InterBel Annual Meeting

This year’s annual meeting for InerBel fell in April (as ever), but that may not be the case next year, due to changes in the bilaws.

It made for an interesting meeting- not just because the reports were interesting, but because members voted on proposed bylaw changes. Why was this interesting? In short, because members first voted to accept of all changes without amendment, which passed in an verbal vote. Then, there was a discussion about the changes, and then a paper vote over whether or not to repeal the results of the previous vote.

If this sounds a little backwards, it isn’t your imagination- it was. So- in order of events: Promotional Video, Various Reports, Election, Vote to accept bylaw changes, Debate over bylaw changes, Vote (failed) to rescind the vote that accepted the bylaw changes.

The changes (which were approved together as a single vote):

  • Customers that aren’t within the district boundaries are not members.
  • Annual Meeting takes place at a date/time appointed by the Board each year
  • Not having an annual meeting at that time does not dissolve the cooperative or “affect the validity of any corporate action”
  • Five Percent of all members or 50 members present whichever is fewer will constitute a quorum
  • No more term limits for the Board
  • Various board positions essentially have all other duties as assigned in their descriptions now
  • Voting by mail is okay

The commentary (from various members):

  • Substituting elections for term limits is comparing apples to oranges
  • The trend in rural cooperatives is to abolish term limits because finding board members is hard
  • Term limits are an important part of the democratic process
  • Term limits are a stupid reason to lose a good board member
  • 50 people is way too few to represent 4,000
  • It’s really hard to get a quorum- we barely made it today
  • The quorum definition is consistent with state law
  • Why didn’t we vote on these individually?
  • Why didn’t we get to discuss these first?
  • Who exactly doesn’t get to be a cooperative member? What was the reasoning?
  • Limiting the members keeps the southward expansion from adding a bunch of new people more concerned with their local issues than those of North Lincoln County

The election- which probably led into some of the concerns about term limits. As is rather typical, there were no more people running than vacancies. Both incumbents ran and were elected. I begin to wonder how often we actually have elections?

The LCHS robotics team came and spoke, presumably because InterBel has been providing them with funding- which evidently worked well, since they’re going to a Worldwide competition. They were pretty enthused- and I, at least, was pretty impressed.

InterBel has put fiber through all of the legacy territory, with about 500 homes left in Eureka and Rexford, which should hopefully be connected this year. There are 130 service requests on the south route. Capital credit checks went out at record rates, there’s been a 30% increase in broadband use, a significant increase in members, and an impressive amount of new construction requests this year.

In general, the cooperative has been experienced substantial and rapid growth. This is presenting some challenges- probably worsened by the inflation and supply chain problems. While the federal government has been providing some unexpected funding, it’s coming with regulatory strings that make it a mixed blessing. On the whole, management seems pretty optimistic about another good year- though they are having to anticipate material needs 6-8 months in advance in order to actually have supplies to work with.


75th Annual Meeting of Lincoln Electric Coop

Like last year, the meeting took place at Lincoln County High School, and could be attended by car. Unlike last year, in person attendance was also possible. Voting for trustees had already been done (Exclusively by mail), though the results were announced at the meeting.

In a somewhat novel experience, there were (for one district) more candidates than vacancies, so the election had the possibility of making a difference. All three incumbents were reelected, including Tina Taurman (District 7). Taurman ran unopposed, with 335 votes.

With coffee, breakfast (Four Corners) and 75th Anniversary cake (Second Chance Bakery) available outside the auditorium (and a video stream of the stage), it was a very comfortable meeting. Attendees could choose between the easy to get out of chairs outside the auditorium (but no back support) or the chairs inside the auditorium that offered back support if perhaps a bit more difficulty in getting up. Of course, the food (and coffee) was outside the auditorium.

Folks were evidently pleased by the opportunity to be around friends and neighbors. It had the sense of after church coffee hour, if after church coffee happened during the service. Talking stopped for the pledge, and things were a bit quieter during the doorprize drawings, and much quieter for the luck of the draw scholarships. This year, the gift cards included one to Trego Pub.

I did try to get closer to the speakers, since the actual meeting content sounded interesting. Unfortunately, standing up gave neighboring tables a view of my service dog, and the whispering kept things just as hard to hear as when I had been seated.

So, having cake and hearing the meeting did not combine well. That said, I do still have at least some details to share. Ryan Hall (whose article can be found in the recent issue of Rural Montana) spoke about the efforts that Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association (MECA) made to combat a feasibility study of breaching the Lower Snake River Dams. Replacing the Lower Snake River Dams with other clean-energy options would be very expensive, and, at least in the case of solar, impractical.

