OPALCO needs new blood | Guest column

by Alex MacLeod

Shaw Island

There are some things worth thinking about as we cast ballots in the next few weeks for the three open positions on the OPALCO Board of Directors.

The first is the rate increases the board has approved, totaling somewhere in the range of 25-30 percent since OPALCO decided to enter the Internet/broadband business and charge most of its costs to the electric side – i.e., us.

Another is the way the board and management have shed the values of a cooperative in favor of those of a for-profit corporation, which, of course, its wholly-owned Rock Island Communications is. And it has done so while also wielding the power to raise prices — our electric bills — at will to cover whatever expenses or debt it incurs, something only an electric monopoly could.

It used to be that when OPALCO board elections came along all we had to do when voting was find the word “incumbent” behind a name and vote. That was because OPALCO was well-run, kept its finances healthy and the power on and answered members’ questions openly and honestly whenever they arose.

That changed last year when the members “unelected” the incumbent board president and chief architect of the go-it-alone internet business, its soaring debt, rising rates and diminishing transparency. It needs to continue this year with the “unelection” of the two incumbents on the ballot (A third resigned at the start of the year).

In addition to the huge rate increases to pay for things unrelated to electricity, consider some of the following board actions over the past few years:

Authorizing its lawyer to threaten legal action against a former director if he talked about his reasons for resigning from the board, and against a sitting county council member for implying that OPALCO was managing its financial books to hide much of its broadband costs.

Establishing a rule that gags directors from publicly expressing differences once the board has approved an action, allowing only the fact of a negative vote to appear in the board’s meeting minutes, not the reasons behind it.

Installing LTE and cell towers – equipped exclusively with T-Mobile antennas – throughout the county without getting required permits, and flatly refusing to tell its members where the majority of those poles – located on private land – are being installed.

(The county, for its part, let this happen despite rules that clearly say permits – including public notice prior to installation – are required.)

The question in this election is not whether we think spending a ton of money on improving internet and cell service in the county is a good idea or not. It is not even who should pay for it. It is whether OPALCO is to remain a real cooperative that respects its owner-members enough to deal with them openly and honestly.

For that to happen, the board needs new blood.