The Southern Montana Electric Cooperative closed its annual meeting this morning, refusing access to seven people from one of its member cooperatives.
Police Officer Tom Keightley politely but firmly asked seven members of the Beartooth Electric Cooperative to get off the property at 3521 Gabel Road where Southern is located and move back to the sidewalk. Southern officials had asked the Police Department to send an officer to keep things from getting out of hand, Keightley said.
The Beartooth members complied but not before asking the officer to convey to Southern representatives their desire to attend the meeting. The officer said he would pass along the message. The small group then went for coffee.
“We did ask to speak to somebody,” said Arleen Boyd, a Beartooth co-op member from Fishtail. “We just want to observe the meeting.’’
“We figure it should be open. We’re paying all of the bills. This has been going on long enough,’’ said Larry Luloff, of Boyd, another Beartooth member.
“It’s not like we don’t have a dog in this fight,’’ said Deb Thomas, a Beartooth member from Clark, Wyo.
Boyd and other members have pressed for more information as electrical rates have increased and Southern has invested millions of dollars into the Highwood Generation Station in Great Falls.
Last week, District Court Judge E. Wayne Phillips of Lewistown ruled that Southern must release three boxes of information that had long been withheld from the public. Southern filed an appeal, which was denied.
Southern is made up of five member co-ops from south-central Montana, along with Electric City Power of Great Falls. Tim Gregori, CEO of Southern, said earlier that the most board members favor regional meetings at the best way to answer questions. The only members of Southern are the handful of board members who represent its five co-op members.
John Prinkki, a Southern board member from the Beartooth co-op, also said earlier that it didn’t make sense to open the meeting. Most of the agenda items were confidential contractual issues, he said.
Terry Holzer, the general manager of the Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative, found the closed meeting frustrating and said he personally didn’t agree with the decision.
“I think it makes us all kind of look bad. We pride ourselves on local governance,’’ he said as he entered the building for the meeting.
YVEC, a Southern member, will hold its annual meeting on Tuesday at the Holiday Inn Grand Montana Convention Center and the meeting will be open, he said.