Alan See, interim manager for the bankrupt Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative, was relieved of his job Friday, after he hired Tim Gregori, Southern's former manager, to do work at one of Southern's member co-ops.
In announcing the decision, Livingston attorney Lee Freeman, Southern's trustee, said, "I just want to be clear. There is no relationship connection between Southern and Tim Gregori. I don't want anybody to think there is still some lingering connection between the company I'm running and Tim Gregori."
See, who is the manager of the Ashland-based Tongue River Electric Co-op, was appointed Southern's interim manager in November by the co-op's former chairman after Gregori abruptly retired when Southern's bankruptcy was announced.
See had hired Gregori for some special projects at Tongue River, Freeman said.
"I just told Alan See that was one of the reasons it was an appropriate time for him to return to Tongue River. The hiring of Gregori is what caused it to occur today," the trustee said. "We cannot afford to have anybody think that Tim Gregori has any connection to Southern," he said.
See did not return calls seeking comment. Gregori also could not be reached for comment.
Some of Southern's members blame Gregori for the organization's financial problems, saying he bought more electricity than needed, triggering numerous wholesale rate hikes to members, and pushed to borrow $85 million to build the Highwood Generating Station, a 40-megawatt natural gas-fired plant outside Great Falls. Southern was trying to borrow up to $300 million more to expand the plant to 120 megawatts when it went broke.
Southern is a Billings-based wholesale power co-op that supplies electricity mostly to its members. The members include the Tongue River, Yellowstone Valley, Fergus, Mid-Yellowstone and Beartooth co-ops and the city of Great Falls.
As interim manager, See's job was to get Southern through the first few months of bankruptcy and that has been done, Freeman said.
"We've righted the company. It's in good shape," Freeman said.
Freeman ended Southern's main power supply contract with PPL, the co-op's largest unsecured creditor, and has been building cash by buying power on the market at cheaper rates. Meanwhile, Freeman has been negotiating with creditors.
Freeman said he is considering the appointment of another interim manager for Southern.
Other larger generation and transmission co-ops, including the Wabash Valley Power Association, in Indianapolis, Ind., have offered to provide Southern with executives on a temporary basis, Freeman said.
Freeman called Wabash Valley, which he has represented for 30 years, "an exceptionally well-run G and T (generation and transmission co-operative)."
The Yellowstone Valley co-op, which was critical of Gregori's management and thought See was improperly appointed manager, supported Freeman's action.
"We think that was the right decision to make," said Terry Holzer, retired Yellowstone Valley manager who continues to advise the co-op.
Meanwhile, an bankruptcy hearing set for April 17 has been rescheduled to April 24 by Judge Ralph Kirscher.
The hearing will be on Yellowstone Valley's request to continue in state court its battle to leave Southern as well as other bankruptcy matters.