(In response to BW, Citizen Boise, November 15)
I think Boise Weekly should give some thought to generating a list of "Idaho's Seven Other Wonders." And I, for one, would like to nominate (drum roll please): The Boise Natural Foods Co-op. This natural wonder of the Boise community never ceases to astonish me. From the parking lot overflowing with grotesque bus-sized vehicles to the "Cuisinarts" in the overcrowded aisles, the only thing natural about this local phenomenon is the overwhelming sense of excess that oozes from every square inch of available sales space. Disposable bamboo dinner wear? Check. Natural-looking candles unnaturally shipped from Thailand? Check. Walmart-esque hanging lanterns of varying colors and sizes? Check. I've been going to this co-op for over a year now, always holding out some shred of hope that I will find peace and patchouli-scented earth muffins in hemp sandals bagging bulk oats. Instead I see pointy red boots--made from the skin of some endangered species--slinking out of a pearl-colored Escalade, clip-clopping into the store to the rhythm of environmental mayhem. The shop is packed to the rafters with imports and excess. It's as if earth-toned or asian-themed somehow qualifies as Natural, even if it's the most unnecessary toxic trinket you can imagine. And the deli? Granted, they have a bit that is vegetarian, but the last time I looked, there was nothing in the deli labeled organic or local. Albertson's offers as much.
I wonder: Is this the state of Boise's environmental consciousness? Have the cooperatives doing the real work of local, simple, green living gone underground? How long has it been since Boise has had an honest, natural foods cooperative? Boise Natural Foods Co-op gets my vote for number one: Other wonder of Idaho.
With the Boise Co-op expansion, a possible Eagle outlet, and the coming of Whole Foods, it's time for Ken Kavanaugh, the board of directors and owner-members, to clarify what the Co-op is about and, in the process, address concerns and expectations owner-members and the public may be harboring.
An aura surrounds grocers that include the term co-op in their business name. It brings expectations, organic implications and assumptions resulting from an ideal. Because chains weren't putting organic, natural, and bulk foods on their shelves, some individuals decided to roll up their sleeves and work cooperatively to create outlets where that would happen.
Organic describes the Co-op's beginning, evolution and democratic roots. Membership required folks to help out to start up and run a store. Because of members' hard work, they were given a discount and a say in decisions. Eventually, cash memberships were offered, but usually, sweat-equity memberships were available. Members had a voice in order that the business head in directions owner-members desired. Therein lays the rub: Some owner-members feel they have been maneuvered out of the sphere of participation and influence they started with.
Recently, decisions were made without input by owner-members that raised some hackles. In a recent BW interview, Ken revealed the Co-op is expanding into the old Hill Pharmacy spot. He neglected to mention a good neighbor business, Eyes of the World, is being evicted so the Co-op can expand into that space as well. This follows the eviction of Incredible Edibles for the same purpose. While the start-up model of co-ops may not be effective for present-day operations in all respects, owner-members have legitimate concerns about the Co-op management's lack of accountability to them.
The Boise Co-op describes itself as a member-owned cooperative. It begs these questions: Why are by-laws and articles of incorporation unavailable on the Co-op's Web-site and at the store? Is management adhering to the by-laws/articles? As owner-members, what do we own? Are we entitled to participate in all board meetings and vote on issues? Where's the suggestion/reply board? Is management and its owner-members involved in a cooperative venture? Or is this basically a sole-proprietor-run business in reality, financing certain operations from membership fees in return for a discount (a buying club), and otherwise little interested in allowing owner-member participation?
Those voicing concerns aren't saying the Co-op is a failure. Most are grateful the Co-op is here and sincerely appreciate the efforts of many folks involved over the years. The Co-op has much going for it! However, there's room for improvement in vision and execution, and a need to honor our roots as a cooperative by insisting on significant owner-member input. An elected owner-member committee interacting with the board/general manager, providing input and oversight and reporting back to the owner-members could be a step in the right direction.
If the Co-op wishes to operate under the mantle implied by its name, it would be good to live up to expectations. If management feels things should remain as is, they should make their case in the open. If nothing else changes, let's do one thing right at the very least: change the name of the Boise Co-op. It could be a fine business if it were named Boise Cornucopia for instance. At least it would feel more up front and honest to call the business what it is rather than something it is not. That would be organic.
Please consider this a request for a reply to the issues raised here. The Co-op Member/Board Meeting is Sat., December 2 at 10 a.m. at 775 N. 8th St. in Boise. It would benefit owner-members who would like to re-establish an active role in the oversight and evolution of the Boise Co-op to show up.
