Because he worked for four decades in commercial photography, Bob Boykin of Woodville has always preferred to conduct business in person. Even so, the 15-year member of Sam Houston Electric Cooperative found the Co-op’s virtual annual meeting June 8 to be informative and useful. “It was important information from the people I know and trust,” he said.
Boykin’s sentiments were echoed by Monya Lyon, a Living-ston resident who has been a member of Sam Houston EC for almost two decades. “I miss seeing my neighbors and others in the co-op family,” she said.
Keith Stapleton, the Co-op’s chief communications officer, brought the meeting to order at 1:30 p.m. and opened the presentation with a reminder that the Cooperative was celebrating 82 years of serving its consumer-members. The Co-op was founded in 1939 in the Polk County agent’s office in Livingston.
Don Boyett of Onalaska, the Co-op’s District 1 director, delivered the invocation. He was followed by Marine Corps veteran and Army reservist Yancy Williams, a first-class line technician, who led the Pledge of Allegiance. Megan Stapleton, Keith Stapleton’s daughter, delivered an a cappella but full-throated and professionally nuanced rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.
With the opening formalities complete, Keith Stapleton returned to explain the process of electing members to the board of directors. The election committee, made up of one member from each of the Co-op’s five districts, oversees the election to ensure a transparent, secure election process, he explained.
“Directors serve at large so they represent all Co-op members,” he said. “All Co-op members vote for each director, regardless of the district in which the director resides.” Election ballots were delivered by the U.S. Postal Service and, to those with an email address on file, by email. Each member had three options for casting their vote—via mail, email and smartphone app—and in the case that any member voted via multiple methods, the election management firm counted only the first vote cast.
To guarantee compliance with Co-op bylaws, the balloting process was managed by Survey and Ballot Systems, a private company based in Minnesota. With 9,018 ballots cast, the company confirmed that a quorum was achieved, officially allowing Co-op business to be conducted.
Incumbent directors W. Ernie Miles from District 1, Place 5, and J.W. “Jim” Seale from District 5, Place 2, were reelected for new terms on the board. Altogether, the board includes 11 directors from five districts.
Another benefit of this year’s balloting process was that each ballot was automatically entered into a drawing for more than two dozen prizes with a total value of nearly $10,000. A $2,000 electric lawn and garden tool set went to Donya McLaurin of Kountze, and a $2,000 bill credit went to Robert Walker of Woodville.
The announcement of the new directors was followed by reports from Co-op management, including Chief Financial Officer Joe Conner, Chief Engineer Ryan Brown and CEO Doug Turk.
Conner highlighted the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as those delivered by Mother Nature. “This also was one of the more active storm seasons we’ve experienced in the last several years,” he said. “We were able to restore power during trying times.”
As if the pandemic didn’t cause enough disruptions over the past year, the Onalaska area was hit by a devastating tornado in April 2020, and Hurricane Laura ripped through the service area last August. More than 13,000 members lost power as a result of the tornado, and 6,000 were affected by the hurricane.
“Despite the impact of the storms,” Conner said, “the Co-op is in sound financial condition moving forward.” Sam Houston EC experienced “healthy meter count growth over the past 18 months,” he said, adding that this growth, along with the Co-op’s solid balance sheet, enables Sam Houston EC to invest in cutting-edge technologies.
Brown explained the Co-op’s dual definition of reliability. “We break down reliability in two different ways,” he said. “One is the frequency of outages and second is the duration of outages.” The Co-op has developed a concentrated and strategic approach to reduce both. One important step to achieve that aim, Brown said, is the installation of wildlife protection around transformers.
Turk also touched on the challenges of 2020. “Even though it was in many ways the most unusual and challenging of Sam Houston Electric Cooperative’s 82 years, 2020 was also a year of great innovations and successes,” he said.
Following his report, Turk answered questions submitted by Co-op members, which included concerns about cybersecurity and the long-term impact of the February polar vortex on the Co-op—as well as on members’ electric bills.
Despite severe weather events and the pandemic, Sam Houston EC maintained its culture of safety, efficiency and innovation throughout 2020. This culture enabled the Co-op to respond effectively during major storms, manage impressive growth and implement essential technology to honor its commitment to strong customer service.