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Tim Gregori, the general manager of the Southern Montana Electric Transmission and Generation Cooperative, retired abruptly Tuesday from the troubled wholesale power supplier that recently filed for bankruptcy.

Southern's new interim manager, Alan See, the general manager of the Tongue River Electric Cooperative in Ashland, said Wednesday that he will be overseeing the day-to-day operations and helping with Southern's reorganization effort under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

See said he was appointed Tuesday by Southern's president, Bill FitzGerald, from the Mid-Yellowstone Electric Cooperative in Hysham. See said he will serve as interim manager until a new general manager can be hired.

The Southern board did not meet, he said.

Gregori's retirement comes about a week before a bankruptcy creditors meeting, which is set for Nov. 17 in federal court in Billings. The meeting will be the first opportunity for creditors to question Southern officials under oath about its finances and reorganization plans.

See said he didn't know yet if Gregori would be at the creditors meeting.

"Tim will be available to help as needed with his institutional knowledge," he said.

See said Gregori "just decided it was time to retire."

Gregori had been Southern's manager since it formed in 2003. Gregori did not return a call seeking comment.

Southern is composed of five central and southeastern rural cooperatives and the city of Great Falls. The Billings-based umbrella co-op buys electricity from other suppliers and sells mostly to its members. Southern also built the Highwood Generating Station, the new, $85 million, 40-megawatt natural-gas power outside of Great Falls.

In addition to the Mid-Yellowstone and Tongue River co-ops, the other cooperative members include Beartooth in Red Lodge, Yellowstone Valley in Huntley and Fergus in Lewistown.

Gregori's sudden exit and See's interim appointment blindsided some of Southern's trustees, who renewed their complaints that its board is acting without authority and making decisions in secret.

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"This is not proper here. This stuff is catching us all by surprise. We will fight this. It's a black eye for the co-op system," said David Kelsey, Southern's trustee from the Yellowstone Valley co-op.

There was no board notice or emergency trustee meeting about Gregori's retirement or his replacement, Kelsey said.

Bob Jones, Southern's trustee representing Great Falls, said, "Our concern, once again, the way they do business. Again, the decisions are made without quorums. We had no idea it was going on."

Southern filed for bankruptcy Oct. 21 after half of the six-member board approved the action, along with a 20 percent immediate wholesale price increase. Earlier in the meeting, representatives from Yellowstone Valley, Great Falls and Beartooth walked out in protest after the board refused to seat a new Beartooth representative. They were not part of the bankruptcy or rate hike decisions.

Southern said in bankruptcy records that it is $21.4 million in the red, listing assets of $110.4 million and liabilities of $131.8 million. Southern's secured and unsecured creditors include mortgage holders for the Highwood plant, power suppliers and contractors who provided services for the natural gas plant. 

FitzGerald and Southern's attorneys, Jon Doak and Malcolm Goodrich, did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

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Contact Clair Johnson at cjohnson@billingsgazette.com or 657-1282.

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Federal Court, Yellowtone County Reporter

Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.