It can be disappointing when time and effort is put into crafting a by-law, only to have it voted down by your co-op’s membership.
To decide what to do next, it’s important to figure out why the by-law didn’t pass. This will guide your next steps. If the Board can determine why the by-law did not pass, then they can set about responding to the concerns of members.
Here are some potential courses of action based on different reasons a by-law might not pass:
Members didn’t feel they had enough time to absorb the significant by-law:
Not unusual! Sometimes co-ops or committees take months or years to pour over the documents, only to bring it to the membership with a few weeks’ notice. If this was a concern, the co-op can create “drop in and discuss” style sessions where members can come to ask the committee or Board questions.
Change can be hard, so allowing members the time and opportunity to understand what is being proposed and why can increase the likelihood of success. After some time and some availability to discuss, the co-op could reintroduce the by-law.
Members dislike a new clause or section in the by-law (where there is flexibility for the co-op to change its position):
Bring the feedback to the committee and/or Board, and consider whether members’ feedback can be incorporated. If it can, and it is a tenable position for the co-op to take (e.g. it won’t blow the budget, won’t violate legislation, won’t upset the apple cart, etc.), the Board should consider responding to the needs and wants of its membership… they own the co-op, after all!
When the by-law is reintroduced, demonstrate to the membership that the co-op is flexible and has made the changes, but encourage the membership to next time introduce an amendment to the by-law to reflect their position rather than rejecting it completely.
Alternatively, the Board could present the same by-law with a list of alternative amendments that members could so move should they feel the need to. This builds capacity within the membership and empowers them while allowing the Board to continue to recommend their preferred position.
Members dislike a new clause or section in the by-law (where there is no flexibility for the co-op to change its position):
This is a case where more information needs to be brought to equip the membership with the information to make the right decision.
The lack of flexibility might come from a requirement that the by-laws conform to legislation or to directives from the City of Ottawa, or from a potentially serious impact on the co-op’s finances.
In these cases, members may need more information to understand the reasoning for the recommendations in the by-law. This is something that CHASEO can help with, but members typically will make the right decision for the co-op when given the information to do so.
And what about the by-law committee?
Members of the by-law committee might be tempted to resign when the by-law they’ve worked to create is voted down.
However, they might instead consider it an opportunity for the committee to do more work to make sure everyone understands the legal and financial framework the co-op works within and what is being proposed. It is also a mandate from the membership to act transparently and respond to the members’ concerns.
The committee should, however, consider resigning if they are absolutely not open to changing the by-laws to address the concerns of the membership. After all, that would make it quite difficult to fulfill the mandate given to them at the last AGM.
If your co-op is feeling overwhelmed by by-laws, CHASEO offers by-law review services. Contact Executive Director Céline Carrière at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.