As the dissolution deadline approaches, relations between the Medford Market board and a group of members is getting heated.
Five co-op subscribers have been calling and visiting board members at their work places over the last week — urging them to be more open with the membership, and calling for the president's resignation — and some board members are worried.
After 2Ĺ years of effort, the Medford Market learned in August that its major lender, National Cooperative Bank, tabled a $1.5 million loan because of increased loan restrictions. The board made last-ditch efforts to gather the $1.5 million it needed to open its doors, but no large donors came forward.
The 1,500-member Medford Market has been leasing the Hubbard's Ace Hardware building at Main Street and Riverside Avenue for the past year, and had hoped to open the new store there this fall. The building is owned by Bob Seus and his siblings, and the lease states that as long as the co-op exists it is liable for the lease.
Following the organization's September meeting, a handful of members got together to seek a different direction than the board's recommendation for dissolution. They hope the organization can get out from under the rent agreement and move forward with its membership and mailing lists intact. Subscribers to Medford's food co-operative voted in October to dissolve the organization but with one stipulation: If it can get out of its 10-year lease agreement by Nov. 15, the Medford Market will continue on.
The co-op owners passed the amended resolution to dissolve 77 to 6. The two-week extension was proposed by a group of members.
"It's really gotten to the level of harassment," said Becky Brooks, a Medford Market board member.
In addition to Brooks, the board of directors is made up of president Velda Welch, Joan Parsons, Shareen Vogel and Paige Townsend.
Medford City Councilmen John Statler and Ben Truwe, along with John Miele, Erika Robinson and Nancie Keorber, make up the vocal members who accuse the board of "secrecy and refusal to take advice," as stated in a petition the group is circulating to revive the Medford Market.
The group demands the board extend its effective date for dissolution to Dec. 15, call a board election immediately, provide a full audit of all accounts, contracts and records, and provide notice of all board meetings and make them open to members.
Statler said it's not that his group has been harassing board members but that the board has been unresponsive to phone calls and e-mails.
"I think it's attempting to communicate with a board that's been uncommunicative," he said adding that he has been told he can't attend certain board meetings.
Erik Wallbank, president of the Ashland Food Co-op board and adviser to the Medford Market, said members are invited to all AFC's board meetings, unless the meeting goes into executive session to discuss topics like real estate negotiations.
"It just seems to me that the board would want to have a lot of transparency," he said.
In an Oct. 31 e-mail to the board members, Statler, on his own behalf, urged the board to not only oversee all of Welch's official negotiations with the landlord and attorney, but to prohibit her from speaking to the public and relieve her of the position as president. He suggests the whole board should consider resigning if it was not aware of the members' concerns.
Statler ended the e-mail, "John Statler, Medford City Council Ward 3," which Brooks said was inappropriate and intimidating.
"I think this is a misuse of somebody's position and that part needs to stop," she said.
But Statler argued he is not claiming to be speaking for all of the council, and that since elected he's often used what he considers to be just a title.
Welch said she's received calls telling her she's doing horrible things and to step down now.
"It's pretty nasty," she said. The group is also spreading misinformation, she said, like suggesting the board is not taking expert advice.
Meanwhile, the board and the Seus family have not agreed on a lease termination. "We're still in negotiations — it's progressing well," said Welch.
Statler said the co-op has a lot of support and he doesn't want to throw that away.
"My main concern is the vision of Medford having a food co-op," said Statler. "There are many very competent and highly functional people waiting to work on a co-operative."
Welch said from the start board members have had good intentions of starting a food co-op, and has been following the organization's bylaws and state laws.
"We are working hard doing the proper steps," she said.
Miele said he wants to keep the co-op from dissolving, and hopes there's a way to work with the current board.
"That's what we're hoping for is a cooperative spirit," he said.
Call Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.