RED LODGE — Two Beartooth Electric Cooperative trustees who have been targeted by a recall effort will have to decide next week whether to fight for their seats or resign from the board.
Trustee John Prinkki, who has more than 20 years on the board, addressed the topic during the co-op’s monthly board meeting on Friday. He said he and trustee Joe Kern will consult their attorney next week, after which they will decide whether to contest the recall or resign.
Should they press on, they will have the opportunity to address the charges during a special meeting slated for 11 a.m. Jan. 28 at the Civic Center in Red Lodge.
Fix BEC, a group of Beartooth customer/members, gathered 330 signatures last year to initiate the recall of the two trustees. A letter released by Fix BEC lists several charges against Prinkki and Kern, among them the failure to meet their fiduciary responsibilities.
The group claims the two refused to conduct an “independent, expert and thorough study” of the impact of Phase II of the Highwood Generation Station before voting in favor of increasing debt from $85 million to $300 million to pay for it.
Should Prinkki and Kern proceed, they will ask for an independent third party to conduct the meeting.
“We have very serious concerns about how this is being handled,” Prinkki said.
They question the impartiality of legal counsel and they question the timing of the signatures that were collected on the recall petitions. Several dozen signatures were gathered on the day of the co-op’s annual meeting last September, the same day Beartooth members approved several bylaw changes that are relevant to a recall effort.
The new bylaws require 450 signatures or 10 percent of the membership, up from the 300 required in the former bylaws.
“We dispute whether they actually have enough signatures,” Kern said.
Likewise, the two trustees favor a recall vote by mail over a special member meeting. The new bylaws introduced a mail ballot process that was not part of the former bylaws.
“We’re at a huge disadvantage for people to attend the meeting,” Prinkki said. “We don’t have the organization they (Fix BEC) do.”
Prinkki and Kern estimate their legal costs could total $10,000, with possibly another $5,000 for hiring an energy expert.
As Beartooth members wait to see how the recall plays out, trustee Arleen Boyd reported that customers will likely be spared another rate increase for the next few months. After being hit with several increases in 2011, the co-op was facing a 20 percent wholesale rate increase from its power supplier, Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission.
But after Southern filed for bankruptcy in October, the rate increase was dropped until details of the bankruptcy become clearer.