Rebuttal statements supporting the use of Internet based viewing of our cooperative's board meetings.

[See below for a comparison of cost estimates.]

OPALCO engaged Howard Barbour to write the con statement against this proposed bylaw amendment to provide our member-owners with video of our board meetings.

Howard stated this amendment "does not belong in our bylaws."

Rebuttal:  False!  OPALCO's attorney's found no reason to exclude this proposed amendment from being added to our bylaws.   Their memorandum was made public on our co-op's website in the February 2014 board packet and it stated in part:

"Based upon a review of state law, the OPALCO Articles and Bylaws, we find no legal objection to this member-proposed Bylaw amendment or its form."
You can read our co-op attorneys' memorandum here:  

Adding this amendment to our bylaws creates a contractual right of our cooperative owners to have better access to our board meetings.

Howard stated "Board packets and minutes are available to members online."

Rebuttal:  True, but anyone who has served on a board or has attended an OPALCO board meeting knows that minutes intentionally do not include details of what each board director offered to discussions or why they voted as they did.  Being able to view & hear the discussion allows all our co-op owners (whether they live here full- or part-time) to make well informed choices of whom to retain on our board when they vote.  It is integral to a healthy democratic process to be able to view such deliberations unfiltered and observe the quality of each board director's contributions.  Board packets and minutes don't provide that.  

Howard stated "OPALCO would have to purchase mobile equipment, subject to wear and tear from travel."

Rebuttal:  All that is needed to video record board meetings is a digital video camera and a stand to put it on.  An external conference tabletop microphone could also be used.   Relatively inexpensive digital camcorders are rugged and fit easily into a padded carrying case.   Almost everything is subject to wear and tear from travel.  I believe we can anticipate that our quality staff will have little trouble treating the equipment with the necessary care.  Numerous portable video conferencing solutions that would allow members to speak to the board are available, but video conferencing is not required by this proposed amendment.  

Howard stated "A staff member would be removed from regular duties to run the equipment, edit and post the video."

Rebuttal:  It would take maybe 5 minutes max to setup the video camera and turn it on.  The camera could be left to run or turned off and on with a remote control by staff members who regularly attend all board meetings anyway.

This proposed amendment states the videos may not be edited except to exclude breaks and executive sessions.  No editing required other than to determine the start and end of the video.  Transfer from the camera to computer would be as simple as cabling the camera to a computer and starting a simple transfer process.  Conversion and uploading of the video to a web server could mostly be automated.  None of this requires staff to babysit the process.  Our co-op already has a software IT person and this would not be a huge use of their time and they have up to 7 days to post the video.

Howard stated:  "Quality would vary and very few members would actually view the videos."

Rebuttal:  Video recording and storage quality would be relatively consistent and listening and viewing quality over the Internet would depend on speeds of an individual's home network, computer and broadband connection.  Also, our public libraries have fiber-fed facilities where good quality web-based viewing is possible.

We have had OPALCO board meetings where there was only standing room left and owners outside the meeting room door.  If the choice is expensive capital expansion to our meeting rooms or providing relatively inexpensive video over the Internet then this amendment is a better use of our owner's capital.

Howard stated:  "This measure is not a prudent use of Co-op resources."

Maximizing member attendance is an explicit policy of our co-op and in harmony with our cooperative principles.  

Policy 11.2.1 states: "It shall be the policy of OPALCO to encourage maximum member attendance at all board meetings." (see here)

Board directors are paid to attend meetings on behalf of our co-op and that is a larger expense to us than making videos of the meetings available on the Internet.  Video conferencing which would allow member-owners a chance to offer input to the board does not have to be significantly expensive.  This amendment will increase the number of owners who are able to observe our board meetings.  

Reducing geographic barriers, reducing greenhouse gas emissions driving to and from board meetings on other islands, reducing barriers due to our co-op owners' financial and time constraints and allowing them to observe our democratically elected board representatives is well worth the relatively minor cost of allowing remote access to view our board meetings over the Internet.

One board director during a board meeting break stated to several of us that at the point our cooperative had spent $900,000 on the broadband initiative study "about 1/3 [$300,000] of that was pissed away."
 If our board can waste our capital in amounts like that why shouldn't our owners be allowed to spend a tiny fraction of that amount ensuring our board meetings can be observed by all members who desire doing so?

