Letters to Editor
To Contact the Editor
Vote For Us
OPALCO is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and as we approach the Annual Meeting, we are also electing Directors from District 1, covering San Juan, Henry, Pearl, Brown, and Spieden Islands.
We are Mark Madsen, and Vince Dauciunas, we currently serve as the District 1 board members, and we are running for election. Two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to meet and talk with members at the Candidate Forums, hosted on each island. Since not everyone can attend those forums, we want to take the opportunity to share some of our ideas about OPALCO, the progress that we have made during our terms, and what the important issues are for members and the Coop.
OPALCO, and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Rock Island Communications, are in a strong position as we begin 2017:
• The submarine cable between Lopez and San Juan islands will be replaced in 2017, and will provide for our power and communications needs for decades to come.
• The Coop strengthened its ability to purchase power, invest in renewables, and negotiate with Bonneville Power by joining PNGC, a consortium of rural electrical coops that share our challenges and approach to community power.
• Rock Island added over 2000 new customers, more than 115 miles of distribution fiber, 75% of the planned LTE wireless internet/T-Mobile installations are complete, and RIC averages adding 7-8 new customers every day. Rock Island is on track to break even in mid 2018 and be profitable thereafter.
• 40kW of solar panel capacity has been added at 4 schools, with our first community solar project and large-scale battery storage coming in 2018.
• A new Energy Assistance Program complements Project PAL by working with County social services and local nonprofits.
• The election process has been strengthened and examined by the board with strong feedback from the community
• OPALCO’s financial position is good, with TIER (the measure of our ability to repay our loans) rising to 3.24, equity as a percentage of capitalization of 48.7% (higher than most of our peer cooperatives), and borrowing for projects in 2016 reduced by almost half because Rock Island repaid the startup loan from the Cooperative and refinanced its operations at favorable interest rates.
OPALCO does face challenges in the years ahead. The situation faced by all electrical utilities will change more in the next decade than in the previous 80 years combined. Cooperatives like ours face slow growth of electrical demand, the need to incorporate locally generated renewable power, storage of that power, the challenges to infrastructure created by electrical vehicles, and the difficulties created by unpredictable weather and warmer winters.
We have a roadmap for these challenges, called the Integrated Resource Plan, which outlines how the Cooperative is planning to meet each challenge. We have been putting that plan into action since it was approved in 2015. Modernization of our electrical grid is well underway, and our priority in 2017 and 2018 is to enable local renewable energy production not just technically, but in our electrical rates and policies.
We are doing something new in this election. Each candidate recorded a short video describing how they see OPALCO and our priorities (1-2), and the member committee on elections and governance posed questions to each candidate (3-4). We also videotaped the Candidate Forum in Friday Harbor for those who were not able to attend (5). We provide links to each of these below, and ask that you look at the questions and our answers. In particular, members in attendance at the Candidate Forums asked good and difficult questions, and we answered with solid information as well as a strong vision for the future.
We ask that you look at that information, and our vision for the future, and give us your vote to continue our work on the OPALCO board for the next three years. We work every day with our fellow board members, Randy Cornelius, Winnie Adams, Dr. Jerry Whitfield, Brian Silverstein, and Jim Lett to provide OPALCO with guidance, vision, and oversight as we execute on the Integrated Resource Plan and steer OPALCO through its challenges into a future of renewable, affordable electricity and telecommunications.
We need your participation and help to secure our energy future, and ask for your support and your voice to make this future a reality. Ballots have come out by mail and email, and your vote is due no later than May 4th, so that votes are counted before the Annual Meeting on the ferry! You can vote by email, or do it easily online.
Thank you for your consideration, and your vote!
Mark Madsen and Vince Dauciunas
Letters On Hospital District & Planned Parenthood
To the Editor:
Kathleen Bartholomew, Guest Columnist [Related Column], apparently does not appreciate the benefits of efficiency in government. If so, she would not have objected to the troika governance of our newly elected Hospital District Board.
