The Sounding Board: Voices From the Crowd?

Jim Buxton, critic of Power of One in his article in the October 3, 2013 issue of Vernonia’s Voice, is just one person.  His crowd is some of the Board of Directors, Marc Farmer and a few reactionary members. However, Jim has a past record of committed service to the community.  He should be heard.  Let’s take a look at his commentary:

Regulation: WOEC, in order to exist, was placed under Oregon Revised Statutes, Chapter 62.  It formulates a cooperative template.  What Jim did not tell you is that WOEC is a private corporation not subject to the regular jurisdiction of the Oregon Attorney General or the Public Utility Commission as are other government-administered utilities like a PUD (Public Utility District). Tree Trimming?  Debt service?  Come on.

Democratic Conduct: WOEC is a model of democratic conduct?  Think about Robert VanNatta being reelected for 27 years with no one showing up at minimally advertised, annual nomination meetings, weak election committees and annual meeting installments featuring free, catered luncheons, door prizes and limited member comments. Try Dixie London for 16 years; David Hess for 19 years;  Brian Baker for just about as long; and Bob Paleck for over 6 years. That’s democracy in action?  Yes, courtesy is deserved but respect for this mess? Mmmm?  Read More

The Sounding Board: Why Power of One?

I’ve been asked by my friends with Power of One to talk to you, our fellow members of West Oregon Electric Cooperative.

First I should let you know why we settled on that particular name for our efforts. Think about who we are and how helpless we feel for a second. Alone, we are only one and powerless to exact change, but if our “ones” band together the “ones” gain the power needed to get answers, find solutions and hopefully fix the problems we have before us. And so “Power of One” was born.

The past year we have spent educating ourselves, learning about co-ops in general and our co-op in particular. The final analysis is that no entity-federal, state, county, or city has any jurisdiction over co-ops. Period. We the members have the power and duty to see that our co-op is run efficiently. Yes, we elect a board to represent us, but without some oversight, do we really know that our best interests are being served? I know the board members are all honest and mean well, but it’s these and others like them that have gotten the co-op into such debt. When more than 60% of the total worth of the co-op is debt…well, you decide. Read More

The Sounding Board: The Sound of Electricity and Money

ZZZZZZap !  The sound of electric energy.  Swooooosh ! The sound of money leaving the room.  The 2013 West Oregon Electric Cooperative annual meeting is adjourned!  Where was I? I spoke with WOEC attorney Chuck Fadley about the agenda.  He confirmed the nominations from the floor, the vote, closing of the polls and Marc Farmer’s  speech were to take place before any questions or remarks from the floor. Nonetheless, I was prepared and ready to speak.

Just as things got under way, I left the room for a moment. I discovered a person in physical trouble, not life threatening as it turned out, but serious.  Meeting or no meeting, I attended to it.  When I got back to business, the meeting was over. But I did hear this:  West Oregon Electric is on very thin ice: expenses exceed income, debt load is 65% of asset value, we have borrowed and spent $13+ million dollars in the last 4 years, the credit line is snuffed, the emergency reserve is all but gone and membership is shrinking.  One more big disaster, it is over!  Not only that; rates are going up!  Again!

Now, come on folks, where were you all?  Very few attended this year’s meeting, let alone any other meetings.  People tell me they don’t participate because when they have questions, or attempt to contribute, most of the time, nothing happens!  Why?  Because “your board” considers board meetings to be “for directors only”!  “Members” they say, “can attend, make a few comments, but attend meetings as ‘observers’ not participants!”  That stops anyone.

Want to contact the general membership by mail?  You can, if you submit pre-stamped, stuffed and sealed envelopes to WOEC who will attach “to resident” labels, collect $155.00 from you for processing and require they, not you, take the mail to the post office.  What?

Let’s take another example: for a fiscal year-to-date, is $56,884.82* for management to spend on “Meeting Expenses” okay with you?  That’s $1,093 a week!  Were you aware of this?  Why not?  The point is, if you do not know about something, how can you do anything about it?  If you are just an “observer,” what can you do about it?

Everyone knows electric use is increasing.  BPA is our only supplier and cannot handle total regional demand at fixed, low cost.  So rates go up; you pay, you get.  You don’t pay, you don’t get.  If you think rates are high now, just wait! The solution?  Generate electricity ourselves, within our own territory:  solar, wind, micro-hydro, all non-fossil fuels!  The price of these renewables keeps dropping!  10 years ago, a workable (not maximum) home system cost $25,000.  It’s $12,000** now.  The point is, we are approaching affordable open-market-break-even costs for home energy systems.  FOR WOEC, that is a serious problem that can result in fewer members and lower utility income.   That means having to raise rates.   Solution?  Insist your cooperative begin a vigorous program of research, development and allocation for local, renewable power generation.  They can, literally, ease into the market, let it pick up speed and pay for itself as generation goes up and prices come down!  And they can survive. Otherwise, they will not.  $56, 884.82 into renewable energy research and development, at this point, instead of going to meetings makes a lot of sense.  Of course, some meetings are necessary.  But you get the point.

As an individual member, how can one move mountains?   Our bylaws permit member participation.  But this needs to include Cooperative Principal #2   It is titled, “Democratic Member Control” and it says… “Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.”  It is posted on the boardroom wall!  Contact your board member and insist on this being incorporated into the bylaws! Become more than just an “observer”!

Start attending meetings, WOEC meetings; Pwr/ 1 meetings. Will you have to attend every meeting?  No.  Once Cooperative Principal #2 is installed, you can require  full and complete business details on-line, in the newspaper and the Ruralite.  And you can discuss it, debate it and participate. Do you have that now?  No. You are allowed to “observe” and get “some information”.  But without full and complete information, you cannot even begin to have a voice.

