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ROBERTS – As a wave of anti-incumbency sweeps the nation, so went elections for the Beartooth Electric Cooperative’s board.

During the cooperative’s annual meeting in Roberts on Saturday, two newcomers handily won seats on the cooperative board. Arleen Boyd of Fishtail was elected to represent District 5, which encompasses the area from Roscoe to Fishtail, Dean and north to Absarokee. Likewise, members voted in Roxie Melton of Boyd to represent District 2, which stretches from north of Roberts to Boyd, Joliet and northwest to Shane Ridge.

Boyd won over incumbent Mike Plymale, with 61 percent of the vote. Plymale, of the Absarokee area, had served for 18 years as a Beartooth trustee.

Melton was elected with 61 percent of the vote over another newcomer, Frankie Ropp. Ropp was nominated by incumbent Ronnie Wright Jr., who chose not to run.

The election results followed a lengthy meeting. While customers from Clark, Wyo., complained about numerous interruptions in service, a resident of the Stillwater River area commended Beartooth for its immediate response to power outages during the 2006 Derby fire.

The nomination process was also marked by differing opinions. One side charged that a vote for either of the two women was a “vote for special interests” while vocal supporters of Boyd and Melton occasionally countered with cheers and jeers.

Both Boyd and Melton have been outspoken critics of the Highwood Generation Station proposed for the Great Falls area. When asked how they will work within the seven-member co-op board, which has supported the Highwood project, Boyd said she will focus on the issues and the truth.

“You get the information and understand it and make a judgment,” she said. “There is no reason why it should be personal.”

Boyd said she has no agenda other than to do the best job she can as a board member. That includes making sure the numbers add up, she said, and making information easily accessible to customers.

Melton admitted that she will face a sharp learning curve but is committed to the task. She is an ardent supporter of the co-op principles of providing reliable, affordable power for its customers, she said.

“I hope my experience will complement the job we have ahead,” she said.

If 60 percent of the record crowd of 279 left the meeting pleased with the outcome, no doubt all co-op members were glad to hear that no rate hikes were proposed.

“Rates should be much more stable going forward,” said John Prinkki, president of Beartooth’s board.

Prinkki also noted that the bylaw committee, suspended last spring, would commence work again this fall. By next year’s annual meeting, he said, he hopes the issue of voting by mail on co-op topics will be clarified and presented to the co-op membership.

During his report, manager Ron Roodell explained why Beartooth’s rates are among the highest in the state. He said that, among several reasons, Beartooth has a much greater percentage of residential versus commercial customers than the average co-op of its size. And roughly one third of those residences are only seasonal. Both factors drive costs up for the limited customer base, he said.

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