It is much more efficient to have a troika at the control of the Hospital Board then to have to endure the messy and inefficient process of real democracy. The troika doesn't have to consider anything other than their own views; they can surf Facebook or email, knit or crochet, or even doze while their fellow commissioners speak or they go through the obligatory formality of public testimony, safe in the knowledge that they need not pay attention to any opinions or input other than those of their fellow troikians and their supporters. When it comes to voting, they can vote secure in the knowledge that their shared view will prevail without the need for discussion or debate other than is necessary to maintain the pretense of a democratic process.
It's an enormously efficient method of government, at risk only if one of the troika happens to be absent during a meeting, which fortunately can be circumvented simply by their chosen Chair tabling items until the troika is safely reassembled. But overall, we citizens should appreciate that we are spared any obligation to waste our time and energy trying to influence actions or votes of the troika, but can save our resources for more useful enterprises.
Politicians are always promising efficiency in government, but seldom achieving it. We should be thankful to the troika that at least one government body is fulfilling that promise.
San Juan Island
(03-02-17)To the Editor:
Our tax money may go to charitable birth control before charitable hospice, drug abuse prevention, home health care, nutrition assistance
This comes down to a simple decision of where our hospital district citizens want their money spent. Since the commissioners have taken $50,000 from the charitable fund for our citizens hospital bills we must let them know our community need priorities. This is not a prolife or prochoice decision since abortions cannot be safely done on the island. (However many of us strongly object to PP)This is a lining up of district needs.
Do we think providing charitable birth control is more important than hospice, mental health programs, drug abuse programs, domestic violence programs, home health care programs, nutritional support programs or senior care? Does Planned Parenthood an organization boasting over $300 million is assets and eleven directors making 6 figure incomes need our local money? I think not. PIMC provides women’s reproductive needs. PP has a presence here as well. Where is the need?
San Juan Island
To the Editor:
I write to thank Hospital District Commissioners Bill Williams, Monica Harrington and Barbara Sharp for voting to explore a contract with Planned Parenthood. Using up to $50,000 to provide reproductive health care services, especially birth control and STD education and testing, is a worthwhile expense. The hospital district pays over $1 million of its tax revenues to a Catholic institution; contracting with PP for a little over 4% of that balances things out a bit.
To the Editor:
Congratulations to the Board of Commissioners of the San Juan County Public Hospital District No.1 for their decision at last night’s meeting [related story -Ed] to proceed to draft a draft contract with Planned Parenthood to be considered at a future meeting. This is a very much needed step to address an unmet need for essential women’s health care on San Juan Island.
Dr. John Geyman
San Juan Island
And I Watched Our Republic Survive
Thus far in my lifetime I have watched, literally, the assassination of a president and the assassination of his assassin. And I watched our Republic survive.
I have watched a president send more than a half a million young men and women to an unwinnable war half a world away, and from which more than 58,000 did not return alive, some of them my own classmates. And I watched our Republic survive.
have watched a president resign from office in disgrace in the midst of a scandal of own criminal conduct. And I watched our Republic survive. I have watched a president through his naïveté and abject incompetence standby when the prime interest rate soared to 21 1/2% and more than four dozen American hostages were taken from our own embassy in Iran and held for 444 days. And I watched our Republic survive.
I have watched a president be impeached in the midst a scandal of his own sexual misconduct. And I watched our Republic survive.
Today I watched yet another president inaugurated and I watched tens of thousands of people in the streets, those who describe themselves as espousing tolerance and diversity and denouncing others as haters, all the while making their point by smashing the windows and destroying businesses and property of their fellow citizens.
Through all of this I must take heart in what I have watched thus far in my life… I have watched the Republic survive. It seems a shame though that she has to survive in spite of many of us rather than because of us.
I think it particularly poignant just now to remember a quote from the first president elected while I watched: “… In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."
