Congratulations to our new seated Board members, Benjamin Bradley, Madeline Hillsmith, and Carol Fraser! They have been elected and seated to the Board of Directors. They will be joining Andi Shively, Annelies Lottman, Ryan Nill, and Don Jackson-Spitzer in representing their cooperatives in ACBA and helping grow the local co-op movement.
Many thanks to departing Board members Erin Stecker, Charlotte Spencer, and Angela Atwood for your service to ACBA. And special thanks to Nicole Renaux, outgoing Board president, for your tireless years of dedication to ACBA and the Austin co-op movement!
We've included the campaign bios of the new Board members again below so you can get to know these local co-op leaders.
I am a 36 year old father, 17-year resident of Austin, and co-owner/member of an Austin-based worker-owned cooperative, Polycot Associates. In the early 2000's, I grew my awareness of the systemic problems facing our planet and I began searching for solutions. I immediately identified intentional communities as one powerful way to reverse the wasteful and isolating effects of typical Western culture. I put together a self-guided tour of intentional communities in 2006 and visited 8 communities across the US. It was during that trip that I met the founder of Gaia Host Collective, my first worker-cooperative.
Over the next 7 years, I helped grow Gaia Host from 2 to 5 members, and was influential in building the technical and organizational infrastructure necessary to help us stay competitive in a highly commoditized industry. On my return to Austin in 2007, I soon joined the co-housing group Kaleidoscope Village. With KV, I practiced a formal Consensus process which helped us to surface hidden concerns, work through emotionally charged issues, and come to group agreement on divisive issues. I helped draft community policies and nurture the community culture, until the housing market crashed in 2009 and the project became infeasible.
In 2011, I started working with a group of freelance web developers gathered by Jon Lebkowsky under the name Polycot Associates. Guided by his generous leadership and our own entrepreneurial backgrounds, we ran the business with an egalitarian ethic from the beginning. In 2013 we worked with Carlos Perez de Alejo of Cooperation Texas and Jim Johnson of the Democracy at Work Institute to formalize our business into a Worker Cooperative structure. With legal assistance from John Vinson, we finalized our transition in 2014 and have since added a fifth member to our coop and have a sixth on a provisional membership track.
Cooperative structures provide a way to root our economics in our local Austin culture. For a business owner, a worker-cooperative can be a best-of-both-worlds scenario, retaining the independence of owning your own business, while at the same time operating in a context of teamwork with trusted partners on whom you can rely. Housing coops help to reduce expenses through the efficient management of common resources, and create opportunities to leverage pooled assets for greater collective benefit than would otherwise be possible individually. Consumer coops provide customers a voice in the governance of the organization, ensuring that power is shared with all stakeholders.
Cooperative business is one way to anchor the economics of the city locally in a way that is resilient to outside influence and the extractive economics of globally-oriented corporations. Cooperatives support local entrepreneurship and help to strengthen the network of local businesses which create the infrastructure of relationships on which our daily lives depend.
I am proud to be a member of a worker-cooperative and hope to have the opportunity to bring my years of experience to serve all of Austin's cooperatives with the Austin Cooperative Business Association.
Cooperation has been a big part of Benjamin's life since the early 2000's. Professionally, he is an active contributor in the open-source community, cooperating with other software developers to create useful software for millions of users. He researched intentional communities first-hand through a self-designed year-long national tour in 2006 and participated in the development of Austin’s co-housing group, Kaleidoscope Village. Benjamin has been a member of worker cooperatives since 2007 and was instrumental in the growth and conversion of two worker-owned technology coops. In the Burning Man and Maker communities, Benjamin creates opportunities that provide creative spaces for play and artistic experimentation. Benjamin is dedicated to re-localization and works towards a sustainable Earth community through continuous evolution.
I am running for the ACBA Board of Directors because I have a profound belief in and love of cooperatives of all sizes and types. I’m very inspired by the deeply democratic cooperative principles as I see them as a positive framework for developing the better world I know is possible. I would like to dedicate my time to developing partnerships between cooperatives, their members, and local organizations and activist groups in order to make a world full of cooperatives closer to a reality.
