02/25/2019: "It’s Time To Save OPALCO"
By Alex MacLeod
The decision last week by the OPALCO Board to disqualify Dwight Lewis’ board candidacy in the upcoming election stabs at the heart of what it means to be a cooperative.
Dwight has lived on Lopez since 1974 and has more than 40 years of OPALCO membership. He’s run a successful business, contributed his time and energy to the Lopez community and been an active OPALCO member, attending board meetings regularly for many years.
Dwight’s not your button-down, necktie-wearing, go-along-to-get-along kind of guy. He’s an independent thinker who questions authority and conventional wisdom, sometimes in excess. But in wanting to serve as an OPALCO director, he wants a few simple things:
- A return to the days when OPALCO managed expenses and kept rates as low as possible while maintaining good electric service to the islands.
- To return a sense of trust and transparency to a board that has shown little of either in the past several years as it’s driven up debt, paid its general manager excessively, done much business behind closed doors and raised our rates 34% over just the past five years.
- And for an independent financial audit to be conducted of the cooperative’s books over the past three years, in particular to provide members with an independent analysis of the costs of OPALCO’s Internet venture, its relationship to debt and the costs to the membership. The board made many promises about Rock Island when it took it over, but has provided little detail since.
Despite turning in a petition with more than 400 signatures from the Lopez district, the board’s Seattle lawyer disqualified him from the ballot. As OPALCO said in its press release, the lawyer “called into question the petitioner’s ability to put aside his personal agenda for the good of the cooperative…”
The simplest translation is this: Dwight wants to work as a board member to accomplish the three items above, his “personal agenda,” and management and the other board members want none of it.
Anyone who has followed OPALCO management and its board (as I have) has come to realize it brooks no probing. It is a board of toadies who nod affirmatively at whatever management says, despite the cost to the membership. The level of management-driven group-think has been embarrassing to witness.
I suppose we could all live with this were it not for the fact that the average monthly bill for electricity has risen to more than $152 from $114 in 2014. That means each of us, on average is paying $406 a year more for about the same amount of electricity.
Worse, the board paid our general manager, Foster Hildreth, more than $360,000 in 2016, the last year it has disclosed his compensation. (If his pay has risen like our rates, it’s probably close to $400,000 today.) This is a ridiculous sum for a small cooperative utility. The head of Seattle City Light is paid about the same, and it is the 10th largest public utility in the country, with almost 2,000 employees (to our 51) and 445,000 meters (to our 13,200). Sure, we’re a collection of islands (as OPALCO reminds us every time our rates increase), but still, be real.
I’m not going to speak for Dwight -only a fool would presume to do that- but he is being treated most unfairly by OPALCO’s management and board. Whether he serves as a board member should be left to the membership, not management or the board. If you care about OPALCO, it is time to speak up.
Shaw Island and 30-year OPALCO member