Dam breaching is proposed for environmental benefits, in this case restoring fisheries to benefit salmon is a major concern. The electric cooperatives consider the new proposed study to be part of a strategy by people that want the dams breached to keep ordering studies until one meets their needs. Members attending the meeting were encouraged to fill out postcards to be sent to the governor, supporting MECA’s aims with regards to the Lower Snake River Dams.


Comparing Annual Meetings

InterBel Telephone Cooperative held its annual meeting on Saturday.

Registration- two lines

It was a bright, sunlit morning and a well attended meeting; 311 people were registered when the meeting began (Unlike Lincoln Electric’s Meeting with only 97 members registered).

Attendance: InterBel definitely had better attendance- but more about whether or not that’s a virtue for attendee’s later.

Registration: The lines were definitely longer for InterBel; Unlike Lincoln Electric, InterBel had a single registration point. Of course, they were handing out capital credits at that point, so the reason for the lengthy line was pretty self-explanatory.

The Radio: InterBel wins this one. Unlike the static of Lincoln Electric’s pre-meeting, when visitors sat in cold cars and wondered if they had the right station, InterBel provided a concert. By a local musician, no less!

Length: About equal, actually. And they felt equally long. InterBel’s had what felt like longer stretches with people talking, but the cold and nasty weather made the Lincoln Electric Meeting feel long as well.

Content: If you wanted to learn what was going on, InterBel held the better meeting. It was almost a shame to attend in person and miss the livestream, because there was a video and presentation.

The representative of the audit firm didn’t just state that they’d provided an unbiased opinion (which was the case for Lincoln Electric) but actually explained some of the features of the balance sheet. While seeing the graphs would have been helpful (printouts next-time?) it was a fairly clear, easy to follow, useful explanation.

In related news: InterBel is working on converting the Eureka business corridor to fiber optics, extending fiber to the West Kootenai, and expects to have fiber access to most of Eureka by the end of the year.

Trustees Election: When was the last time we had an election? And I don’t mean election by acclamation, I mean an actual election where people voted. Neither meeting had an actual election with voting. No, not even Lincoln Electric- there was literally no more candidates than vacancies, despite the mail-in ballot members received.

Prizes: Lincoln Electric definitely had more available. InterBel had 8 total (Including the grand prize). The odds were also better at the Lincoln Electric Meeting -far lower attendance! With only 97 people registered, and over ten prizes, the odds of winning something were at least 10% (and increased as each winner was removed from further drawings). The prizes for InterBel were a bit larger though.

My preference was for the InterBel meeting, which ran smoothly, included plenty of content, and for the most part seemed better planned. But folks interested in winning prizes (any prizes) would definitely have been better served by attending the Lincoln Electric Meetings. Not to mention the Luck of the Draw scholarships which Lincoln Electric provides.

One complaint: No bathrooms- this does limit the people who are able/willing to attend somewhat.


LEC members voted to let all members vote

Lincoln Electric Cooperative members voted to give voting rights to all members. Granted, that’s not actually what Proposed By-Laws Change #4 said, but it is precisely what it accomplished. While there was a delegate certificate included in the Notice of Annual Meeting, it applied only to voting “the membership of a corporation, association, school, political body, church or firm with multiple ownership”. Individuals cannot vote by proxy (See article 3, section 4 of the by-laws).

Individuals cannot vote by proxy, and members were required to register and vote at the meeting in order to vote. So, who couldn’t vote at this last meeting?

Effectively, for Canadian Members of LEC, voting was prohibited this year. While our Canadian neighbors have some capability to cross the border, it’s limited and comes with a mandatory 14 day quarantine -It’s insane to expect anyone to donate 2 weeks of their lives purely for a LEC meeting, however exciting the meeting.

But it wasn’t just Canadian Members that couldn’t attend. This year’s Notice of Meeting included the warning of limited bathroom facilities, and for some members of our community that’s a huge issue [It’s hard to imagine that bathroom visits every10-15 minutes aren’t sufficiently limiting of major life activities to qualify under ADA].

But- no more! While some members of LEC have been previously denied their vote at the annual meetings, this will no longer be the case. The Proposed By-Laws Change #4, passed at Saturday’s meeting will give them the same ability to vote as other LEC members. This change introduced mail-in ballots, which means physical attendance of the meetings will no longer be a requirement to vote.

While mail-in ballots are not without problems, this change will make LEC more accessible to its members. To read the by-law changes (all passed), check out the Notice of Annual Meeting, found here.