalfooffan I am not sure why you had the experience you had but I have found that Mike, Alysen, and all of the staff truly care for one another and wish to see the co-op thrive. I personally found Mike, and Alysen to be honest, ethical, and caring when it came to how they interacted with the staff at ONF. I am a former staff member because I had to take a medical leave and could not return. Otherwise I would still be there. Just because you had a poor experience does not mean the management team did a poor job. I have always found that when something like this occurs the people at fault point fingers at others and ignore the problem in the mirror. The actions of Ralston, Graham,Roughton,and Scherer are nothing more than a power grab. I have even heard comments from national co-op board members on how well Alysen and her team have done. This entire incident deeply saddens me and those aforementioned board members are trashing the otherwise stellar reputation of the co-op. Please aforementioned board member act like adults, shut up, resign your positions, and allow this co-op to heal and continue to serve the community that so deeply loves it.

Reply to this comment
Co-op Employee April 7, 2012 at 11:39 am

Regarding the “mass firings”: for as long as I have worked here (6 years) there has been no talk of that. The only ones who have outright declared that they can fire anyone they want have in fact been Ralston and Graham. So yes, this has to do with job security, but not the way ‘Wilma’ thinks. Rather, we have been put in a hostile work environment in which the Board Members in question tell employees that they have no voice.

The “dismissal” of the longtime employee spoken of was not a dismissal, but rather a resignation. The reason Huddleston would not speak of that persons discontinued employment was because in doing so, he would have violated the confidentiality agreement between HR and that employee. As an HR representative, Huddleston is unable to speak specifics about the issue, as this could get him in legal trouble (obviously). Had that employee (who is now re-employed here, under the board, mind you) been present at the meeting, he could have spoken his piece. But without his presence it was not right to do so.

We “rank and file staffers” are also owners. We can do what we want while we are off the clock, not at the encouragement of the GM, but because we are people, too. Why should we be “reigned in”? Do we not have the same rights as any other owner? And does our “inside information” not illuminate certain areas outsiders would never see otherwise?

We did not monopolize the meeting by force. The four chose to “cancel” the meeting. Be aware, the two Board Members who had been petitioned for removal made up half of those four votes. If that’s not incriminating, I don’t know what is. A natural monopoly—if that’s what you want to call it—occurred when the four failed to show up, knowing that a gathering would still take place at the designated time and location. The four on the Board, if so innocent, are doing a huge disservice to themselves and the ownership by not speaking their peace.

Finally, ‘Wendel’ hasn’t heard employees ask about financial statements because Wendel doesn’t work here. Not every little thing, every little conversation, is carried out in the spotlight. I don’t hear every conversation you people have at work, and you won’t hear ours, either.

Reply to this comment
Owner/staff April 7, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Quoting Wendel

“I haven’t heard employees ask to see financial statements or any other documentation of what’s behind the ongoing dissension. I hear only: Board bad, Management good. And “I may lose my job.””

FALSE. As of this year, we have started open book financing. The employees are VERY involved in finances and we know what’s going on with them in the store. We also know when our cash on hand goes down $12000+ because of legal fees. If Sue and Linda had just made their case at the special meeting was cancelled, maybe this would have never happened. Oh wait, they got to be included in the vote that was supposed to determine their fate. Hmmm… not fishy at all.

Alysen is a wonderful team player and an award winning General Manager. Hell, she was/is the vice president of the National Cooperative Grocers Association.

Reply to this comment
Organic April 7, 2012 at 9:53 pm

This isn’t about Alysen. Everyone has it in their minds one way or another that this issue is about Alysen, but that simply isn’t true. Of course employees of the Co-op who were fired probably hate the Co-op. DUH, you were fired! I don’t know anyone who’s been fired from a job and appreciated the place. Yes, the Co-op has had problems with favoritism in the past (what work place doesn’t??), but if you look at the past 4 all-employee surveys, you see the score on favoritism, along with any other area, get better and better each survey. That means that the Co-op is working on what it needs to be working on.

Whether or not you like Alysen as a person has no bearing. Yes, she has a strong personality. She states her mind. If she was a man, that would probably be respected. But because she’s a woman, it’s seen as a threat or a negative thing.

Have you ever considered the fact that the employees may be standing up against the Board because they simply believe what the Board is doing is wrong? They’ve created a team of 4 who can vote for or against anything they want without the other 3’s opinions holding any weight. They’ve verbally abused staff, telling them they aren’t doing their jobs correctly, threatening that they can fire them, and so on. One Board member even made fun of a staff member who is dyslexic because she misspelled a word.

The staff aren’t stupid, naive, or scared. Each staff member is enabled to have their own opinion and to share it. AND the staff knows everything about the Co-op’s financials because of the new way the Co-op is being run that started in January called Open Book Finance. The staff holds weekly department meetings called “games” where they can see actual numbers from previous weeks in their department and forecast numbers for the upcoming weeks. They try to forecast as accurately as possible and then try to influence sales or whatever other number they are forecasting to meet their goals. The staff is more involved than ever in the store’s management and finances. Every meeting, even management meetings, are open to the staff.

