Dear Co-op Counselor
Our coop did not have its 2020 annual meeting and election of Directors. We were supposed to have voted to fill two seats last year but instead, those Directors continued to serve for an additional year even though all of our Director seats are three-year terms per our Bylaws. Now it is time for our annual election in 2021 and there will be another seat open for election this year. Can we just skip the 2020 annual meeting and election and just run all three seats in 2021 for three-year terms and just skip the 2020 annual meeting since we are already in 2021?
Concerned Board Member
Dear Concerned Board Member:
No. All states require cooperatives to hold their annual meeting on the date set forth in the Articles of Incorporation or Bylaws or as soon as thereafter possible. Some states permit specific time leniency for scheduling but no states simply permit a corporation to “skip” an annual meeting or election. The Members have a right to have their annual meeting and annual election, even if it is tardy. Failure to hold the annual meeting within permitted times or even finding an alternative means for holding the annual meeting could result in a lawsuit against not only the cooperative, but individual Directors as well for failing to fulfill their fiduciary obligations.
Knowing that there is a risk to the Cooperative, the Board must look to correct as soon as possible. Understandably, the Cooperative chose to adjourn the meeting because of continuing group meeting restrictions, however, the obligation to exercise due diligence to explore alternatives is a continuing fiduciary obligation of each Board member as well. This could result in not only a court interfering with the Board’s business judgment but could result in a finding that the Board acted in bad faith, neglected its duty, breached its trust and acted contrary to the corporation’s purposes.
Your Bylaws indicate that all terms are for three-years however you have incumbents who sat an additional year because their seat was not put up for election due to COVID. The absence of the meeting does not also translate to a reset of the term because essentially what has happened is an appointment was made to the position that would have been vacant but for COVID. Appointments only sit until the next annual meeting and then that seat term will only be for the balance of the remaining term, i.e., two years.
The Board at this point can either combine the 2020 annual meeting and election with the 2021 annual meeting and election, or, hold 2020 first and then hold 2021 perhaps later in the summer. Either way, your membership will be voting to fill two seats for a two-year term and one seat for a three-year term. Should the Board wish to explore meeting options, they really need to consult with the cooperative attorney for legal options and to show due diligence in their decision making process.
Very truly yours,