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November 2015

Controversy erupts over Durham Co-op referendum that would strip workers of own class of shares, governance

Update: Nov. 9:This story has been corrected to reflect that Michael Bacon is a former co-op board member, not a current one; also, voting on the board candidates ends Nov. 13.

Since it opened in March, the Durham Co-op has come to symbolize the ideals of democracy, egalitarianism and fair trade. Owned by its members—people who buy shares— the co-op, for many, is a rebuke to Whole Foods, which pretends to be progressive but is actually a large corporation run by a libertarian, anti-union CEO.

However, the co-op’s patina could be tarnished by a controversy involving a vote on its articles of incorporation. If the members pass a referendum on Sunday, it could eliminate from governing documents the ability of workers to buy a separate class of shares from consumers. It also would prevent worker-owners from electing up to two representatives to the board of directors. Ten people currently sit on the board.

The disempowerment of rank-and-file co-op workers runs afoul of the very values the store espouses, says David Roswell, an owner and investor. He also sells his pottery at the co-op. “The workers don’t want to lose this right,” Roswell says. “The co-op is taking away the tool for democracy, wealth building and control. That’s what distinguishes the co-op from Whole Foods.”

Consumer-owners have been voting for nearly two weeks on both the bylaw changes and on candidates to the board. Voting ends Sunday at the co-ops’s annual meeting. [Update: voting ends Nov. 13 on board candidates.] Critics of the change want the store to delay the referendum to allow for more discussion among the membership.

As the co-op ends its first year in business, traditionally a financially tenuous time for any start-up, employees who are not in management still do not earn a living wage. Last spring, workers were earning a little more than $9 an hour. (Bull City Rising tried to contact workers through intermediaries, but so far has been unsuccessful.)

Currently, the bylaws allow an employee who works at the co-op for six months can buy a worker share in the store. If workers were able to buy a separate class of shares, they could be enrolled in profit-sharing, which could supplement their wages.

“The line is that it’s not best practice to allow this,” Roswell says. “Just because it’s uncommon doesn’t mean that it isn’t a best practice.”

The best practice “line,” as Roswell puts it, comes from CDS Consulting Co-op. Based in Vermont, the consulting group advises co-ops nationwide on governance, marketing, finances and other operational basics.

Bull City Rising contacted CDS Friday at 1, but has yet to receive a response.

There is at least one other co-op that has a hybrid model, one that allows workers to buy a separate class of shares and have board seats: Weaver Street Market in Carrboro. In fact, during its inception, the Durham Co-op essentially copied the market’s bylaws. Chatham Marketplace did the same, and created a similar model.

“We looked at the incredible success of Weaver Street, then and now I believe the largest co-op grocery in North Carolina, and certainly one of the largest in the Southeast, particularly in its phenomenal employee retention, and felt that our mission as a co-op dedicated to serving central Durham included being good employer,” says former Durham co-op board member Michael Bacon. “Based on that work, we decided that we wanted to adopt the employee ownership plan, because despite the misgivings that some co-operative consultants had, we believed that this newer model that Weaver Street had developed had proven itself successful and wanted to emulate that.”

Continue reading "Controversy erupts over Durham Co-op referendum that would strip workers of own class of shares, governance" »

Development and cops: Live blogging City Council, Nov. 5, 2015

 It's 2:30, and Kevin Dick, director of the city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development, is making a presentation about the proposed development at the Jackson Street site near the Durham bus station.

KD: The takeaway from the Sept. 10 meeting was that the city could draft RFP for various types of development. We hope to elicit feedback today to see if we're on the right track. We also have a draft timeline. It would allow time for drafting, response, negotiation, the setting of conditions and considerations for station improvements.

Today's update would be in lieu of the Dec. 10 update we had planned. But we can come back then with something more detailed. The preliminary plat has been completed, and an appraisal will be complete in early December.

Jan. 15 is a goal for an RFP release date.

[December 4 is the proposed deadline for the city to present draft RFP for the project. However, it could take a year for the entire process—from RFP to bid award—to be completed.] 

