Even though Sam Houston Electric Cooperative has experienced significant change in its 80 years of operation, high-quality member service has been a constant.
“Many electric cooperatives across Texas and the U.S. benchmark their organization’s performance based on what Sam Houston Electric Cooperative does,” Doug Turk said to members June 11 during his first annual meeting as general manager and CEO of the co-op.
Turk moved into Sam Houston EC’s leadership role following the retirement of Kyle Kuntz, who had held the same position at Sam Houston EC since 2002. Before taking the reins at Sam Houston EC, Turk served as general manager of Deep East Texas Electric Cooperative, headquartered in San Augustine. He moved to Livingston with his wife, Angie, and their two children.
“I have been part of hundreds of conversations about how electric cooperatives can best serve their members,” Turk said, “and one question that’s always asked is, ‘What does Sam Houston Electric Cooperative do?’ ”
Members Dennis and Shirley Richardson confirmed that the co-op consistently comes through for them. “We really appreciate the co-op’s customer service,” Shirley said. “They restore power very quickly if there is an outage. And congratulations to them on 80 years.”
Another Sam Houston EC member who appreciates the cooperative’s record of performance is Lewis Ellison of the Pine Ridge community.
“I’ve been a co-op member since 1965, and my parents signed on in 1946,” Ellison said. “I live in my granddad’s old place. My grandma didn’t live to see the electricity. When she was alive, they still kept their milk and butter cool by putting it in a bucket and lowering it into the well. Now they’ve got wind and solar and that hydro project at the dam.”
Ellison and the Richardsons were among nearly 1,000 members and guests who made their way to the annual meeting at the Polk County Commerce Center in Livingston. Each member received a $15 electric bill credit upon registering for the meeting.
Members of Livingston High School’s Royal Brigade band served cookies and drinks to attendees. Arebella Letien, bass clarinetist, introduced her bandmates, clarinetists Seth Cummings and Britney Denton and alto saxophonist Caitie Cheeks.
After members chose their cookies and drinks, they found a seat in the auditorium, where musician Walter Plant entertained them with renditions of classic gospel and country songs.
Plant performs each year at Sam Houston EC’s annual meeting and, over the course of 31 years, has made friends with many members. The culmination of Plant’s annual appearance is a rousing performance of Lee Greenwood’s anthemic God Bless the USA, which brought this year’s crowd to its feet, fervently singing along.
Keith Stapleton, Sam Houston EC chief communications officer, took the stage to welcome all members and guests and acknowledged two groups who played a role in the meeting.
“We have two scholarships we support at today’s event,” he said. “Those scholarships go to the Livingston High School Band Boosters and the Caran Coward Memorial Scholarship for the Livingston Police Department.”
Stapleton then called on Sam Houston EC Director Don Boyett, from Polk County, to lead the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance. Following the prayer and the pledge, Plant led the crowd in singing the national anthem.
“Walter has been with us for more than three decades, and I sure enjoy it,” Stapleton said.
Stapleton introduced District 1 board members Boyett, Mike Oldner, Milton Purvis and Casey Evans Davis; District 2 board members James Elmore and Gary Jenke; District 3 member Robert C. Boyd; District 4 members Katherine Hardin and Chuck Turner; and District 5 members James Seale and W. Ernie Miles.
The next order of business was the confirmation of a quorum, and that was accomplished by Hardin, the board’s secretary. Acknowledging Cooperative Principle No. 2, Democratic Member Control, Stapleton introduced attorney Mark Davis, who explained how the process of electing board members begins before the annual meeting. He then announced the election results. Incumbent directors Davis, District 1, Place 3; Jenke, District 2, Place 2; and Turner, District 4, Place 2, retained their seats.
Wrapping up the business portion of the annual meeting, Turk highlighted key elements of the co-op’s successful operation. He emphasized the safety of members and employees, the importance of employee training, new technology deployed to improve customer service and the co-op’s proven record of customer satisfaction.
“Throughout 2018, our focus on safety was reflected in the STAR program, which stands for stop, think, awareness and responsibility,” Turk said.
Turk explained that in September 2018, the co-op retired $3 million in capital credits, which showed up as credits on members’ bills. The emphasis on customer service, he explained, was confirmed by the co-op’s 2018 American Customer Satisfaction Index score of 86. This score, representing members’ satisfaction with the co-op’s products and services, is nine points higher than the industry average.
Following his report, Turk accepted questions from the floor. One topic in which several members expressed interest was the new hydroelectric power plant, which had been delayed by flooding but is now scheduled to go online in mid-2020. The project is owned by East Texas Electric Cooperative, Sam Houston EC’s generation and transmission provider.
Once the business was complete, door prizes were awarded. Among the many prizes were a $1,000 bill credit went to Tomas Ramirez and a $500 credit that went to Dorothy Helton. Eddie Tinker and Marie Owen each won a $250 bill credit, and many other members won electronics and home appliances.