--W.M. 'Ned' Fowkes,
More on Vets
Arthur Scott's letter to last week (BW, Mail, Vets in Need, November 22) notes that severely disabled (60 percent disability, or more) veterans are having difficulty in retaining employment. This assertion may be just the tip of the iceberg.
I am a disabled veteran, a Veteran's Administration Medical Center, Boise (VAMCB), patient, and a former employee of the VAMCB. Fortunately, I am only 10 percent disabled, and I am not significantly limited physically. I am, however, diagnosed with mental and emotional disabilities that may be directly related to military service, and in this regard, I have had much difficulty in keeping a good job.
My service credentials: From 1983 until the end of the Cold War, I was a US Army Combat infantryman trained to fight against Warsaw Pact aggression. I served in frontline units that would have met the brunt of any Warsaw Pact attack, including the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized), the 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized) (Germany), the 82nd Airborne Division, and the Berlin Brigade. For 6 months in 1987-1988, I was stationed in the Sinai Desert, Egypt, as a member of the Multinational Force of Observers that monitored the peace accords between Egypt and Israel. In 1990, during the first Gulf War, I was in charge of a platoon of infantrymen who were responsible for conducting antiterrorist patrols in West Berlin. From 1993 until 1994, I was an Army recruiter. During my last assignment, which ended in 1996, I was an Army instructor teaching our soldiers how to conduct effective combat operations in the desert. I helped train thousands of servicepersons, many of whom were later deployed to Iraq, including the Idaho National Guard. After only 5 years of service, I was promoted to Staff Sergeant, well ahead of my peers. At the completion of every military assignment I was given recognition commensurate with outstanding performance.
During my 13 years of service, I sustained the following injuries and ailments in the line of duty: Frost nip, several sprained ankles, knee strain, a broken finger, back strain, neck strain, bruised ribs, a bruised shoulder, a shoulder separation, an eye injury that required major surgery, four separate cases of heat exhaustion, chipped front teeth, broken tooth fillings from traumatic injury, a punctured lower lip, and hypertension for life.
One might think that the above service would assure respectful treatment from the VAMCB. However, after 6 months of employment, on June 19 of this year, I was terminated from my job at the VAMCB. During the time I worked there I was: Denied an opportunity to attend a full employee orientation; denied feedback regarding my performance; denied opportunities to resolve conflict at the lowest level; denied requests for assistance in resolving issues; denied opportunities to speak to management regarding concerns; lied to; denied Patient privacy rights in conjunction with medical treatment and hospitalization; and fired without having been given an opportunity to know what specific weaknesses my employers found, or a reasonable opportunity to correct said behavior.
The above instances included violations of the following: American's with Disabilities Act of 1974 and the American Federation of Government Employees Master Agreement Veteran's Administration.
Why would management members of the VAMCB act in such a concerted manner to deny me employment? I will suggest that it was for this reason: During my employment at the VAMCB. I insisted on being treated with respect. Apparently, for some VAMCB management types (like the ones I, unfortunately, worked for) this was a novel idea, and it was met with much skepticism and resistance. I was, after all (and as it has since been made painfully clear to me) "just a probationary employee."
To be sure, I have very few complaints about the service I have received, and continue to receive, as a patient at the VAMCB. However, in my case, the VAMCB failed to treat a disabled veteran employee with the same respect for employees that the Veteran's Administration as a whole directs. The VAMCB has a long way to go to meet the aspirations of those who seek to improve treatment in regard to employment for disabled veterans.
I welcome any comments that the VAMCB might have in regard to my personal experience as an employee. I doubt, though, that the VAMCB will choose to comment openly or honestly on this matter as, concerning employment issues, it appears to be just another inefficient government organization that prefers to hide behind bureaucratic red tape, and that resists meaningful positive change.
I am appalled that there is even a whisper of talk to cut any veteran's benefits. How dare we ask these people to go fight Bush and Chenney's oil wars, and then not take proper care of them when, (or if), they return. Who is the despicable person that even so much as hinted at this? My brother went to Vietnam, came back physically, but is still not really well mentally. Can you even imagine how he must feel,--and can you even imagine what I think of our government--after all these years of watching him try to cope? This sickens me and makes me think less and less of any politician that would even consider cutting veteran's benefits, especially when Congress has the best health care and retirement, plus pay raises whenever it pleases them to vote themselves one. Do not "honor" me with a reply. Save a tree, you can't say anything to appease me on this issue, SHAME! (Letter sent to Senator Larry Craig)