-Rock C. Sorensen
San Juan Island
SJI School Capital and Technology Levy Coming Up Again
This February 9th, our school district will ask the voters of San Juan Island to renew a Capital Projects and Technology Levy. This levy will both ensure ongoing maintenance and repair of our school buildings (which we the taxpayers own), as well as provide our students and teaching staff with the classroom space and technology infrastructure required to be productive citizens in this digital age.
School funding has been in the news a lot lately and it’s probably worth a quick discussion of how schools in the State of Washington are funded, what has happened recently, and why this levy is so important to our community.
There are four tax based sources intended for education: State, Federal, local Maintenance & Operations, and local Capital & Technology. State funding or what is normally referred to as Basic Education funding is provided on a per student basis. Approximately 80% of these dollars are dedicated to paying teachers and support position salaries. The remainder pays for operations of the schools; things like utility bills, insurance and limited classroom supplies. Next there is Federal funding, and you may have recently read the about the Every Student Succeeds Act. This replaces No Child Left Behind and did not provide any new funding, just different reporting requirements. Federal monies make up a small, but important portion of the funding for a district our size and are generally targeted at special programs aimed at supporting at-risk students. Both of these funding sources are restricted, meaning they can only be spent within very limited parameters and are not intended for construction or technology.
Locally we have a Maintenance and Operations Levy and a Capital and Technology Levy. These run every 2 years, on even years, and span 4 year cycles. Think of it like the Summer and Winter Olympic Games cycle. The Maintenance and Operations Levy makes up the difference between what the state and federal government formulas fund. It gives us our small class sizes at the elementary school and advanced placement classes at the secondary level through providing extra teaching staff. The Capital and Technology Levy is super simple - it funds the physical things you can see and touch - roofs, walls, windows, heating systems, desks, chairs, computers, monitors, printers, network and some of the staff associated with making sure all this stuff is maintained and supported. Additionally, the state provides little or no money for all this stuff. The overwhelming support for these two local levies speak volumes in terms of how each and every one of us value education and those who provide it in our community.
Finally, you may have heard about the McCleary Decision in the news. The short version is our State Supreme Court ruled the State of Washington is failing to fund basic education as defined by our state constitution. What the ruling actually recognizes is that without local levies, there is not enough money to run schools adequately and deliver the minimum “basic education”. In some districts across the state, when local levies fail - teachers are laid off, leaky roofs are not repaired and students do not receive an education that will allow them to be contributing members of our society. This year the state stepped up and funded minimum cost of living raises for teachers and all-day kindergarten in some districts. At some point the state will have to figure out how to meet all the terms of the McCleary Decision, but until that happens a significant portion of the responsibility of providing a quality education lies within each community.
I encourage you to support public education and ensure the right to a quality education is not a privilege of the wealthy or lucky, but the right of every child living on this island by voting YES. School funding is messy and complicated, but I am pretty sure we can all agree we would not want to live in a world that did not value the education of our youth.
If you have any questions regarding public education funding or specific items to be funded by the Capital and Technology Levy, please do not hesitate to contact me. My phone number and email address can be found on the district’s website under the school board tab. You can also find specific information at www.sjlevy.org.
June Arnold, Chair, San Juan Island School Board
Letters On Port Of FH Firing
Former Port Director Responds
On November 1, 2016 in my capacity as Executive Director of the Port of Friday Harbor I decided to eliminate the position of Marina Facilities Manager, held at that time by employee Joe Wheeler.
Related Story The position was eliminated because it wasn’t needed any more. I stand by that decision.
However, I am informed that certain members of the public including Wheeler’s family members and members of the family of the previous port director have persisted in making allegations apparently intended to obscure the facts regarding the elimination of the position of Marina Facilities Manager, specifically going back to a September 13, 2016 decision I made to remove Mr. Wheeler from his role as Port liaison with the contractor for the Spring Street Landing project. Mr. Wheeler and I were the only two individuals with actual knowledge of the events leading up to his removal from that project, so I was surprised to hear it mentioned; clearly Mr. Wheeler communicated his unhappiness with that decision to his family members and others, otherwise they would not have been aware of it. I have been inaccurately accused of removing Mr. Wheeler from the project because of personal favoritism toward an employee of the Project Contractor Wellman and Zuck. Attempting to re-cast reality in that light is wrong.
