With shared ownership and consensus-based decision making at its core, you might expect a cooperative-run business as large as Capitol Hill’s Central Co-op to be a drama-filled battlefield of personal conflicts. You know, like Survivor or Real World Seattle. The Co-op, standing at Madison and 16th Ave since its 1999 move from 12th Ave, instead, has been a remarkably stable entity for its decades on Capitol Hill. But there will be a different mood this weekend when a group of member-owners including some staff tells CHS it will begin a membership petition for the ouster of two co-op board members.
“People were scared, they were misinformed, and not enough people with knowledge felt they could come forward,” said Levi Stewart about what he says has been a long series of transgressions by Central’s elected board of trustees.
Stewart and members calling themselves Concerned Owners of Central Co-op are demanding the recall of two board trustees including the current president Kristina Kokonis and will mount the petition drive for support prior to the board’s February meeting.
It’s a rare moment of acrimony for the co-op which recently added new general manager Dan Arnett and underwent an overhaul of its market and brand. Kokonis has not responded to our request to speak with her while we were promised a statement from Arnett that we have not received.
The other board member targeted in the recall effort tells CHS she is disappointed about the energy being spent but supportive of owners exercising the “basic principle of cooperatively owned businesses.” Here’s board treasurer Claudia Kienholz:
Democratic owner control is a basic principle of cooperatively owned businesses around the world, including Central Co-op, and I support the right of every owner to exercise this democracy. I haven’t seen the actual petition you mention. Personally, I’m very sad to see that this has diverted time and resources away from the critical strategic work we are just beginning.
Removal of the two longest serving elected trustees would leave our eleven-member Board with seven trustees, only four elected by the ownership, and none having served longer than 16 months. I’m committed to continuing my work to advance Central Co-op’s capacity to thrive in pursuit of our purpose. I believe that our owners will be better served if the current Board is able to continue the work we have in progress together throughout our terms.
Stewart’s group has compiled a 19-point list of transgressions and improper conduct he says Kokonis and Kienholz are responsible for. They range from specific instances of misuse of funds to more general complaints. “Continuously demonstrate a lack of trust and respect for staff. Including personal and unprofessional attacks on individual staff people,” reads one.
So far, the board members have said their hands are tied. “The Board does not have a policy or process in place for removing a trustee, except through an unresolved attendance issue,” the response to the group reads following a discussion on the situation earlier this month. “A trustee must choose to resign.”
The elected board positions are not paid but those elected do receive a monthly stipend. Stewart is a paid Central Co-op employee and said he has been part of the market for more than three years.
Central Co-op is an independent grocery cooperative but is also open to non-members.