The challenger to the EMC Board Chair didn't win last Saturday, which was surprising to many of us. I think Gene Renfroe ran a top notch campaign (positive, no personal hits on his opponent in the media). Even though he hadn't taken any position on Plant Washington, he was firm on improving relationships with members and treating us with respect. But, the long entrenched Chair (37 years is too long for anyone to serve on a board, but that is a reform issue for another day) got people to the EMC voting booths who probably will never go to another meeting again. So, we all learned a lot and we will let that inform and shape the work to be done.
Two things struck me about the Board and the CEO, Frank Askew. And right here and now I need to say what I have always told people, and I mean it: Frank Askew is a nice guy. He is as personable and friendly as anyone could ask for as far as a CEO who represents the co-op's members. And I don't begrudge him being paid well. His job comes with great responsibilities and he should be compensated for his education, experience, and time.
As the dust began to settle on Saturday, about 40 people stayed for the Q&A session with the Board of Directors, AND some of them actually asked pointed questions and pushed back on some of the answers we were given. Several people spoke up about the decision to build Plant Washington, the water and pollution issues that will result, the expense to members and taxpayers, and Board governance.
When I asked about open meetings, bylaw changes, and other governance and transparency issues, I made it clear that I was asking the Board, not Askew, as the Board currently sets those policies (the Board can amend the bylaws at will except pertaining to elections, yet another issue for another day. See page 43 in the bylaws). And the look on their faces? Well, they've never sat before the members to answer questions, and they just sat in silence.
Then they kind of fell over each other saying that it isn't hard to come to a meeting, and they are fine with members being there, and maybe we really didn't have to have a specific topic or reason to "be on the agenda" as members kept pointing out from their seats. Maybe they need to read their own policy, #116 again.
Will the Board really open the doors to members? Probably not right now. As we left the meeting my representative, Billy Helton, who stood up for this much needed Q&A session, told me if I want to come to the October Board meeting I should. I will. And others should too.
Members understand that things such as personnel issues must be handled in executive session. The members expect the linemen and office staff who work for us to be treated fairly and respectfully, paid a competitive salary, and be required to work safely. These people are our friends, our family, our neighbors. We know who keeps the lights on, repairs our dish washer, and notices when something doesn't look "right" if they come by our homes often.
I learned a lot Saturday, and sure, I wish it had all gone my way. If Plant Washington went away tomorrow would I still be interested in better co-op governance and operations? Yes, there is plenty of work to do. I left the meeting with the strong voices of like-minded people cheering me on.