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ColoPressAssn
July 24, 2014 Vol. 13 No. 35
Infighting erupts among Local First Grocer members
Written by Larry Ferguson   

Torpedoes win!

072414_TheTorpedos 

The Colorado Torpedoes of Manitou Springs took first place in the Southern Colorado Invitational swimming meet last Saturday at the Manitou Pool, posting 72 best times. The Torpedoes racked up 2,678 points to beat the PEAK Swim Team (2,028), Cheyenne Mountain (1,662), the Woodmoor Waves Swim Team (1,395), Altitude Performance (323) and the JCCST/Stars (116). The Manitou team is coached by Roy Chaney.

It wasn’t exactly the explosive showdown some people expected, but Monday night’s meeting of the Local First Grocer members featured plenty of acrimony and accusations.

072414_EliseAt issue is the recent firing of LFG general manager Elise Rothman d’Hauthuille, who helped found and organize the three-month-old business at 116 Canon Ave. A portion of the co-operative’s estimated 150 members petitioned for Monday’s meeting and planned to vote on replacing members of the board of directors that fired d’Hauthuille.

Charles Holum, an attorney with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, put a stop to that line of thinking, at least for Monday night.

“They (the board members) are not going to talk about that, on my advice,” Holum told the audience, referring to d’Hauthuille’s firing. “This is an employer/employee relationship and that’s not your business. They aren’t going to respond to the charges that people are making.”

Holum went on to say that voting to replace board members was also a non-starter.

“You can hire and fire the board, and you can do that if there’s a properly called meeting,” he said. “This meeting was not called to remove the board of directors. You may have thought that and your agenda may say that, but that’s not what the petition says. Your petition says we’re going to talk about the service of the board members.”

As a result, another meeting of the FLG membership is expected to happen within the coming month with the purpose of voting to possibly replace the board, which currently consists of Shaun Lally, Bill Neaves, Michelle Bennett, Erik Munroe, Jim Stellick and Rhonda Thompson.

While no official action was taken, Monday evening’s meeting did feature presentations by members representing both sides of the issue.

072414_DaleSpeaking for the petitioners was, among others, Crystal Jonas.

“I'm here tonight because I’m concerned that something we all believe in, something that all of us have put so much heart and soul into, is at risk,” she said. “I've learned there have been changes that represent at turning away from the original vision that many of us believed we were investing in.

"This change is taking us away from what we thought the co-op was going to be about. The change was made behind closed doors in meetings that I wasn’t informed of or invited to, and neither were you.”

Jonas went on to say that it’s the right of the co-op’s members to vote for the people who represent them.

“That’s why we’re meeting tonight, to call on our right to vote for people who represent us in a cause we all believe in. Tonight we exercise that right.”

Speaking on behalf of the board, treasurer Jim Stellick told the audience that the changes had been made because the business was under-funded, under-organized and uneducated.

Those are things, Stellick said, that should have happened before the doors were ever opened.

Board President Michelle Bennett added, "Decisions were made strictly on the performance of the general manager, and tasks were looked at that weren't being performed. It wasn't an overnight decision.”

She said board members have been putting in 30 to 40 hours a week trying to remedy problems at LFG.

D’Hauthuille also addressed the group, describing her goals when she founded the business.

“Four weeks ago they not only removed management (d’Hauthuille), they also removed the model on which LFG is built,” she said, referring to several projects that have been on hold since she was dismissed, including low-interest loan and grant applications and programs to be conducted in conjunction with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Colorado College, such as creating a carbon rating for all of the store’s products.

She also provided statistics that she said show the store has lost potential income since her firing.

“Local First Grocer averaged $4,240 a week in the first seven weeks,” she said. “In the last three-and-a-half it’s averaged $3,952, a 6.7 percent drop coming in the middle of tourist season.”

She said the store’s cash reserves have decreased significantly since her firing, largely attributed to an increase in purchasing of inventory relative to sales. She said if current financial trends continue, the store would be in financial difficulty by the end of summer.

One of the most problematic issues is keeping the store’s inventory lean, she said, which translates into low waste and improved cash flow.

“We may run out (of food items) occasionally and we may not have what the customer wants every day,” she said, referring to efforts to keep a lean inventory.

Board member Stellick sharply disagreed with that strategy, saying:

“It’s important that Local First Grocer becomes your primary shopping place and if we don’t have the product in the store, as Elise says, I don’t think you’re going to want to shop there. You’re not going to want to deal with the hassles of parking in Manitou only to find out that the store doesn’t have your product.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to compete with Whole Foods, but we need to hear from you members about what you want to see in the store.

“We need to collaborate, and collaboration isn’t happening.”

Moderating the meeting was Manitou Springs City Councilwoman Nicole Nicoletta, a co-op member.