Why have a voice?  So you can shake this feeling of “being uniformed”, of “not being able to do anything” and of “being had”.  Take responsibility. Do something.  Things will begin to work as other members join you.  That is the power of one! The board will listen!  503-429-8089 Meetings: 1st Thursday of the month at the New Hong Kong Restaurant, 7pm.  Some of us have dinner before the meeting.

* General Ledger financial report dated June 2012, Page 4, item 10 “Sales Expense”,     line 0.920.2 the Current YTD (Year-to-date) figure for “AG-Meeting Expenses”


The Sounding Board: “How Would You Run It?”

My wife, Nancy, over morning coffee, recently asked me, “How would you run the West Oregon Electric Cooperative?”

It was an intriguing question.  Members need ready access to information, a path to participation, not restriction, in order to effectively relate to the co-op they own and empower.  So, I sat down and wrote an answer.

I would require strict, not casual, application of Roberts Rules of Order. The basic format of well stated motions, 2nds, discussions and rebuttals would be followed, not casually touched on.  Roll call votes would be required so that each director’s decision would be recorded and publicly available.  An active parliamentarian to keep matters on track would be required.  All meetings would be recorded, transcribed verbatim, put online and printed, which would assure objectivity to details, the board’s decisions, the manager’s role, and assure broad distribution of  WOEC actions to the membership. Detailed agendas, not skeletal outlines, and full supporting materials, would be provided online and in print at the front desk prior to, and after, each meeting. The exclusive round table and high back chairs used at board meetings, excepting executive sessions, would be replaced with worktables and inclusive seating for all persons present.  Member participation would be favored. There would be vigorous use of overhead projection and/or large online digital screening of information.  A state-of-the-art speaker system  and headphones for attendees with hearing challenges would be used.  Coffee and refreshments would be provided to everyone along with intermittent restroom breaks. Read More

The Sounding Board: WOEC Elections are Nigh!

In my headline I am referring to the two positions for Districts #2 and #5 on our Board of Directors at West Oregon Electric.  Nominations for these positions are being taken this month and the actual elections will take place at the WOEC annual meeting on Saturday, August 17th.   Important:  If voting by mail, please hold off doing so, at least through July; so, we can find worthy write-in candidates for these two positions.

Why is this so important?  Because it may turn out that replacing the entire Board of Directors might be the only way we can regain control of our electric co-op.

Unfortunately, it would take us over 3 years to elect a whole new Board.  So we must continue to try to get our current representatives to help us find a solution.  We can’t wait three years and I would prefer to not throw the baby out with the bath water.  This Board, even as presently constituted, is probably as capable as anyone we could find to replace them;  but they’ve gotten into some bad habits and simply refuse to acknowledge that our rates are unacceptable and that it’s their job to control them.   Rather than contrition all I’ve seen so far is denial and a measure of indignation. Read More

The Sounding Board: Uproar Happens

In my last article concerning WOEC, I made a factual mistake.  When discussing the WOEC annual audit. I stated that Robert VanNatta’s daughter worked for Kenneth Kuhns & Company which was incorrect.  She works for AKT, another accounting audit firm that was being considered.  It was my error. An apology is certainly in order.  I regret the mistake.  There was no intent to lie. AKT was being considered. Robert’s daughter works for AKT.  What I misunderstood was who worked where.  My objection was to the remarks actually made.

Nonetheless, there is actual good that has resulted.  Mr. VanNatta and I have opened an email dialogue.  He accepted my apology.  We have concurred on several constructive points: audits and their review are not easy; running a utility is complicated; outside criticism makes it more so. “Maybe”, as Robert has said “the concept of building bridges isn’t all bad.”  And I agree.   Read More

The Sounding Board: What’s Up With Electricity?

What’s happening with Pwr/1 and WOEC?  Or said another way, “ho hum…what’s new?”  Complaint or criticism repeats.  Answers roll back as if pre-recorded. Rates continue to increase.  Life goes on.  Nothing changes.  Or does it?

Sometimes, poetry helps.  I like to write it for brevity of expression. So, here it goes:

“Who’s knocking on my door?  Poverty-man!

Who’s that with him?  Inflation-kid!

Who’s standing behind them?  Oh, that’s cold North Wind!

Why are they knocking on my door?  You have not paid your electric bill!”

How many of us, young or old, are financially stressed in a collapsed economy?  How many of us are older, retired and have only social security income?  How many of us are a sneeze away from disaster only to watch wide-eyed as our food prices, fuel prices, medical bills, retail prices and electricity bills skyrocket to the moon?!  What happens if your electricity is turned off?  What if you have to choose between warmth or freezing temperatures?  Gasoline or isolation?  Food or  medicine?  Staying in business or leaving town?  How many of us have had these experiences?  Pwr/1 would like to hear your stories.  Contact  or write us c/o this paper.  Our blog spot is:  Or call Jack Phillips (503) 429-8089; or Sally Harrison (503) 429-8425; or Nick Galaday (503) 429-8910 Read More

The Sounding Board: Are We Paying Too Much for Our Electrical Service?

This year we are paying WOEC 2.42 times as much to bring us our electricity than did the average Oregon electric co-op member in 2011!  Some of us have gathered together to try to do something about it.  When we combine our very high cost of electricity with our similarly high cost of sewer and water, our combined utility costs make living in Vernonia financially quite unattractive.  It’s easy to see why the value of our homes continues to fall while the housing market is making somewhat of a comeback elsewhere.  We absolutely must do something about our high utility costs if we expect Vernonia to grow and attract new investment. Read More