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One of the lessons we all should have been learning through the last couple years is that large corporate enterprises can run extremely askew from the public interest. We have even seen them operate against their own best interests as their executives helped themselves to personal financial rewards while steering their companies into devastating circumstances.
One of the common denominators in this perilous behavior has been Boards of Directors with entirely too cozy of relationships with the officers of the company. The result being Boards that served as little more than rubber stamps to whatever actions the CEO desired.
Today, in company after company, shareholders have begun to claw back control of those boardrooms, replacing complicit board members with independent ones.
I would suggest that here in rural America, where co-ops dominate the economic landscape, our task is no different; and that we have the same obligation toward scrutiny and caution in the selection of our representative directors. For illustration of the dangers involved, I would cite:
• Southern States Co-op’s ill advised and costly acquisitions of Gold Kist and Michigan Livestock Exchange, businesses that were arguably outside the co-op’s area of competence.
• United Producers’ foolhardy venture into the world of big time cattle feeding that pushed it to the brink of bankruptcy (and farmer/producers to picking up the tab through yearly “membership” fees)
• And recently we have seen credit default issues and failures of corporate governance in the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (as per an audit by the Kentucky Public Service Commission). This problem falls directly into the lap of Owen Electric and the other member cooperatives that are essentially EKPC’s owners.
Each of these gaffs has reached into the pockets of all of us, and promises to continue so into the foreseeable future. And repeats again the question “What to do?”
Well, in the last instance, the report ordered by the Public Service Commission clearly places the ball back into local hands. It says: “The changes will likely have to begin with and be driven by the member-customers of the electric generation and transmission cooperative that own and purchase power from EKPC and that are ultimately responsible for how EKPC is operated.”
Perhaps the time is ripe to start such changes. This month, for the first time in a long time, we have the chance to elect a local director to our RECC that is not handpicked by the existing board. As an independent candidate, Tona Barkley has gathered the necessary petitions and qualified to be on the ballot in Owen Electric’s June 25 election. I am personally glad that she has stepped forward. I know her to be extremely competent and properly motivated towards true representation of the member-customers of our co-op. And she will not be shy about asking the hard questions.
We have every reason to believe that the future of energy production and distribution will demand some tough choices. And require the involvement of the best and brightest among us. Thank goodness we have just such a candidate now. In this light, I urge you to vote for Tona at the Owen Electric meeting at Grant County High School at 4:30 on June 25.