January, February and March board meetings
Your North Coast Co-op Board of Directors has had a lot on its plate recently, and our meetings are always packed with important discussions and decisions. I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to all the members and employees who have attended our meetings and offered their comments to the board over the last few months. For those of you who didn’t make it to a meeting, here are some of the highlights.
Facing Financial Challenges
As Co-op members are probably aware, the Co-op has faced significant financial challenges over the last six months. Sales have been significantly lower than prior years, and our available cash on hand has slipped below comfortable levels. This has been a constant topic of discussion at board meetings, where the board has received updates from staff and provided direction for additional steps to take.
Thanks to the hard work of staff and the support of Co-op members and the board, there has been significant progress made toward addressing our financial challenges. We have informed our members about the issues and asked them to spend and invest more at the Co-op—and the numbers show that they’ve heard us and stepped up in a big way. We have lowered our expenses as much as we can while working to minimize and mitigate the impacts on employees and shoppers. We have adopted much more aggressive cash management strategies. We’ve invested in new prepared foods capacity in Eureka, and early sales numbers show this investment paying off. We’ve worked to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of all aspects of our operations. We’re not in the clear yet, but we’re in a much better place than we were a few months ago.
Ensuring Safety and Security
Employees from the Eureka store attended the board’s February meeting to discuss concerns around security, now that we no longer have security guards present in the store. The board discussed this issue extensively and continues to do so. At the March meeting, the board approved a recommendation from the Member Action Committee to “direct staff to address safety concerns with actions that can be implemented in the short term, including improved lighting, better camera placement and placement of security mirrors.”
General Manager Melanie Bettenhausen updated the board about plans for sensitivity/de-escalation training for staff from John Shelter of New Directions, and about the financial and logistical difficulties associated with bringing security guards back to the stores. The safety of the Co-op’s employees, members and shoppers is a top concern for the board and the management team. If you have additional questions, concerns, or suggestions about this topic, please let us know.
At its meetings in January, February and March, the board discussed a proposal from National Co-op Grocers (NCG) to send an advisor to us free of charge, who would provide advice to improve our financial situation. The board was interested in the possibility of free advice, but many board members had concerns about hidden strings that might be attached to the proposal. With that in mind, the board sent the proposed contract with NCG to our attorney for review, seeking the following assurances: (a) we wouldn’t be obligated to follow any advice NCG might provide, if we disagree with it; (b) the goals of the relationship would align with our own financial benchmarks; and (c) there would be maximum transparency and oversight of the NCG advisor by the board.
At the March meeting, the board reviewed our attorney’s suggested revisions to the proposed contract and voted to send it to NCG along with a request for references from other co-ops which have entered into a similar arrangement. If NCG accepts our terms and provides references, the board plans to make a final decision about the advisor proposal at its April meeting.
The Best Person for the Job
General Manager Melanie Bettenhausen’s current contract expires in November of this year. At the end of 2018, in consideration of the many challenges currently facing the Co-op, Melanie recommended that the board open a full General Manager search. Melanie plans to re-apply, and the board may or may not re-hire her. Either way, we will have ensured that we have the best available person filling this critical position.
Discussion of the General Manager search process is ongoing at board meetings this year. In January, the board appointed an ad-hoc committee to create a work plan for the search. In February, the board approved the work plan as well as a proposed budget for the search and appointed a Search Committee. The Search Committee consists of Treasurer James Kloor, Secretary Leah Stamper, Board Member Cheri Strong, and myself.
In March, the board discussed and tentatively adopted lists of high-priority competencies, skills, key experiences and personal attributes of an “ideal candidate” for the General Manager position. The board is scheduled to adopt a final “ideal candidate” profile in April, and the job will be posted in May.
Open Board Seat
Board of Director’s member Mary Ella Anderson resigned in February, leaving a general-member seat open. The board put out a call for letters of interest in the position and plans to consider appointing someone to fill the seat at its April meeting. Any appointed board member would serve only until the scheduled fall election, unless they were re-elected by the members.
The Board meets the first Thursday of every month at 6pm, alternating between Arcata and Eureka. Members are always welcome, and full meeting minutes from each meeting are always available in the next month’s meeting packet.