Make OPALCO Power Affordable Again.
OPALCO's Current Take on "Cooperative"
By Alex MacLeod
March 22, 2016
It is increasingly difficult to remember that the “C” in OPALCO stands for “cooperative.” No one is having a harder time doing so than its management and board of directors.
Remember when the annual meetings allowed for members to stand up and ask questions of management and the board? That ended nearly three years ago, as the board was morphing OPALCO from an electric cooperative to a broadband/Internet business. In response to a question at its meeting on St. Patrick’s Day, the board said questions would be allowed at this year’s annual meeting, but the board said the same thing a year ago — and no questions from the floor were permitted.
Also at the meeting, in the “member comment” period, I asked a direct question of Randy Cornelius, for many years OPALCO’s general manager, now a board member. Board minutes showed he voted “no” on OPALCO’s 2016 budget and “no” on formalizing its new method for raising rates anytime it needs to in order to avoid violating a loan covenant again. Minutes make no mention of anyone’s reasons for taking a minority position, so I asked if he’d explain those two votes.
Before Cornelius could respond, board vice-president Vince Dauciunas, said board members had no obligation to answer questions directed to them by members. Really? In a cooperative? Cornelius, to his credit, chose to answer: too much capital expense in the budget, he said, and no need for the budget “true up” if revenues and expenses were carefully tracked.
Getting answers to simple questions of current general manager Foster Hildreth is like pulling teeth, and Hildreth Thursday put before the board an amendment to the policy that covers member information requests to make it even harder. He proposed changing the policy to give him absolute authority to decide if an information request was being made “in good faith,” is “trivial,” is for “a proper purpose” and if filling it is a “prudent use of member resources.” His decision, based on any of those vague criteria, could not be appealed to the board. If he viewed a request as “harassment,” he wouldn’t even need to respond to the member to tell him or her so.
Hildreth had put the change on the agenda for immediate board action, even though it first surfaced just two days before Thursday’s meeting. For reasons he didn’t explain, Dauciunas said it would not be acted on as scheduled, but might return to the agenda in the future.
The board didn’t hesitate a couple of years ago, though, to approve a new policy effectively gagging directors from publicly expressing any disagreement with board decisions. This was done after two board members had resigned as OPALCO was rushing into the broadband/Internet business. One of them was the object of legal threats made on behalf of OPALCO, warning him against expressing his reasons for resigning. The claim was he would be violating a confidentiality agreement with CenturyLink. When CenturyLink made the document available, it was clear there was no basis for the threatened legal action.
This no longer is the OPALCO we came to trust and even love, where decisions were made in the open, directors answered questions and rates could easily and accurately be explained by the cost of power and of delivering it to our homes and businesses. Now it is a cooperative in name only.