Some of you see the staff as naive for rallying around Alysen and against the Board. This is them taking a stand for what they believe in. Some of you see the staff as scared of management, but more than ever, the staff and management are working together for the common goal of serving the community. There is no “us and them” scenario between staff and management. There is only the “us and them” scenario between the entire staff and the Board.

Unless you work at the Co-op or are on the Board, you DON’T know the inner workings of the Co-op or what’s really happening. You can’t expect to. You have to attend Board meetings, the Annual Owners’ Meeting, and owner forums in order to find out what’s going on. You have to read your bi-monthly newsletter in order to find out what’s going on. Shame on anyone who commented on here, or comments on the Co-op’s Facebook page, and acts like they have something to say or think they know something about this situation, but won’t get involved when given the opportunity.

If you are so passionate, GET INVOLVED. Go to Board meetings. Go to the Annual Owners’ Meeting. Go to owner forums. Read your newsletter. Check the website and blog. Talk with staff. Talk with the Board. Don’t hide behind your computer and talk about stuff you know nothing about.

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Co-op Employee April 7, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Is there a delay between submission time and the actual posting of the comments? I and some fellow staffers have left comments on here and they are not appearing. If there is no delay, it seems as though someone is censoring these message boards per their own agenda. Fishy how only negative comments are the ones that remain…

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Jasmine April 7, 2012 at 11:28 pm

I am in favor of the board being more open about their plans and hearing more of the owners in their decision making. Thus far the board has ignored everything we’ve said to them.

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Wilma April 10, 2012 at 10:02 am

I can’t help but notice that we have yet to hear from a current employee of ONF any viewpoint that dissents from management’s position. The question remains: can an employee who disagrees with management speak up without fear of reprisal?

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Wilma April 10, 2012 at 10:39 am

Also keep in mind that the financial success of ONF has largely been due to the fact that it has had the very rare advantage of operating with virtually NO COMPETITION.

Let’s get real–how hard it is to do well and make a General Manager look super astute when your business has what amounts to a monopoly? Is there any evidence at all that the current management team knows how to change it’s business model that has for decades been based on having no competition?

Because, as we all knew it would, the game is about to change. Competition, big corporate competition, is moving in and soon our beloved Co-op store will have to cope with life in a real- hopefully not predatory- competitive environment.

Customer loyalty is the prize that will ensure ONF’s future and that kind of loyalty is fostered by realistic lower prices and mutually beneficial local relationships.

Most long time ONF members have felt gouged for years being faced with horribly high prices while living in an area where wages are depressed.

If things don’t change at the top, if ONF continues to behave like its just another corporate profit-driven enterprise with a cooperative facade, then people will flock to Rogers. And what will happen to ONF then?

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Organic April 10, 2012 at 11:21 am

Wilma, have you ever thought that you haven’t heard a different opinion from any CURRENT employees because all of them agree with each other? They are the ones working at the Co-op, not you. They deal with the day to day issues, not you. THEY know how they’ve been treated by the Board, not you. THEY know how they’ve been treated by Alysen and management, not you.

And if you went to Board meetings, you would know that the management team has been and is continuing to work on competition planning. There have been multiple meetings/brainstorming/exercises/plans in which competition preparation is the topic. No manager at the Co-op is stupid – each manager knows that competition IS coming and that to not plan for it would be suicide for the Co-op. The managers have worked with management from other co-ops across the country who have had Whole Foods or similar competition enter their market place to get strategy ideas and implementation suggestions.

The Co-op is prepared. The staff have been working on plans for competition for over 2 years now. They are all qualified and have done an excellent job.

If you think you could do better, feel free to apply for a job.

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Wilma April 10, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Then why aren’t members informed? And don’t tell me to come to a Board meeting where Board members say things like “owners don’t know what’s good for them” and important information like the debt payoff is ordered to be kept secret. Its YOUR job to inform the membership.

So tell us now – what plans have been made for competition?

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Blair Jackson April 10, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Hi Wilma, I just wanted to share this link about the debt payoff. The issue was discussed in open session. I learned this from Garrett Brown during my research. As for Q’s about competition, I did get a few answers on that as well, but I think the Board would be able to answer them much more extensively. In brief, the opinion I heard was that by paying off the building, the co-op will be able to adjust financially to the competition. Their email addresses are on the Ozark Natural Foods Website. Good luck with your research. – Blair
JUNE: Alysen Land proposes the payoff. http://www.ozarknaturalfoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/June-Minutes-2011.pdf
JULY: Mike Anzalone outlines a plan to pay off the store. http://www.ozarknaturalfoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/July11.pdf

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Organic April 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Wilma, the management has been working on competition preparation for years. The biggest thing that is being worked on currently is under the Porter Five Forces model (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porter_five_forces_analysis) in which the staff has analyzed advantages and weaknesses of both the Co-op and potential competition. Once that analyzation was finished, the staff worked on idea to strengthen the Co-op’s weaknesses and to capitalize on the Co-op’s strengths, while also coming up with ideas to combat strengths of competition. That has led into a series of overarching themes that are now being worked out into individual plans that different departments will tackle. Obviously sharing the specific plans on a public forum such as this would not be smart – but if you’re an owner, you are more than welcome to come in any time to look at any of our business and strategic plans.

