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. Remember when the annual meetings allowed 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 the 2016 budget and “no” on formalizing a 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.
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 general manager Foster Hildreth is like pulling teeth, and on Thursday Hildreth 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 could not be appealed to the board. If he viewed a request as “harassment,” he wouldn’t even need to respond to the member. 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. 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 be explained by the cost of power and of delivering it to our homes and businesses. Now it is a cooperative in name only.
MacLeod lives on Shaw.