Friday, March 19, 2010

Annual Meeting Not Open To The Public

Today, Southern is holding their annual meeting in Billings, but will not allow the public to attend.

The following is an article from the Billings Gazette. There is however, one correction to be made. The City of Great Falls did not appeal Judge Phillips ruling as the last line indicates.

Co-op to keep its meeting closed
By: Linda Halstead-Acharya of the Billings Gazette:

Late last week, Southern Montana Electric Cooperative announced that its annual meeting would be closed to the public, just days before a judge ruled that thousands of co-op documents must be opened to the public.

John Prinkki, a member of Southern’s board of directors, confirmed that the annual meeting this Friday would not be open to members of the distribution cooperatives that make up Southern, the “umbrella co-op.”

Tim Gregori, CEO of Southern, said the majority of board members favor regional meetings as the best way to answer questions. If Southern’s board approves the idea, Gregori foresees a “very aggressive” schedule with meetings in Billings, Great Falls and Forsyth and Lewistown.

“After speaking with other member systems, they believe that it would be far better to use the regional meeting approach than simply opening the annual meeting because it would allow for wider participation and a better forum,” he said.

If necessary, regional meetings could be held more often in those areas where there is a higher level of interest, he said.

Before the 2009 annual meeting, members of the co-ops that make up Southern had requested an open meeting and more transparency. During an earlier interview, Gregori explained that the only members of Southern are the handful of board members who represent Southern’s five co-op members.

Prinkki said “it didn’t make sense” to open the meeting, noting that the annual meeting was expected to run 30 minutes and that most other agenda items dealt with confidential contractual matters.

Arleen Boyd of Fishtail, a member of the Beartooth Electric Cooperative who has long pressed Southern for more information, said the informational meetings are a step in the right direction, particularly regarding information dissemination and opportunities for discussion. She argues, however, that the meetings do not address the issue of transparency.

“Transparency is the timely access to information,” she said. “Transparency is achieved when members know what the current issues are and how business is being conducted — what decisions are made and by whom. This requires access to meetings, especially annual meetings, and timely access to financial and other information.”

Boyd is not alone in targeting Southern over transparency issues. District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips of Lewistown ruled last week the cooperative must release three boxes of information that had long been withheld from the public.

Southern and the city of Great Falls filed an appeal.

1 comment:

Lt. Col (R) Richard Liebert said...

An open appeal to our city manager:

Greetings Greg,

Too bad Gregori can't be open like Yellowstone Valley, and Southern
is 'us'? Too bad our city didn't have reps to see the 'ugly' side
of Southern - again. I hope the strategy session is in 'full-speed'...
You have to give these brave and courageous citizens a lot of credit
and we'll be there with 'em on the next mission. I've also asked
for Southern's minutes from 2009 to present, AND SME Electric meeting
minutes where our city officials attended.


Lt. Col (R) Richard Liebert

ps - we'll be 'keen' to know what happened at this annual meeting in
regards to our city's vital interests.

"Even when just one citizen shows courage, that is a majority."
Andrew Jackson

CLAIR JOHNSON Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Friday, March 19, 2010 10:50

The Southern Montana Electric Cooperative closed its annual meeting this
morning, refusing access to seven people from one of its member

Police Officer Tom Keightley politely but firmly asked seven members of the
Beartooth Electric Cooperative to get off the property at 3521 Gabel Road
where Southern is located and move back to the sidewalk. Southern officials
had asked the Police Department to send an officer to keep things from
getting out of hand, Keightley said.

The Beartooth members complied but not before asking the officer to convey
to Southern representatives their desire to attend the meeting. The officer
said he would pass along the message. The small group then went for coffee.

³We did ask to speak to somebody,² said Arleen Boyd, a Beartooth co-op
member from Fishtail. ³We just want to observe the meeting.¹¹

³We figure it should be open. We¹re paying all of the bills. This has been
going on long enough,¹¹ said Larry Luloff, of Boyd, another Beartooth

³It¹s not like we don¹t have a dog in this fight,¹¹ said Deb Thomas, a
Beartooth member from Clark, Wyo.

Boyd and other members have pressed for more information as electrical rates
have increased and Southern has invested millions of dollars into the
Highwood Generation Station in Great Falls.

Last week, District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips of Lewistown ruled that
Southern must release three boxes of information that had long been withheld
from the public. Southern filed an appeal, which was denied.

Southern is made up of five member co-ops from south-central Montana, along
with Electric City Power of Great Falls. Tim Gregori, CEO of Southern, said
earlier that the most board members favor regional meetings at the best way
to answer questions. The only members of Southern are the handful of board
members who represent its five co-op members.

John Prinkki, a Southern board member from the Beartooth co-op, also said
earlier that it didn¹t make sense to open the meeting. Most of the agenda
items were confidential contractual issues, he said.

Terry Holzer, the general manager of the Yellowstone Valley Electric
Cooperative, found the closed meeting frustrating and said he personally
didn¹t agree with the decision.

³I think it makes us all kind of look bad. We pride ourselves on local
governance,¹¹ he said as he entered the building for the meeting.

YVEC, a Southern member, will hold its annual meeting on Tuesday at the
Holiday Inn Grand Montana Convention Center and the meeting will be open, he