Kaua`i Island Utilities “Co-Op” Is Not a Cooperative

It gets harder and harder each year to get excited– make that “involved”, since we left “excited” behind years ago– in the election of board members of Kaua`i Island Utilities “Co-op” (KIUC).

Note the word co-op in quotes.

Every year it’s the same thing. First a short list of “good” candidates is circulated, promises are made to shake things up, and then those that do manage to get elected do absolutely nothing. Not only do they do nothing but they magically seem to get KIUC-style religion and suddenly start toeing the “company” line.

Note the word company in quotes.

When asked “what the heck happened,” they claim that they “can’t do anything without a majority” on the board. But of course there is one thing they could do– speak out, or at least stop parroting whatever the “official policy” happens to be. And when asked again “why the heck?”,they pull a “Board Rule” out, claiming that it prevents them from even speaking unless they speak for the whole board.

That of course is utter bullshi*t. We’d love to see what would happen if those who say this would actually get together and put out a press release- or even verbally inform people who ask- stating that they disagree with the direction of the co-op and espouse their supposed “real thoughts.” If the rest of the board tried to remove or otherwise discipline them we’d expect to see a public battle and a public relations nightmare for KIUC that would make the FERC debacle look like the annual picnic.

We’ve yet to hear the real issues with KIUC addressed by any candidates, even Pat Gegen and Ken Stokes, two on the slate of hopefuls upon whom many are placing their hopes.

We’d support them if we weren’t symbolically boycotting the “Soviet-style” election where voters and candidates are limited to “party” members– we say “symbolically” because we don’t get a vote in the first place.

But our message to them, should they be elected, is: if you are going to run as “dissidents” and talk about change, act like dissidents and demand change.

So rather than tell you why to vote and who to vote for we’ll go over what we’d do if we ran the zoo.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight– KIUC is not a cooperative. In a cooperative, according to all definitions of consumer co-ops, members make all major decisions leaving a board of directors to oversee daily operational matters

As we wrote last month,

KIUC is what’s called a “Consumers’ Cooperative” in which,according… to Wikipedia, “(m)embers vote on major decisions and elect the board of directors from amongst their own number.”

With the lack of democracy has come a corporate mindset where the idea of “serving and facilitating members’ electricity needs” is an alien concept and, just like an investor-owned electric utility “selling electricity to customers” is the way KIUC operates. In order to become a co-op, KIUC must change its business plan.

Yet no one running has pledged to do this in the materials we’ve seen and heard.

And that brings up the matter of who is a member. The current set up is one of divide and conquer. Only those whose names appear on the bill has a vote. No account? No accountability. The fact is that there is no one on this island who is not a consumer of electricity in one way or another.

All adult residents must be allowed to become members and be entitled to a vote in order for KIUC to function as a true cooperative.

Yet no one running has pledged to change this.

Many do not know that when KIUC was first forming there was a competing plan to set up a municipal electric utility. As a matter of fact a structural format for doing so was voted upon by the electorate and passed and is now enshrined in our county charter.

It was done by the county council so as to leverage certain accountability standards from the formative board. It was a serious competitor at the time especially because, as would be prescient, many did not trust the co-op to be operated as an open and transparent entity.

Promises were made at the time– alas not in writing– to make sure that the initial by-laws would, to a large degree, reflect the state’s open meetings and record law. But when the dust settled nothing of the sort was so enshrined.

KIUC must start to operate, not just as a co-op, not just with an expanded membership, but under, if not the letter, at least the spirit of the state’s Sunshine and Freedom of Information laws.

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