[I am pro-broadband and only give that example to bring home the point that the board has the legal right to waste our capital and we as owner's have a right to specify how our capital is used through bylaw amendments like this.]

Estimated costs of web-based video recording and on-demand playback on the Internet:

Estimated cost of digital camcorder with Flash memory card to record for 17 hours, charger and transfer cable $300.  Stand $17.  Padded camcorder kit bag $10.

Total one-time cost of equipment needed to record video estimated at  $327
(one time cost per member 29 cents).

Most computers sold today come with the necessary software to transfer video from camcorder to computer and edit the start and stop of a video and transfer / convert it for playback on a web-server.  A dedicated computer would not be needed unless management wants one.  Web server choices range from free options like YouTube or Vimeo or monthly fee services.   

As described above the labor needed to record and upload the video to make it available for viewing by our member-owners could be minimal and not require extra staff.

Estimated costs of video conferencing (this is not required by this proposed amendment and left to the board whether to implement):

The purpose of video conferencing would be to allow our member-owners to offer input as permitted by the board and encouraged by our cooperative principles without having to take an entire day travelling to another island to attend the board meetings.  This proposed amendment makes this an option to implement at the discretion of our  board.

There are web-based video conferencing options that support up to 200 attendees for $78 / month and include recording of the meetings for playback later by all our member-owners.  That averages out to 8.5 cents per year for every residential and commercial member.  A digital camcorder or camera can be connected to a networked notebook computer for use with live web-based audio-video conferencing.

The county uses "AV Capture All" which allows live and recorded video playback of meetings with sophisticated document storage and tagging to video content.  These videos use web browser access over the Internet.  The county clerk responsible for note taking can operate the camera from a computer / laptop.  It doesn't require extra staff to do this.  There are newer and better solutions, but for pricing see here.  Pricing for installation, training & unlimited support ranges from $180, $360 to $540 per month with annual subscriptions.  This does not include the cost of equipment.

Our co-op already has optical fiber-connected facilities with meeting rooms in our Eastsound and Friday Harbor offices.  The Lopez Library community room which is fiber-fed with our co-op broadband fiber has video conferencing equipment and might be a place to hold board meetings that could allow remote attendance from other islands.  Typically board meetings on Lopez are held at the fire station, Woodmen Hall, or Lopez Islander Resort depending on availability.  It is always a possibility that board meetings on Lopez are only available using Internet based video playback until such time as the board desires video conferencing.  Remember in this proposed bylaw amendment video conferencing is an option left to the discretion of the board.

Comparing cost estimates of Internet web-based viewing our board meetings:

By comparison OPALCO's estimated costs are $40,000 capital and 7,980 per year for labor with cost of living increases.  I had to fill out an information request form just to obtain a breakdown of those costs that I could share with our member-owners.  Here is what was provided by staff:
"The following cost estimate for webstreaming board meetings was submitted by technical services staff:
Roving Meeting Package: All the hardware and software to record the meeting and then upload
to the OPALCO website after the meeting for member view
Projected costs for this option are as follows:
Capital Costs (equipment, install, configure)                         $40,000
Operational Costs (2 staff x 8 hours each x 12 meetings)       $ 7,980
:                                                                      $47,980 / year 1
 (3% average COL increase)                       $ 8,200 / year 2"

So webstreaming and video conferencing for as low as $78 per month and less than $500 in one-time equipment costs and little to no staff time needed vs $40,000 equipment and $7,980+ labor costs per year.  Those labor costs for 2 staff for 16 hours per meeting are not realistic given there is no need to do significant editing and by comparison our county's system does not need extra staff time to operate their system.  Our management estimate seems over the top just to do webstreaming (not video conferencing). That estimate might give you some idea why the board's broadband initiative study cost our member-owners over $1.2 million. Averaging out to over $108 extracted from every energy member (counting residential and commercial memberships).

Please vote and consider voting yes to this amendment.  It will be a great benefit to our cooperative and help fulfill our cooperative principles and operational Policy 11.  Being able to view video on-demand at our member-owners' convenience whether at home or at a library helps all of us to be engaged in our cooperative and make well informed decsions during our elections.

Thank you!

Gray Cope
OPALCO member-owner & resident since 1971