It has been an interesting week, both locally and in the national perspective. Over the past few weeks there have been a number of sound offs about the situation at Raft River Electric in Malta. Included in today’s paper is at least one sound off that speaks to some recent changes and concerns that at least some of its members have.
A co-op is an organization where the members own the company and services are provided through a customer centered management group. I am not aware of a single co-op in existence that hasn’t experienced some rough water over the years and Raft River Electric is no exception.
One of the difficult things about covering an organization like this is that the criticisms are harsher or at least are seen as being harsher because they are about other members of the co-op who are your neighbors, maybe even members of your church congregation. It can be a delicate thing to worship with someone on Sunday and then take them to task on Tuesday as if you have nothing in common. Personal attacks sting more when the dynamics are mixed and there are few winners in the end.
I have zero personal experience as a customer of Raft River Electric, but I have heard of many of the changes in the organization over the 24 years I have lived in Cassia County. In the twelve years that we have had a sound off section in the Weekly Mailer I have seen a number of submissions from numerous points of view. What you haven’t seen are the submissions that did not meet our criteria. These comments usually take on a mean slant, insulting people’s religion, their parentage and any number of other nasty remarks.
What causes a person to make such a critical, destructive, and downright mean-spirited attack on their neighbors? It most often comes when people feel that their point of view has been ignored or that they have somehow been treated unfairly. It is difficult to reason with someone with hate in their heart because they really don’t care to hear your point of view.
As I was pondering this topic last week I received a phone call from Chad Black, the general manager of Raft River Electric. He was cordial but unhappy that we had printed a sound off that was critical of policies or decisions he had been a part of making. Often times a phone call of this nature doesn’t go well, but I credit Mr. Black for keeping his cool and working to help me see his point of view as well as him being open to my point of view. After the conversation I couldn’t help but feel that each of us came away with a better understanding of at least the motives behind our actions.
Over the years I have been an unwilling participant in conversations with a number of angry readers who aren’t interested in my point of view, they just want to dress me down for allowing sound offs to print in the Weekly Mailer. It has always been a challenge to justify why we allow people to submit their opinion without signing their name. I could go back to the foundation of our nation where the fathers of the constitution used pen names on editorial opinions and stories they submitted. Their motivation was to get the information into the hands of the people so they could understand the issues.
A penname is the equivalent of an unsigned letter because it prevents the writer from being recognized and by extension, persecuted for their position. Treason, in those days, was a capital offense. Though they probably wouldn’t be rubbed out for submitting their opinion to sound off, someone could easily be retaliated against should their critical opinions about the co-op be made public, and that’s why we don’t require a signature.
One separate item that is of great concern to me is the change of guidelines made by the board of directors of the Raft River Co-op regarding a person’s ability to be heard in a public meeting of the board. If the information in the sound off submitted today is accurate, the board of directors of Raft River Electric have made it nearly impossible for a person to be heard. This is nothing less than an attempt to silent critics.
If you refuse to allow your members to participate in a board meeting you are essentially practicing tyranny. Having said this, there is a proper way to express an opinion. The City of Rupert handles this better than any by having an agenda item at the end of the meeting where anyone in the meeting can have a few minutes before the council to present their issue. This privilege was removed from the Burley City Council meetings under the Greenman administration and it has never been reversed.
I would call on any public board that doesn’t allow its members to stand and address them during a board meeting to reverse that policy and give back a citizen’s right to voice their opinion.