March 16, 2014

Open letter to the member-owners, board and staff of OPALCO.

Subject: bylaw amendment to allow video access to our co-op's board meetings.

I have attended about 15 of the last 18 regular board meetings.  Our board meetings rotate between San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands.  When board meetings are on Lopez or Orcas I typically get up at 4:50AM to take a 5:50AM ferry.  Then drive to the board meeting and depending on how long the meeting runs I don't get back home until after 5PM.  It makes for a long day and an entire day off of work and the cost of ferry travel.  I attend all parts of the board meetings that the board does not declare ad hoc as executive sessions.

OPALCO's service area includes many islands not all of which are served by ferry.  Our geography and many members' financial situations create barriers to their attending open board meetings.  Internet web-based streaming video of board meetings can have many benefits to our cooperative that far outweigh the relatively minor costs to implement such measures.

Here are some of the benefits to our cooperative that could be realized through video access to board meetings:

1)  Addresses the geographic and financial barriers to our cooperative member-owners observing our board meetings.

2) The health of any democracy partly depends on the ability of its voters to view unimpeded its representatives in action.  In the case of our cooperative this bylaw amendment partially achieves at least two obligations of our cooperative with regard to our Rochdale Cooperative Principles (see


A) Education, Training and Information where "Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative."


B)  Democratic Member Control where "Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members—those who buy the goods or use the services of the cooperative—who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions." 

Allowing member-owners to offer input at board meetings or after viewing board meetings or putting forward amendments to our bylaws supports this principal.

3)  Those who are housebound or ill can observe board meetings online.

4)  Those who must work or care for children or cannot easily afford to travel to other islands can observe at a time of their convenience on-demand.

5)  While board packets include useful information they nor the board meeting minutes record the discussion, questions and answers that flow between board members and management.  They also do not explain the reasons a board member voted as they did.  A lot more information can be obtained by observing a board meeting in-person or online.

6)  Providing an audiovisual archive of prior board meetings allows members interested in becoming board members to get up to speed regarding the business and policies of our cooperative and see how the board and management work together.

7) Those who don't yet have adequate broadband can view board meetings from OPALCO fiber-fed libraries.

8) Promotes reduced greenhouse gas emissions needed to travel to board meetings.

This amendment does not preclude the board from creating a policy regarding such matters.   In fact, our board president told me at a board meeting after discussing it that they would do videoconferencing it just might take a while. I incorporated the feedback from the board and addressed their concerns.  It is left to the board whether to do videoconferencing.  Streamed video is a simpler and less expensive solution than videoconferencing.

Adding this amendment to our bylaws creates a contractual right for our member-owners, whereas board policy can be changed at any time.  Please take time to read the other links on costs, history of this amendment and the rebuttal to the board's statement against. 

Please vote in favor of this amendment.

Thank you!

Gray Cope
OPALCO cooperative member-owner and county resident since 1971
San Juan Island