2016 Board Elections Q&A: Stacy Onorata

Stacy Onorata
Stacy Onorata. Image courtesy Drea Leanza.

1. For leaders of organizations such as HWFC, what situations do you think require disclosure of important information to membership, and what situations do you think require confidentiality?

The HWFC is in a unique position in regard to confidentiality and transparency. Certainly all personal and personnel matters must be held in confidence. However, the HWFC is as close to a direct democracy as can be found in today’s world. All regular Board meetings are open to the Members and the Member Owners are the ultimate decision-making power and must be kept informed in order to exercise that right. Sensitive financial and operational information should not be withheld from the Member Owners. For example, recent disclosures about rent continuing to be paid on the closed Central Avenue store and exorbitant consulting fees needed to be revealed and publicly dealt with by the HWFC Board. It was ill-advised when the previous Board required Members working on organizational changes to sign confidentiality agreements. A different example would be salaries. No one person should have their exact salary published – as done with public employees – but the salary ranges for categories should be information to which the Membership, but not necessarily the public, should have access.

2. Give an example of how you have compromised in a group decision-making process.

We often use the word “compromise” when we should use the word “accommodate”.
When communication is open we can almost always appreciate and accommodate each other’s needs. As a mother, a teacher, and an attorney, I often accommodated the needs and wishes of others and they mine for everyone’s benefit. I see the HWFC as a big tent where there is much accommodation but never compromise of one’s principles. It just takes an open mind, open communication, and an open heart.

3. How can the Co-op survive financially without compromising its values?

Simply rectifying instances of financial mismanagement by the Leadership Team and past Board have allowed the current Board to save tens of thousands of dollars. The Board and management should continue these efforts. Then, if we also continue to have food that people can Trust, a staff and membership dedicated to Professionalism and Service, and foster Fairness and Happiness in the store, people will come, as they always have.

4. Per the Bylaws, Members have operational control over HWFC; what does that mean for Board members? Are you in favor of the Membership having the ultimate decision-making authority?

Absolutely. The HWFC is very close to being a direct democracy. That’s the way the Bylaws were written. The Board’s role is to inform the Membership, to lead in decision making, and to implement the direction set by the Members by taking actions such as installing and supervising the store’s management.

5. Over the past few years many staff members have talked about unionization. What are your thoughts on this?

We need to listen to our employees and work with them. The HWFC is in a unique position to make unionization unnecessary. Bylaw 100.6 states that one of the purposes of the Co-op is: “To practice and encourage fair employment policies.” If the HWFC lives up to its ideals and Bylaws it can make an outside agent (union) unnecessary by making sure that employees are treated with respect, included in the decision-making process, are treated fairly, and are given the best wages and benefits we can afford.

6. How can we make the Co-op more accessible to low income people in our community?

The greatest failure of the HWFC is that its good food is priced out of the reach of many. Whole, organic, ethical food is expensive. First, with better management we should look to lower our prices overall. Many member workers work to afford high-priced food. What can others, on a limited income but without extra time to work for a discount, do? Section 150.1 of our Bylaws provides that the “ HWFC is committed to providing the most nutritious food obtainable at the lowest price…” I would consider it acceptable for our essential foods (vegetables and fruit, eggs, milk, whole grains and breads, some bulk items, and some meat or fish) to be sold at, or a little below cost and be subsidized by upscale purchases (prepared foods, expensive cheeses, supplements). Alternately, HWFC could investigate a program similar to one tried in Massachusetts where SNAP benefits were doubled when used for purchases of whole, fresh foods at farmers’ markets. Without government subsidies this could be difficult but merits exploration.

7. How would you empower the HWFC staff to participate in store management decisions?

The Board’s “Reach out” Days were a good start. Open communication from the staff to management and the Board is key. When employees can speak freely, without fear of reprisal, to officials at the highest levels they feel empowered. In many organizations the Human Resources department trains managers in effective techniques for including staff in decision making. Leaders and managers should share ideas, values, and plans with staff. When employees are consulted they feel valued and contribute to the success of their department and the organization. Employees should be recognized for good work and initiative. They should be the authors and subjects of articles in our HWFC communications, newsletters, websites and magazine.

8. Have you read the Food & Product Manual? If you are aware of the changes it’s gone through in the last 6 years, tell us something about that. What is the HWFC Food and Product Policy, and how would you uphold it as a member of the Board?

Monitoring the purity of food and other products is at the heart of HWFC’s identity and mission. The Board must materially support the Nutrition and Education Committee as it does its important work. We must abide by and continue to update the Food and Product Manual as laws and global conditions change. If the safety of products from places like China cannot be verified, we should not carry them because we risk losing our customer’s trust by doing so. Information is key. The availability of compliance forms at the front desk forms must be publicized in order to enlist the help of our vigilant shoppers. The recent posting of the Egg Labeling Chart should be applauded and the NEC’s educational work be highlighted.