Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Guest Post - OPALCO By-Law Change

Proportional Representation ... It's Time

OPALCO elections are upon us, and here is a guest post by Rob Thesman, the author of the OPALCO by-law change.

If you’re an OPALCO member, you’re being asked to vote up or down on a bylaw change contained in the ballots that are being distributed. While opponents are characterizing the bylaw change as “dangerous”, “unnecessary” and “irresponsible”, the truth is those people are simply trying to avoid fairness and balance on OPALCO board representation.

You only need to understand the numbers 2,432 and 345 to see the importance of making this change. The change itself is simple and straightforward, it’s two sentences: “At the end of the existing Article III – Directors, Section 1, General Powers, the following paragraph shall be inserted:

“As soon as practicable and at least once every ten years thereafter, the Board of Directors shall reapportion the number of directors seats attributable to each of the Districts listed in Article III – Directors, Section 2, Qualifications and Tenure, so as to align the representation of cooperative members as closely as possible with the actual number of energy members within each District. Furthermore, from time to time the Board of Directors shall update the boundaries of the above-referenced Districts so as to facilitate the goal of proportionate representation of the members in each of the Districts on the Board of Directors.”

That’s it – two sentences, directing the board to more fairly apportion the board seats. The separate districts covering San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands each currently have two directors while the district covering Shaw currently has one director. Looking at the number of members in each of those districts, San Juan Island has one director for every 2,432 members. Orcas has one director for every 1,812 members. But look at Lopez – Lopez has one director for every 1,185 members. And Shaw has one director for every 345 members!

The current system of apportioning directors gives some members more and others less representation due merely to where they live. The proposed bylaw change simply requires that the board fairly apportion the number of directors in each district, and to update the boundaries of each district, as necessary to make the board representation better aligned with the physical location of the co-op members. This does not change the total number of directors.

At the end of the reapportionment, every member of OPALCO will be represented by a board director. The language of the proposed changed disenfranchises not one single member. Board seats will be reallocated and districts will be redrawn with the simple goal of having each board seat represent the same number of members.

Opponents of the proposed change should consider how they will look their fellow county residents in the eye and explain to them that members on certain islands are so wise or special that they should have a disproportionately higher representation on the board than others.

Opponents of the bylaw change argue that no re-apportionment is necessary because all members vote on all directors’ seats. While it’s accurate to say that we all vote on all board seats, the existing bylaws specifically contemplate that directors will “represent” a particular district – it’s a requirement contained in Article III, section 2. But on a more practical level, who do you think represents you more, the director you run into at the grocery store or the one from an island you never go to? Does every director have an obligation to look out for the entire co-op? Absolutely, but the idea of representing a particular district is so important that it’s enumerated as one of only three requirements to run for a seat on the board.

One of the opponents of the change calls it costly because it will require an independent auditor. This is completely false. There is no requirement in this two sentence change that this redistricting would need to be “audited” before or after implementation and to suggest that is, at best, disingenuous.

Another argument made against the change is the ridiculous statement that that this might require redistricting “every six months”. A plain reading of the proposed change requires that the board calculate whether reapportionment should be done “at least once every ten years” after the initial reapportionment is completed.

In the final analysis, this proposed bylaw change isn’t dangerous, irresponsible, costly or vague. It’s two sentences that attempt to create a more representative balance of members’ opinions on the co-op board. Could it be that the opponents of the proposed change are really against it just because it endangers the overrepresentation they’ve enjoyed in the past?

We members of the co-op exercise our governance in two ways – directly through voting at the annual meeting and indirectly through the actions taken by the directors chosen from each district. The governance exercised by the directors is far more important in the day-to-day and long-term policy decisions of our co-op. It is a simple matter of fairness that no district should have a disproportionate weight in board representation. I urge you to vote “yes” on the bylaw change.

(Rob Thesman is an OPALCO member and the author of the bylaw change.)