On September 12, 2016 Mr. Wheeler came into my office after an altercation with a third party at the SSL project site and told me “…I will clean that fat f**kers clock.”
I was not aware of the nature and extent of Mr. Wheeler’s relationship with this third party. I was not aware of what if any individual actions motivated the animus that Mr. Wheeler had toward this third party and communicated verbally to me through a threat, but it is obviously not acceptable to have an employee make a physical threat toward a third party. After that threat was communicated to me, I frankly felt I had no choice but to remove Mr. Wheeler from an environment where he thought it was acceptable to make threats of violence toward others on either his or the Port’s behalf. If Mr. Wheeler had made good or (more likely) attempted to make good on his threat of violence after communicating it to his supervisor (me) liability could have attached to the Port.
I had experienced first-hand examples of Mr. Wheeler’s volatile nature with regard to his relationship with this particular individual and others and had warned him about it previously, specifically on July 27, 2016. The issue of Wheeler’s temperament was of importance to the previous port director as late as June 02, 2016 but was never disclosed to me. It seems that this, like the emerging state of the financial condition of the Port, was left as a surprise for me.
I made the decision that it was in the port’s best interest to remove Mr. Wheeler from an environment where he was unable to control his emotions. Mr. Wheeler’s tendency toward angry outbursts, which have been documented, made me have to consider whether he was suited for the position he held.
I intended to handle administratively the problems relating to Mr. Wheeler’s employment stemming from his angry outbursts toward others, specifically that situation referred to above. However, upon assumption of his duties at Spring Street I was able to experience first-hand what had been a major portion of the duties of Marina Facilities Manager. The effort required to oversee a small maintenance department and duties related thereto did not justify a $70,000+ annual salary. With budget forecasts and previous management telling us that heavy spending precluded the possibility of any special projects for the next five years, there would be even less to do.
My research revealed that the position had been previously awarded to a family member of the former Executive Director without being advertised to the public, and subsequently handed off to Mr. Wheeler without being offered for competitive placement at that time either. Mr. Wheeler didn’t have to compete to get a plum job as it was never offered to the public. This smacks of nepotism and has no place in the public sphere.
With all of these issues and more in mind, I consulted with port counsel and each of the individual commissioners regarding the best way to approach the port’s anticipated budget shortfall. The position of Marina Facilities manager was eliminated.
Mr. Wheeler was offered a generous severance package; he countered with a higher demand and received it. It would not be in the port’s best interest to rehire this individual based on the mob mentality Mr. Wheeler has since involved himself in to bully and intimidate the port commission.
Former executive director of the Port of Friday Harbor
A Way To Move Forward For The Port
We are writing this letter out of shock and anger for the termination of Joe Wheeler. Something has gone terribly wrong with the management of the Port if a loyal, hardworking, intelligent, honest and kind member of the Port community can be treated with such disrespect. In our years as Port tenants, we have never before witnessed such unprofessional and vindictive behavior. Now it seems to be the norm.
The culture of our beloved Port has been corrupted and you must act immediately to fix it. Making the wrong choice is something we all do. There is no shame in admitting a mistake. It just part of being human. You, as our elected leaders, are no different. Right now, you have the opportunity to do the right thing. Up until recently, the three of you have overseen a smooth operation because you had the right person at the helm. That is no longer the case. Clearly, you have made the wrong choice for Port Director. You have brought in someone who is not appropriate for our community. The Port has a long history of quality people working harmoniously to create a positive experience for locals, visitors and employees alike. At a time when your years of good works should be applauded they are instead being over shadowed by the behavior of an unsuitable manager.
