Make OPALCO Power Affordable Again.
It's time for fresh OPALCO leadership
By Alex MacLeod
April 8, 2016
There are some things worth thinking about as we cast ballots in the next few weeks for the three open positions on the OPALCO Board of Directors.
The first are the 25-30% rate increases the board has approved since OPALCO decided to enter the Internet/broadband business,
Another is the way the board and management have shed the values of a cooperative in favor of those of a for-profit corporation (which, of course, its wholly-owned Rock Island Communications is). And it has done so while raising our electric bills to cover its expenses and debts, something only an electric monopoly could do.
It used to be that when OPALCO board elections came along all we had to do was find the word "incumbent" behind a name and vote. That was because OPALCO was well run, kept its finances healthy, the power on and answered members' questions openly and honestly.
But last year the membership began the process of reclaiming our coop by unseating the incumbent board president who led the board into soaring debt, abusive rate hikes and diminishing transparency.
Now is the time to continue the job we began last year and unseat the two incumbents up for election. We have four new candidates who are smart, experienced people who understand that a new culture of fiscal responsibility, transparency and stewardship is crucial and can't occur with the incumbent board members in place.
In addition to the huge rate increases to pay for things unrelated to electricity, consider some of the other board actions taken over the past few years as it's shed its cooperative values:
— Authorized its lawyer to threaten legal action against a former director if he talked about his reasons for resigning from the board, and against a sitting county council member for implying OPALCO was managing its financial books to hide much of its broadband costs (which, it should be noted, is true).
— Established a rule that gags directors from publicly expressing differences once the board has approved an action, allowing only the fact of a negative vote to appear in the board's meeting minutes, not the reasons behind it.
— Installing LTE and cell towers —equipped exclusively with T-Mobile antennas — throughout the county without getting permits, and flatly refusing to tell its members where the majority of those poles — located on private land — are being installed. (The county, for its part, so far as let this happen despite rules that clearly say permits — including public notice prior to installation — are required.)
— Effectively ended the tradition of allowing members to ask questions directly of management and the board at its annual meeting. The board says it will return to that later this month, but it said the same thing a year ago and it didn't happen.
The question in this election is whether OPALCO can regain its proud history as a real cooperative that respects its owner-members enough to deal with them openly and honestly. For that to happen, the board needs new blood. Four qualified candidates stand ready to serve. We have the chance to elect three of them. Your ballot is in your mailbox this week. Let's get a new team working. Vote today.
P.S. There also is a proposed change to OPALCO's by-laws on the ballot. It is not worth serious consideration. Vote "no" so the board can focus on what's important. The existing structure has worked for most of 79 years. No good reason to change it now.