Whoever said that owners don’t know what’s good for them should not have said that. I understand what they meant – that if the ownership isn’t involved in day to day operations and strategic planning, they may not fully understand the implications of plans such as debt payoff, but how it was said was wrong. Owners SHOULD have a right to know what’s going on, and I agree with you on that point. However, no one was “ordered” to keep the debt payoff a secret, they were just asked to be careful who they talked to about it (it’s a strategic plan that, like any strategic plan, is sensitive).

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Wendel April 10, 2012 at 8:32 pm

One difficulty I’m having with these ONF discussions (here and elsewhere) is that, in thousands of words, there’s not a whole lot of useful information forthcoming from any level of staff or board.

In the place of what we owners (some too busy to follow all the advice offered) really want, that is, facts, we get :

1) Snide advice on how to behave (Don’t talk about stuff you know nothing about. Act like adults, shut up.) 2) Expressions of paranoia or self-righteousness (If I am terminated….., …someone is censoring these message boards, …the staff is scared) 3) condescending remarks (Shame on you. You should be ashamed of yourself. They are the ones working at the co-op, not you.) 4) Exaggeration or misinterpretation (A cashier was told that she could be fired for the color of her dress. The goal of these board members is to …do as they wish.)

And so forth.

One explanation for this phenomenon may be that regulations prohibit publication of genuine information, such as financial statement, strategic plans, etc. But, to understand the present dispute, it would be very helpful if the ONF web site included February 2012 and the missing 2011 minutes, for instance. Something else that might help would be a flow chart showing clearly and briefly who has responsibility for what and over whom. (The official “Ends” are pretty vague, and the detailed duties and prohibitions are overwhelming and confusing without a lot of patience and time.) Apart from a chart, specifically who is in charge of “strategic planning” to counter competition? Board or Management? And who is in charge of deciding how and to what ends money is managed? Board or Management?

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Organic April 11, 2012 at 8:12 am

The minutes would be posted to the website if the Board would get the minutes to the staff. However, they still have not sent them to the GM to be sent to the Marketing Director to be posted. As far as the missing 2011 minutes, February 2011’s minutes were not sent, and there was no March 2011 meeting because there was no Board to meet in March of 2011.

The Department Managers and the rest of the management team are in charge of strategic planning to counter competition. The Board obviously gives direction (like where they’d like us to be in 5 years if competition does come), but the management team as a whole figures out how to get us there.

As far as money, the management team comes up with a budget proposal for each year, that is then approved by the Board. When the Board approves it, the management team manages it. Recently, however, the Board voted to not allow any project spending to be done without their approval. So currently, the Board seems to be managing all money.

Finally, you say that you aren’t getting what you want, which is facts. The fact is, however, that some of the examples you used ARE facts (ex: “a cashier was told that she could be fired for the color of her dress”, that DID happen, and there were plenty of witnesses to it, and the Board member event admitted to it). How can we give you facts when you decide not to listen? The facts we’ve given are things you simply don’t want to hear. The staff does work at the Co-op, not you, so they DO know better than you about what’s going on.

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Wendel April 11, 2012 at 9:40 am

Thanks for your answers. I appreciate the information and your time. The first two paragraphs had me persuaded I might be wrong about staff’s perspective. The 3rd is confirmation that I wasn’t.

The “could be fired” quote was from the start, to most cool-headed readers/listeners, obviously an illustration of what Arkansas law allows, not of what the speaker intended to do.

Yes, of course the staff works at the co-op. And I don’t doubt they know more than I do about what’s going on. I would ask only that you/they be a little less abusive toward non-staff, funding owners who would like to learn more and who are as eager as staff to save ONF.

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Organic April 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm

I am trying hard to not be abusive, and apologize if it has come across that way. However, it’s hard when so many owners and non-owners are criticizing the STAFF during this situation, when the staff aren’t the ones who caused it. This started out as a divide among the Board that somehow crept down into the store realm. When the staff are constantly being yelled at and told that they’re opinions are wrong or don’t matter, it makes it hard to speak politely in response to that. However, I do apologize for coming across as abusive, that was not my intent. My intent is to fight for my job, the jobs of my coworkers, and for the Co-op to be success.

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