Directors’ Perspectives on the CCMA Conference

Some 100 co-ops representing over 30 states made this year’s CCMA annual conference feel like a family reunion. We talked with cooperators whom we had not seen since last year or longer. We welcomed members of the co-op family we had not met. We learned about our past, celebrated our achievements, and vowed to cooperate to strengthen our individual and collective future.

Ann Hoyt, conference director and professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, was “astounded by how many directors attended the conference. We added tracks to be sure everybody could get in." Her colleague, Paul Hazen, now President and CEO of National Cooperative Business Association, noticed directors attended CCMA annual meetings in the late 1980s and added a Saturday track for director training. In more recent years, CCMA has offered director training on both days.

Directors appreciated three changes from last year’s conference: two director tracks, a workshop planned by directors, and identifying ribbons accompanying the name badges.

“I was very pleased that there were two board tracks.” said Beth Skinner, board president, Berkshire Co-op Market, Great Barrington, Mass., at her fifth annual meeting. With over 150 directors attending, “Now we can begin to connect the way GMs did years ago.”

Attendees put ribbons on their name badges to denote their director position, region, store sales range, and conference host status. Ribbons helped Joseph Golton, board treasurer of Ashland (Ore.) Food Cooperative, at his first CCMA annual meeting, “to pick the brains of the few co-ops that were larger than us.” Babs Steers, a director at People’s Food Co-op in La Crosse, Wis., observed, “It’s enlightening to learn that all co-ops go through the same problems.”

Michael Hartoonian, University of Minnesota, gave a keynote presentation that left directors energized about the heroic mission of co-ops to foster participatory democracy. “My job is to figure out how to bring it home,” said Fred Grieco, a director at Wedge Community Co-op, Minneapolis.

Workshops ranged from orienting new board members to management compensation, evaluating the general manager, and policy governance. After last year’s annual meeting, some board presidents and the Cooperative Development Services leadership team developed a web forum for co-op board leaders. In a similar vein, the Cooperative Grocer’s Information Network plans a listserve focused on assuring board effectiveness.

The Howard Bowers Fund, The Cooperative Foundation, CHS Foundation, and Northcountry Cooperative Foundation provided nearly 75 scholarships for conference attendees. Amira Moore, a director at H Street Food Co-op, a Washington, D.C., buying club that aspires to a storefront, could not have attended without a scholarship. Of the workshops, she reported, “The governance one helped me. The communication workshop will help me with the co-op and the rest of life.”

After attending his second CCMA annual meeting, Wanique Shabazz, board vice-president, looked forward to Sevananda Natural Foods Co-op, Atlanta, Ga., becoming “more policy-directed for the benefit of freeing up the general manager to operate the store.”

Directors, plan now to attend the 49th annual CCMA conference on June 9–11, 2005. Mark your calendar. Include CCMA in your budget. Consider sending more than one director so you can compare notes or split up to attend concurrent workshops. Watch the Cooperative Grocer for announcement of the location in the western United States.

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