Currently, I am a member of the Wheatsville food cooperative and I do almost all of my grocery shopping at the Guadalupe location. I also worked for a workers’ cooperative in Quebec in 2014 (on a small-scale organic farm near Montreal) and learned the power of the cooperative business model, as well as its challenges, and the skills needed to be successful. Another passion of mine is people-powered community media, and as Chair of the Board of Directors of Radio CKUT (a non-hierarchical, collectively-run radio station in Montreal) I led a successful visioning and strategic planning process from 2011-2015.
I would be honored to serve on the ACBA and I would look forward to every meeting. As a board member, I would focus my energy on advocacy of the cooperative model to local governments and groups, and on using my research skills to find out about best practices for starting and running cooperatives here in Texas.
I am a Canadian-American who has recently moved to Austin to pursue graduate studies in Community and Regional Planning and Sustainable Design at the University of Texas. My primary focus within the program thus far has been on affordable housing and cooperative housing, including researching the prospects for limited equity cooperatives in Austin. I am also involved in the local chapter of Planners Network, a progressive and radical association of urban planners. Prior to arriving in Austin, I briefly lived in San Francisco, and prior to that I spent 8 formative years in Montreal where I pursued my undergraduate studies and met my partner. Among other projects there, I was involved in the 2012 anti-tuition student strikes as a student politician, and later I helped with the administrative aspects of setting up a sustainable cooperative research house for students at McGill University. I also worked for small-scale organic farms and ran my own market-garden and farm-stand during the growing season of 2015. I grew up in the Boston, MA area.
Cooperatives are, in my opinion, one of the most elegant systems for entrenching community wealth out there. I first came into co-ops as a child, receiving an incredible education from Homeschoolers EXCEL in Dallas. Since then, I’ve lived in co-ops for almost the entirety of my adult life, first as a member of College Houses, and now as a member of CHEA. I am just beginning to dip my toes into the world of worker cooperatives as I work with my family’s business, the Prometheus Academy, on converting into the first teacher-led educational cooperative serving high schoolers in the Dallas area.
I have always taken on leadership roles and performed them to the best of my ability, most recently serving as CHEA’s Board Secretary, where I have been quite busy shoring up our bylaws and serving as the main point of contact for all of our legal services. I draw on much of the legal experience I have developed working as a Project Clerk for the past three years at Austin’s premiere real estate and development firm, Armbrust & Brown, P.L.L.C. I also have previous experience in the non-profit world from my term of service with 4-H CAPITAL AmeriCorps.
I would like to serve as a Director with the ACBA to continue facilitating the expansion of co-ops across Austin. The cooperative model is durable without being rigid, and I would like to see co-ops flourish in diversity of purpose as Austin continues to grow and expand.
Madeline Hillsmith is a painter, activist, and aspiring attorney from Dallas, TX. She will be joining the University of Texas School of Law’s class of 2020 with the goal of creating a low-bono legal services cooperative to address the “missing middle” of low-income legal services in Austin. In her spare time she enjoys playing pool and practicing Krav Maga.
I have served on the ACBA board for 2 years, in which I laid the ground work for an advocacy campaign to increase the amount of support the City of Austin gives to cooperative business. Those activities have successfully led to the recent passage by Austin City Council of resolution to greatly increase support for worker coops. I am currently working on policies that provide similar support and investment in housing and consumer cooperatives. If reelected I plan on continuing to lead ACBA advocacy efforts with the City of Austin to improve the visibility of cooperatives and understanding of community benefits offered by cooperatives, such as affordable housing and quality jobs.
Ryan Nill first discovered cooperatives in 2007 when he found himself at a student housing co-op in West Campus. Initially attracted by the sense of togetherness that reminded him of time spent with extended family in Mexico, he became even more committed when he realized that cooperatives could offer access to capital to communities that traditionally have not had it and offer people for career development they would not have had otherwise.
Ryan served on the board of the Inter-Cooperative Council(ICC) for 5 years, 1.5 of which he served as the Development Coordinator. In 2009, as Development Coordinator he successfully increased the budget for real estate development substantially, which allowed ICC to purchase and begin development of their 10th property in 2016. In 2013 he helped found La Reunion Cooperative Apartments, an affordable co-op apartment located in north Austin, where he has continuously served as Treasurer since.
When he is not volunteering with housing coops or as a Board Member of the Austin Cooperative Business Association, he is working on building bookkeeping and financial services cooperative with four of his colleagues.