Wag the Dog, April 2, 2011



Oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία, oligarkhía) is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people…Throughout history, some oligarchies have been tyrannical, relying on public servitude to exist, although others have been relatively benign…Corporate oligarchy is a form of power, governmental or operational, where such power effectively rests with a small, elite group of inside individuals…Wikipedia


I think that a lot of the anger at and frustration with the board comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the board is and how it functions. As I’ve repeatedly said, WVH is an oligarchy, but many shareholders keep expecting a small town democracy like some sort of urban Mayberry RFD, with a well-meaning and kindly mayor, city council, magistrate and sheriff and a fishing hole somewhere out back. In that dreamworld, one group legislates, another administers and a third interprets and enforces the law. Checks and balances. America. Instead we have the WVH Development Corp where the rules are written and enforced by one small group, the budget is made and spent by the same small group, “taxes” (ie maintenance fees) are assessed and everything is administered by this tiny group in meetings that are closed to shareholders. It’s all by the book but Dorothy, we’re definitely not in Mayberry anymore.

So is there a way to make the co-op board responsive to the community and more like a small town government? I’ve thought a lot about this and I’m sorry to say that my conclusion is, “not really.” Shareholders really have only one mechanism for holding the board accountable–annual elections. But the power of incumbency makes elections tenuous, at best. Term limits would wire in more responsiveness and probably should have been written into our by-laws. A larger board might have allowed for more diversity of thinking and less concentration of power, but nobody asked for our input on the by-laws. With a 90+% threshold for amending our by-laws, we’ll never live to see either a larger board or statutory term limits.

But all is not lost. Shareholders could ask board candidates to commit to voluntary term limits and to sign a pledge that they won’t run for more than 3 consecutive terms. There are other pledges shareholders could demand, like for frequent and informal Q&A sessions with the board and more frequent formal shareholders meetings. While not legally binding, these pledges would at least be moral commitments toward more transparency and information sharing. I would sign pledges like these, but would shareholders vote against an incumbent who refused to sign or who violated a pledge?

Shareholder power is very limited, but it is still very real if people are willing to exercise it. Can we make the tail responsive to the dog?  I heard a fellow board member once say that the only way to make shareholders take the board seriously is with credible threats of eviction against people who don’t comply with the rules. The same is true for shareholders–the only way to make the board take the shareholders seriously is with a credible threat to “throw the bums out.” Do a majority of shareholders have an appetite for docking the tail when elections come around?


2 thoughts on “Wag the Dog, April 2, 2011

  1. I applaud what Maureen has written…she makes a point that an election to a board is a position of trust and not “petty authority”. She has also shown us that the real power in our co-op is in the collective shareholders and when our interests are not served and our trust in our elected neighbors has been violated it is more important than ever that we stick together. And perhaps if we do stick together that maybe, just maybe that the “Mayberry ideal” is within our reach.

  2. Maureen, Once again gives us, a sadly accurate, analysis of what we’re living with here, but she also gives us well thought out ideas and thoughtful roads to follow, in order to change the structure and to create a better life for us all. THANK YOU, Maureen!

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