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Troubled UDWI Board Commits To Transparency In The New Year

2017 was a year marked by scandals and allegations of money mismanagement at the Utilities District of Western Indiana. The rural electric cooperative hopes to continue its efforts in the New Year to increase transparency and build member trust.

The board unanimously approved a transparency policy at its meeting Monday night. The policy outlines what information the co-op will make available to its members. Rural Electric Co-ops are different than public utilities because the ratepayers, called members, are in charge. They elect a board that hires and fires the CEO.

Doug Childs started as CEO in November. He replaced Brian Sparks, who the board fired in June during an active FBI investigation.

Childs says the transparency policy establishes clear rules about why things should or should not be released.

“We’ll try to err on the side of get things out and do it as quickly as we can,” Childs said.

Benefits For Board Members

About a dozen people attended Monday's meetings, and during the public comment period, an issue several people brought up is the amount of money board members receive. The co-op's bylaws prohibit the board from collecting a salary, but they do receive a stipend of $275 for each meeting and they are offered the same insurance benefits as all co-op employees. If they refuse the insurance, they can get the equivalent compensation.

“The reason we are doing things the way we are is our lawyers 15 years ago said compensation must be equal,” board president Ron Thompson said when pressed on the issue at Monday’s meeting.

Thompson takes the compensation. He says it’s about $1,200 a month.

Thompson says out of the 38 electric cooperatives in the state, about half offer insurance or compensation.

Co-op member Scott Richards asked board members how many were taking the insurance and how many were receiving the compensation check. Not all the board members raised their hands, but Thompson said it was about 50/50.

“I don’t take either,” said board treasurer Todd Carpenter. David Burger also does not take the insurance or the compensation.

Carpenter, Burger and John Royal of District 4 are the newest board members. They ousted years-long incumbents in April after running as the "change" candidates.

“I recognize some people might be on Medicare or whatever and we’re writing a check for $1,500, so we’re overcompensating,” Richards said.

“It’s a topic we’re trying to get a handle on but again we’re not all the way out in left field,” said Thompson, referencing the benefits packages other co-ops offer.

Jimmy Shields owns a hardware store in Linton. It’s a local gathering place and Shields says board compensation is something his customers continue to question.

“It’s pretty unusual for this area," Shields said. "They’d like to see that cut way back."

Earlier this month, the board ended a policy that required the co-op to provide health benefits to employees, board directors and their spouses for life.

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