A memo outlines possibilities for the Jackson Street project: All would contain a neighborhood commercial component and structured parking, plus:
100 percent affordable housing
Mixed-income, including affordable housing
Market rate and/or workforce housing

 The review process we're planning has us categorizing the various options, and having a scoring system to have proposals within each category to be scored. We bring that to council, which will then decide which option is most palatable to them.

Steve Schewel: Each one would be scored in its own category, and you would bring the highest score of each development option.

Bill Bell: I've heard from the majority of council members that they want to see mixed-income. If that's what majority of council wants why even go down the market rate path? I thought we had decided informally mixed-income, even to the extent we've discussed the percentage. 

KD: Basically how we interpreted the direction is to allow with flexibility and creativity.

SS: You're saying get rid of Option 3?

BB: Yeah, and we need to determine terminology, [percentage of AMI]. I'm going to be looking at how will it work, how will it be financed?

Tom Bonfield: We don't know how the financing will be structured. In February we'll receive final report from housing consultant and know what we'll be looking for there. I'm concerned that we will be arbitrary if we say a project has to be x percent affordable, x percent market rate. 

BB: When you say you want to have mixed-income, and you get into specifics about the incomes and the percentage of income ... you can have commercial stuff on it is great. The example CAN brought forth from Raleigh was excellent. That's what I thought people looking at. I think if we tell the developers what we're looking for we can see what they come up with.

Eddie Davis: I don't see a problem getting more information even if we don't use it.

BB: If I'm in the development and I know what is expected, then I can decide if I want to take my time to apply for the RFP. I'm not in a rush. The property isn't going anywhere. I'm not bound by any timetable. We should try this, and if it doesn't work, then go back out.

SS: I agree Mr. Mayor.

Diane Catotti: What is mixed-income? Is Southside?

BB: Yes, but Southside, there's a different ratio [of market-rate and affordable]. It lets developers know how to put together a financing plan.

DC: What's workforce housing? I'm trying to understand the difference between two and three.

BB: I suggest we take out the term workforce housing, go for percentages of income.

KD: Workforce goes up to 80 percent of area median income.

DC: I feel like you're about to get a lot of really good information from the consultant. You say, Mr. Mayor, you know what you want. But my question is Do you know what you want? We'll get information about how much affordable housing is within a half-mile of downtown.

BB: The consultant is looking at all of Durham. We're looking at Jackson Street. 

Continue reading "Development and cops: Live blogging City Council, Nov. 5, 2015" »

Schewel, Johnson, Reece earn solid victory in Council races; Bell trounces in final election

If you thought the general election would follow the primary's trends, then last night's election results weren't too surprising at all.

The People's Alliance slate of incumbent Steve Schewel and ballot newcomers Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece moved on to victory in the general, with all six candidates maintaining their order-of-finish from the primary round.

Schewel earned 28.1% of the vote to lead all candidates; Johnson, who put together a model ground-game campaign in her bid, followed with 23.4%.

Indeed, from the time the earliest precincts started to report, the only real question was whether we'd see a surprise for third place, where Reece (18.1%) bested Mike Shiflett (13.8%).

Reece beat Shiflett by 2,301 votes, according to provisional results released by Durham's Board of Elections. And nearly one-third of that lead (725 votes, or 31%) came from Reece's lead in early voting and absentee tallies, which accounted for only one-fifth of all votes placed.

Continue reading "Schewel, Johnson, Reece earn solid victory in Council races; Bell trounces in final election" »

Durham's City Council election: which candidates are prepared to lead our city?

I'm doing something new this election cycle -- since tomorrow's vote is itself an unusual one in the recent history of Durham politics.

Outside of incumbent Steve Schewel, none of the other six finalists for City Council have experience in local elected office, and few have experience in the usual junior-varsity types of civic engagement. And, the depth of coverage of the usual outlets on this election has been perhaps thinner than we've seen in the past, save for the sheer number of candidate forums.

So, for the first time, I'm -- not endorsing, per se, but seeking to bring a lens of qualification. Based on candidates' answers to questionnaires, and the conversations I've gotten to have with them -- who is best prepared to serve on City Council?

