Re: Legal powers vs desired values
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 28 Sep 2018 07:59:30 -0700 (PDT)
> On Sep 27, 2018, at 10:33 PM, Lynn Nadeau / Maraiah <welcome [at] 
>> wrote:
> RoseWind Cohousing, Port Townsend WA. Approaching 30 years in.

> trust that our Board will choose not to exercise their legal rights to bypass 
> the consensus-based whole group process. [snip] But the need to trust such a 
> Board not to get power-hungry at some future time has some members anxious. 
> All things considered, would it be wise to go back to our old model? 

Our bylaws were written in 2000 to give the board all the usual powers. It was 
felt that the banks wouldn’t approve mortgages unless we followed a standard 

Then we wrote a decision-making policy that says the Board is a team like any 
other team and subject to the same restrictions, and the ultimate 
decision-making power lies with the membership, not the teams or individuals.

So each team has responsibilities, including the Board, but the membership can 
always make a different decision. If you have a contentious household that 
might or does vote in ways that do not reflect the values of the community, you 
could give the board the responsibility for making a decision when the 
membership is hopelessly deadlocked — a definition you would have to write. 

In sociocracy, the principle is that when consent can’t be reached, get more 
information. If a team can’t reach consensus, the decision goes to the 
coordinating team that includes representatives of all the other teams. If 
there is a board or top circle, the decision would go there next. The Board 
will include experts from outside the community. If that doesn’t resolve the 
issue, it goes to an outside expert. Thus the decision is made by examining the 
context of the decision and as much information and expertise as possible.

What we have done is to satisfy the bylaws as written and any other institution 
that might question our full-group consensus, the Board (similar to a steering 
committee) is charged with ratifying membership decisions. By ratifying they 
are confirming that the decision was made in accordance with the 
decision-making policies of the Association — and in essence validating the 
decision as their own.

While we have had/do have people who have stronger feelings on some topics than 
the general community, we’ve never had a household that consistently withheld 
consent on grounds other than the quality of the decision. Most often when a 
person is strongly opposed to a decision, they argue against it but at the 
final meeting asking for consensus, they just don’t attend and it is decided by 
those present.

While there are people whom we wish were more involved in community discussions 
and decision-making, their lack of participation has been lack of interest in 
more discussion and decision-making than their job already requires—not 
disagreement with the community. They accept whatever the community decides, 
though we still miss their perspectives in discussion.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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