After almost eight hours of impassioned discussion between Berkeley Student Cooperative leaders and members, the BSC Board of Directors voted to delay decision on the future of one of its residences, Cloyne Court, at a meeting that began Thursday and lasted into the early hours of Friday morning.
The board and executive cabinet were joined by more than 50 members of BSC, including Cloyne residents, packing the common room of the Rochdale Village co-op for the standing-room-only meeting. After hearing three potential proposals, the board decided to push back taking action on any of the potential plans for Cloyne’s future by a week, postponing its vote from March 6 to March 13.
During the meeting, many representatives from Cloyne expressed frustration with the short period of time house leadership was given to conceive of alternate solutions to the cabinet’s highly disputed plan to convert the residence into a substance-free academic theme house and prevent current and former house members from moving back in the fall.
After the cabinet presented its plan at the meeting, hands shot up in the air as Cloyne members — known as “Clones” — expressed that they felt they had been excluded from preliminary discussions about their house’s future and questioned if cabinet had properly followed the democratic process.
“Personally, I don’t think cabinet handled this situation in the best way we could have,” said Frank Ammirato, BSC vice president of education and training, who sits on the cabinet. “We should’ve involved Cloyne management and Clones as much as possible, but recognize that what we’re talking about is an extreme change that involved kicking around ideas that are extremely unpopular.”
The board’s decision to delay voting was made with the stipulation that the cabinet must meet with representatives from Cloyne twice before the vote to further discuss plans for the residence.
The interest in the future of Cloyne follows the recent settlement of a lawsuit against BSC filed by the mother of former student John Gibson, who sustained brain damage after a drug overdose at Cloyne in 2010. The cabinet proposed its plan to decrease the risk of further financial liabilities and ensure that Cloyne, as well as the entire BSC, can continue to operate and follow its mission statement by providing affordable housing to its membership.
“We also have to consider the BSC’s external image,” said cabinetmember James Chang, vice president of external affairs for BSC. “At the end of the day, we don’t want only our membership to be aware of the BSC’s values, but we should display them to the outside community as well.”
Both plans proposed by Cloyne, the Enhancement and Enforcement of BSC Policy and the Wellness and Education Themed House proposals, seek to address and prevent “harmful drug experiences” that may occur in the future and have less stringent terms than those in the cabinet’s Substance Free Academic Theme House proposal.
At the meeting, BSC Executive Director Jim Gray shared legal opinions from the law firm that handled the John Gibson case, including one which said that the two counterproposals’ plans to enhance substance education could increase, rather than decrease, BSC’s potential liability because it would acknowledge that the co-op is aware of dangerous conditions in one of its residences.
Cloyne’s leadership also consulted a lawyer, Jesse Palmer, who offered a conflicting opinion at the meeting.
“The idea that acknowledging that there is drug use in society somehow opens yourself up to liability is not a position I’d expect a progressive organization to take,” Palmer said. “What a progressive organization should do is pick a proposal that’s best for its members, not for its insurance companies.”
While BSC members submitted a petition Feb. 21 with approximately 300 to 400 signatures to postpone the board’s vote on the future of Cloyne by 30 days, the board voted at the meeting not to hold the referendum after heated discussion. The day after the petition was submitted, BSC President Michelle Nacouzi emailed co-op members to let them know she believed the referendum was infeasible due to time constraints, and board members echoed these concerns.
The cabinet and representatives from Cloyne will be discussing formal amendments to proposals on the table in the coming weeks.