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EDITOR’S NOTE: We are publishing this rebuttal from the Dunn Energy Cooperative over a story that appeared in the August 26, 2020 edition, which contained errors.
In the August 26th edition of this paper, an article was written regarding a letter Dunn Energy Cooperative (DEC) Board Members and the General Manager received from Cooperative members Chuck & Barbara Boyer. This letter called for the resignation of two Board Members based on their opinion of a previous version of the Cooperative bylaws when these directors were elected. It is true that we did receive this letter, but as Paul Harvey used to say, “And now the rest of the story”.
To recap how this story started, our corporate attorney received communication from the reporter asking for a response to the letter. He provided a response and he also communicated to the reporter that we would welcome the opportunity for our General Manager to meet with her and answer questions about the article she was planning to write. To our disappointment, we were never offered the chance to answer any questions about the specific allegations raised in this article. We are thankful for the opportunity today from the Editorial Board to set the record straight.
The member who wrote the letter that this article was based on claims to represent an ad hoc group of cooperative members. We welcome feedback and engaged Cooperative members, however we want to be clear that the primary driver of these allegations is a single member.
The story claimed, without evidence, that districts 6 and 8 in the Cooperative have changed recently. The truth is, there have been no changes to any districts at the Cooperative since 2003.The Cooperative Board serving at that time took redistricting measures to make sure the total membership was properly distributed throughout the districts. This redistricting affected seven districts in our service territory; not just the two mentioned. Again, there have been no changes in district 6 or 8 for almost two decades.
The story also stated, without research, that DEC has no written policy on providing members access to the minutes of board meetings. This is unequivocally false. Cooperative Policy 118.00: Requests for Cooperative Information, has been in place since August 28, 1995. This policy requests that members fill out a form to state the reason they wish to examine Dunn Energy records including, but not limited to, Cooperative Board minutes. This policy would have been easily verified with a call to the Cooperative and printing inaccuracies in the story could have been avoided.
In fact, the member who provided the information to this publication has, on several occasions in the last three years, used the written policy (that DEC allegedly doesn’t have) to access the minutes of the cooperative, as well as other cooperative documents.
It is also important to note that DEC is not a governmental body. Dunn Energy Cooperative is a private business organized as a cooperative. Minutes could contain sensitive information about Cooperative business, territory issues, litigation and other strategic planning initiatives that would benefit our competition should they have access. One common misconception is that the Cooperative does not compete for business with other utilities. We have, on several occasions, competed with other electric providers for load growth in our service territory.
The Board of Directors and management of DEC have an obligation to the membership to protect the Cooperative. This doesn’t mean that our Board or management is trying to hide things from the members. To the contrary, by having a procedure in place to view Cooperative information, the Board can fulfill its obligations to the members to protect the Cooperative and make sure those that are viewing Cooperative information are not using that data for personal financial gain or to put the Cooperative at a competitive disadvantage. Cooperative information is accessible by members. We firmly believe that the process in place exists to protect and strengthen your Cooperative.
One of the other incredibly misleading statements made in the article is the suppositions made regarding Cooperative director qualifications. Dunn Energy does not discriminate against members based on what type of electrical service they have with us. Individuals, as well as farms and businesses, are all members, who have always been and will continue to be, eligible to run for the Board of Directors. Dunn Energy Cooperative will not discriminate against a Class A member based on what type of energy service they have.
DEC is organized as a 501 (c) 12 under the IRS code. This requires some very specific things from the Federal government, including how we define a member. In a nutshell, it says a member is an individual, corporation, or cooperative that is entitled to participate in cooperative management due to the fact they receive electrical service from the cooperative. Violating the IRS code would result in DEC incurring significant tax liability which would hurt the membership.
The bylaws of the Cooperative were originally written in 1936, when every member was a farmer. Today, we have a wide range of members, including mechanic and welding shops, corn drying facilities, cabins, restaurants, phone company sites, a printing facility, a racetrack and a private airport, as well as homes and farms. Over the course of the last 80 years the bylaws have been changed, from time to time, to meet the needs of the Cooperative and its membership. In 2018 the Board of Directors and management, under advisement of corporate counsel and our insurance carrier, decided to open up the bylaws to propose three changes. The proposed changes were mailed to each member and discussed in length in the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News magazine. All three amendments were overwhelmingly approved at the 2018 Annual Meeting of Members.
The change regarding director qualifications was made to clear up any ambiguity or conflict in interpretation in what was required of a member to run for the Board. It was in the Cooperative’s best interest to remove language from the document that could have been interpreted as discriminatory. Dunn Energy has two types of members; a Class A member (uses energy services and is entitled to full membership and voting rights) and a Class B member (doesn’t use energy service, but purchases other goods or services from the Cooperative). Class B members can’t vote, run for the Board or receive dividends. Telling one Class A member (who has residential service) that they can run for the Board while telling another Class A member (who has a business on our lines, but lives elsewhere) that they cannot run for the Board is discrimination. The intent of the bylaw changes that the membership approved was to hold true to Cooperative Principle #2: Democratic Member Control – One Member, One Vote. Doing anything less would go against what a Cooperative stands for.
The board members in question have been, and continue to be, eligible to serve on the Board of Directors. Each director is a Class A member. They have been vetted by the nominating committee, legal counsel and they have been elected by a majority of voters.
The article also states that, “The addresses have been physically verified on numerous occasions” regarding board member residences. As Board members, we have made no secret about where we live. We aren’t sure how many times a group needs to “physically” verify a board members address. We would think once would be enough, but yet it appears this has happened on “numerous occasions”. We hope this unnecessary behavior comes to an end.
In the end we truly wished the reporter had taken us up on the offer to meet with our General Manager, done their due diligence, checked sources and verified facts. We understand that a member of the Cooperative disagrees with the position of the Board and how the membership voted on these bylaws back in 2018. However, at the end of the day, we hope that the member who wrote this letter can accept the fact that the members voted in favor of the bylaw amendments. We may just have to agree to disagree.
The Board members and employees of Dunn Energy work tirelessly to provide our members with high-quality service at the most practical cost. We do that work with the time-honored belief in democratic member control, equal membership, commitment to community and member economic participation. We do that work each day with both honor and integrity. It’s been that way since the 1930’s and will continue to be that way for years to come. If members ever have any questions, the Board and General Manager are only a phone call away. Thank you for your time.
The Dunn Energy Cooperative Board of Directors
Larry Amble, Brian Johnson, Jeff Gasteyer, Dean Stokke, Ed Hartung, Tom Zwiefelhofer, James Wildner, Lee Jensen, and Rachel Kummer
Jesse Singerhouse, General Manager/CEO