In the middle of his welcome speech at the 78th Annual Orcas Power & Light Cooperative membership meeting, Board of Directors President Chris Thomerson shocked many of the 300 or so attendees by announcing that General Manager Randy Cornelius would be retiring, then casually referring to Foster Hildreth as Cornelius’s successor.
Some members of the audience didn’t know that a decision on future leadership was even in the works. County Councilman Bob Jarman, who had considered and rejected being a candidate for the board, said he was troubled by the secrecy of the succession process.
“They should have at least told the membership that they were going to pick a successor without a search,” said Jarman, who also said he had submitted a question on the issue to the annual meeting that morning, but it was not brought up at the meeting.
The high point of the annual meeting came with a standing ovation for Cornelius when he was introduced to give the “state of the cooperative” address to the assembly. The crowd of 210 members on board the ferry Hyak greeted Cornelius with a standing ovation, and repeated the ovation at the end.
Incumbents Vince Dauciunas and Glenna Hall were re-elected to the OPALCO board of directors, but Steve Hudson pulled within 50 votes of Hall in the closest election with the largest turnout in recent memory.
Dauciunas racked up the most votes, 1,658; Glenna Hall polled 1,112; Steve Hudson made a strong showing with 1,062 votes. Doug Rowan polled 497, Brian Hoyer 386 and John Sheehan 128.
Two changes to the bylaws presented by petition to the co-op were rejected. The first amendment, which would require three Energy Member Informational Meetings, was voted down by a 1,438 to 904 count. The second amendment, requiring streamed audiovisual or videoconferencing of board meeting, received 1,554 “No” votes to 776 “Yes” votes.
The 2,475 total votes cast was 23 percent of the approximately 11,198 OPALCO members.
Other than a forum on Lopez Island in April, there were no campaign events and none of the six candidates who could be reached said they had actually mounted campaigns. The cooperative did little to promote the election, including making no time for candidate statements or “thank-you’s” at the membership meeting. Hildreth, general manager in-waiting, said there was not time during the meeting to introduce the candidates or let them speak.
The only candidate who was nominated by petition of the members was Steve Hudson, who has been critical of OPALCO’s plans and actions to expand its fiber optic broadband backbone. Hudson also said he was concerned about lack of transparency of OPALCO’s broadband planning and about whether OPALCO electricity customers would pay to expand broadband capacity to deliver internet connections on a retail basis directly to members.
The announcement that Hildreth would take over as the top executive of OPALCO was a surprise to most of the annual meeting audience, but not to the board.
Dauciunas said the board had been talking about the succession plan in private executive sessions for almost a year.
“The board talked with other co-ops in the state,” Dauciunas said. “None of the co-ops we talked with had any suggestions. They told us we should promote from within if we had an experienced executive. We had that in Foster Hildreth, so we saw no need to do an expensive executive search.”
D.T. McCarty, a frequent and vocal participant at hospital district and other public meetings on San Juan Island, was decidedly unimpressed at her first OPALCO membership meeting.
“This was my first meeting and I won’t be attending any more,” she said.