We implore you as public servants entrusted with this very special civic asset to rectify this outrage. Remove the problem and reinstate Joe Wheeler immediately with your most profound apologies. If this is not something you feel you should do then you have failed us all and ought to resign right away.
Thank you for your time.
Lauren Cohen & Derek Steere
San Juan Canvas, LLC
To the Editor:
I feel compelled to write this letter because the truth isn’t being told about the reason Joe Wheeler’s position as Marina Facilities Manager was eliminated from the Port of Friday Harbor.
The port director, Ted Fitzgerald, hides behind the excuse of the termination being a “budget issue”, when in fact it isn’t. Ted Fitzgerald told Joe Wheeler that he would probably fill this position after a couple months of review. Fitzgerald’s statement is a cover up for what is really the core reason Joe Wheeler was dismissed.
The real reason Joe Wheeler was dismissed is because he was holding the contractor foreman, who was working on the Downrigger project, accountable for project delays. When Joe Wheeler discussed this situation with Ted Fitzgerald, Joe was banned from going to the project site and Fitzgerald said that he would personally be overseeing the project. Please be aware that Fitzgerald and the contractor foreman on the Downrigger Project are close friends. Upon taking over the project, Fitzgerald performed little to no over site and went as far as to eliminate the standard weekly construction meetings with architects, owner and contractors.
Several days prior to Joe’s termination, he received compliments from the commissioners and an award for jobs well done.
I emailed all three Port Commissioners; Barbara Merritt, Mike Ahrenius, and Greg Hertel and asked them to please investigate this situation by checking with all of the port employees so they will understand the real reason Joe was dismissed. Not one of them investigated the truth. In fact, I received a return email from one of the commissioners stating that “this will only sting for a little while”.
So you can ruin a man’s career with a tap on the shoulder and not investigate the truth? What type of human beings would do that? Joe Wheeler was more than a competent employee; an employee that you had so much faith in before Marilyn’s retirement; more than qualified for his position, the support of his employees and his peers, and never a negative disciplinary action and you can say, “this will only sting for a little while”? Shame on you!
During the Port Commissioners meeting of November 9th, 2016, the people in attendance were told that they were only allowed 3 minutes for their statements. There was no interaction or discussion between port commissioners and attendees allowed at this meeting. When one lady asked when we would all hear what the outcome would be, their response was “later” and then we were all dismissed.
Minutes of this November 9th meeting will not be posted on the Port of Friday Harbor’s web site until after the November 30th, 2016 meeting and after Port Commissions approval. You will find the minutes for this meeting on “portfridayharbor.org” then go to “forms and documents” then to “minutes” and look for November 9th minutes.
You will see how many people from the Port of Friday Harbor addressed this issue and how much respect they have for Joe Wheeler and his job performance.
I am disgusted and ashamed of the three port commissioners for the job they DID NOT DO in investigating the cover up and termination of Joe Wheeler.
Joe’s job was sabotaged. I will not be voting for any of them when their positions become available for re-election. Integrity speaks volumes to personal character in this matter. Through all of this, I feel very strongly that our three port commissioners do not have the Port of Friday Harbor’s best interest in mind.
I truly feel that the new Port Director is threatened by Joe’s knowledge and performance and therefore Joe had to go.
San Juan Island
To the Editor:
The community of Friday Harbor and all of San Juan Island should be embarrassed and ashamed of the termination of Joe Wheeler's employment at the Port of Friday Harbor.
It's no doubt that Joe's accomplishments, relationships, and qualifications have lead to his dismissal. I would ask all those employed with the Port of Friday Harbor to question their future and to speak up, like some already have, and bring to light this act of cowardice perpetrated by the Port Director Ted Fitzgerald. We need to acknowledge the sentiment of the staff, contractors, and others associated with Joe's role at the Port of Friday Harbor and question what has happened. The lack of oversight by the commissioners in this matter is frightening and needs to be questioned.