I'd suggest that four candidates -- Steve Schewel, Jillian Johnson, Charlie Reece, and Mike Shiflett -- are the four who deserve your consideration tomorrow. (You are voting tomorrow, right?) More after the jump, but to summarize:

  • Schewel's depth of civic experience, outstanding service in his first term, and depth of vision for Durham, make him a natural and appropriate choice.
  • Reece, while lacking traditional civic board experience, has reasonable relevant experience, and articulates positions on the issues not dissimilar from the "pragmatic progressive" super-majorities on City Council in the past decade.
  • Johnson also lacks traditional civic experience, and some voters will be concerned that she comes from a full-tilt activism background and the Occupy Durham wing of local politics. But, those voters who want a greater focus on social justice, equity, and the needs of Durham's disadvantaged will find her an exceptionally bright, energetic advocate, and worthy of their vote.
  • Shiflett's long history of civic experience and his knowledge not just of Durham issues, but Durham neighborhoods and residents across class, racial and geographic boundaries, make him worthy for Council consideration. Those happy with Durham's current direction, and perhaps those seeking a Eugene Brown-molded replacement for the singular retiring Councilman, may prefer Shiflett to Johnson for their third slot.

Continue reading "Durham's City Council election: which candidates are prepared to lead our city?" »

Durham County Commissioners: parking, housing, office, retail on East Main


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So many times I have walked past the parking lot next to the Human Services Building and thought, "Is this the best we can do?"

The answer is no, say the Durham County Commissioners and, well, any other sentient beings.

The four-acre parcel at 500 E. Main, where it connects with Dillard Street, is Exhibit A on how to make a street as unfriendly as possible to everything but a car. But CitiSculpt, a Charlotte-based development company, has other ideas for that county-owned plot, which yes, include a parking deck, but also could incorporate a wrap-around of commercial, office, retail and housing.

"We need to move toward a more urban environment like the one inside the Loop," Chuck Watts, an attorney with the Banks Law Firm told the Durham County Commissioners this morning. The firm is representing CitiSculpt, which is also developing the old Hendrick's site into apartments and mixed-use. "There needs to be a significant change."

In the many discussions about the future of East Main Street, city and county officials and housing advocates have pointed out the availability of land on the this side of downtown. These parcels are owned primarily by the city, the county, the housing authority and a few churches. However, much of the land, including some parcels on South Dillard, is consumed by parking lots, which as Commissioner Ellen Reckhow remarked, "is not the highest use."

East Main, Ramseur and Pettigrew streets are the Next Big Thing, as an arts center is planned for that neighborhood, and Ponysaurus opened its brewery last weekend. The proposed light rail station would be situated at Dillard and Pettigrew streets. Oldham Towers, an 46-year-old Durham Housing Authority complex for the elderly and disabled, will eventually be converted to Section 8 housing. The DPD headquarters will be constructed (unfortunately) on East Main as well.

Office and retail rents are increasing in the Central Business District, to as much as $35 per square foot for new Class A space, rates that were unheard of until recently. East Main could be where the creative class seeks exile. "This is a very key piece of property," Commissioner Wendy Jacobs said. "It's right next to the future transit stop, right between where police and social services employees are going to work. There's an opportunity for workforce housing, a whole range of housing. We’re hearing that a lot of people aren't able to pay rent for retail and office downtown."

The back of the development along Ramseur Street would also need "activated," to use the new buzzword for "let's give people somewhere to go and a pleasant trip to get there."

There are significant timing issues to be addressed, Watts said, in that the neighborhood can't afford to lose the 404 parking spaces during construction. And no development plan for the lot—whether it's a private-public partnership or the county would sell the land outright is unclear— has yet been approved. However, Watts and the commission agreed any plan would likely involve community design charettes. (Let's hope they are more organized than those for the police headquarters.)

Downtown Durham, Inc. supports redeveloping the site, saying it is crucial "to connect the rest of our downtown to the center city. For a walkable and unified downtown community, we need to find the right mix of land uses. We need to draw in a broader community to make sure it is there for everyone, and not an island."