For the sake of our town my only hope is that this mistake can be corrected before it is too late. People with talent and integrity like Joe Wheeler are hard to come by. Ted Fitzgerald has made a terrible error and should be held accountable. One can only wonder what other poor decisions are being made at this level with the inadequate supervision of the commissioners.
This is not acceptable.
Open Letter To OPALCO Board
Dear OPALCO board members:
I would like to clarify the facts regarding the charge given to the volunteer elections committee.
In his report to you in June, Foster listed the following as the charge to the committee:
2. Election details and candidate outreach
3. Balloting materials
4. Candidate forums protocol
5. Voting process
Foster’s list followed an April 22 OPALCO press release regarding Rock Island’s blatant step to influence the election. It said “The questions that came up at today’s meeting will be examined, such as: How does the nominating process work? Should OPALCO hold candidate forums? How should incumbents be listed on the ballot? Should the timing of candidate forums be changed?”
It is disingenuous for Foster now to say that the charge to the committee was broad enough to delve into the make-up of the board, and further to expend OPALCO resources promoting those recommendations in member meetings and encouraging the board to hold a special meeting, ahead of the opportunity for member comment, to advance those recommendations.
It puzzles me why you accept having to spend your time cleaning up Foster’s many messes. First, he manages the finances so poorly that a loan covenant is violated, a corrective plan has to be submitted to our lender and the board is forced to raise rates twice in four months to maintain compliance.
Then he stands by as Rock Island, of which he is general manager, sends out an email trying to influence the board election, and then defends that action when challenged. It is only after you apparently made it clear to him that this was unacceptable that he apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again. In the meantime, the credibility of OPALCO was further damaged.
You shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there would have been no need for a member committee to look at the election process had Foster not so badly mismanaged it in the first place. And then he lets the committee run widely off course and subjects the organization, and you, to more questions about actual intent of management and of you - especially in the face of the overwhelming membership rejection of a similar proposal a few months ago.
That you have been so accepting of his mismanagement must explain why he felt it was reasonable for him recently to ask you to raise his salary to $250,000. That you didn’t agree s to your credit; that you haven’t dismissed him is not.
As I have suggested many times over the past three years, and did again at the “open house” on Shaw, the key to restoring the level of trust that OPALCO previously enjoyed from its members is to be honest about the investments OPALCO actually has made in support of its entry into the Internet business and what the impact of those has been on electric rates. I you truly believe this is a smart business venture, as well as an important public-service contribution for the cooperative to make, then defend it honestly. Until you do, you can expect the lack of trust to grow.
Further, advancing the recommended changes in the board make-up in any way - either by acting on them on your own or putting them before the membership this spring - will further erode trust.
Finally, I noted in the last board packet the staff’s request that the board “review” Rock Island’s governance structure. It was bad enough that management presented the board and the membership last spring with Rock Island financial and operating statements that privately had been lowered by about 20% from what had been presented publicly in the 2016 budget process. It is also a bad sign to members that the board has refused to let the membership see Rock Island’s latest business plan, of considerable interest given the significant investment of member dollars and previous plans showing Rock Island becoming the goose that will lay golden eggs of profit for OPALCO. Taking any further steps to cloak Rock Island in secrecy will only further erode membership trust in the board and management, especially when we discover there will be no golden eggs.
Response to "OPALCO, a Co-op in Name Only"
This Guest Column perpetuates a common misunderstanding of what a co-operative is. A co-operative is not an organization dedicated to a general democracy where members, swayed by their concerns of the moment, vote on every issue they think they know more than management. A consumer co-operative such as OPALCO is an organization capitalized by its customers with one vote per member. This form of capitalization is unrelated to the level of member participation in the management of the co-operative’s structure and business. Mr. MacLeod's letter disseminates the misunderstanding in order to criticize individuals. It provides no service to the membership, and no thanks to volunteers who supported by staff, have stepped up to serve their co-operative.