UDWI Highlights Member Responses and Operations Improvements
September 24, 2018
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC held its monthly Board of Directors meeting Monday evening.
CEO Doug Childs shared an update on significant employee accomplishments and improvements in the operations of the cooperative. UDWI employees have improved the 811 “Call Before You Dig” process for members and have reduced unnecessary dispatches. Operations can now identify and confirm areas with no utilities through GIS in coordination with the 811 system. Members will now be able to move forward with all building, construction or improvement projects more safely and efficiently.
“Members calling 811 can now get a faster response for areas where no other utilities are present. This new streamlined process will reduce costs because we won’t send crews out unnecessarily, and we also have more accurate mapping of member lines. That said, we want to continue to stress the importance of calling before digging for any project; the safety of our members, and those working around power lines, is of the utmost importance,” said Childs.
Employees were also commended for the quick and efficient storm responses during recent outages from the severe weather of Tropical Storm Gordon. The operations staff and dispatchers had an average Facebook response rate of less than 10 minutes when providing updates on outages and answering member questions resulting from the storm.
Childs also announced that a new property & casualty insurance provider, Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, will begin providing coverage for UDWI Oct. 1, saving the cooperative $105,000, which represents a 43 percent reduction in the policy’s cost. This savings is in addition to the nearly $1.5 million already trimmed from the overall UDWI budget this year.
In operations news, devices that allow automated responses to disruptions in service have been tested on parts of the UDWI system. These devices can make adjustments and restore power without the need to dispatch crews. The current trial encompasses an area near the airport and the devices will likely be used in more areas moving forward after the initial testing.
Also, a new training yard for linemen is being created onsite at UDWI and should be operational within the month. Details on the yard and how it will improve safety and reliability will be released in the coming days.
Member Services Director Kim Todd gave an update on the annual meeting and the voting process for Directors. For the 2019 election, members will again have the opportunity to vote online and by mail-in ballot for candidates. Members will also receive email reminders prior to the election with a direct link to voting. The additional reminders will encourage members to vote early and online, and is much more economical for the cooperative than onsite voting at the annual meeting. Last year, the new voting options resulted in the highest voter totals in UDWI history.
The Community Fund Committee met on Sept. 19 and awarded grants totaling $10,200 to the following organizations: American Legion (Greene County), Grace Center, Inc., Greene County 4H Poultry & Rabbit Club, Indiana Kicking Bear, Jasonville Police Department, Junior Achievement of Southwestern Indiana Open Arms Christian Ministries, White River Valley High School Drama Club, and the White River Valley High School Girls Basketball Program.
July 23, 2018
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC addressed the civil lawsuit between former CEO Brian Sparks and the Cooperative at its board meeting Monday evening.
The UDWI Board of Directors understands that our members have many questions and concerns regarding the legal proceedings.
The civil case between the former CEO and UDWI, which was originated by Sparks in December 2017, alleges breach of contract by the cooperative. UDWI stands firm in its counterclaim filed earlier this year, which includes multiple justifications for Sparks's termination. UDWI’s counterclaim can be viewed in the public filing.
Throughout this process there will likely be multiple motions filed by both parties’ attorneys. We are very aware that each time a new motion is filed it raises questions from our members about the case.
The case must follow the proper legal course and is not a fast-moving process. We want to assure our members that the case is in fact moving forward. The motions and decisions being made are deemed necessary by our legal team to maintain UDWI’s legal position in the case.
The board is not asked by our attorneys to vote on every motion or filing, and specifically did not take a board vote on the last filing that dealt with the protective order and confidentiality agreement. We understand this was a big concern for many of our members. This was a decision made by our attorneys in the best interest of the co-op.
We want to clarify the purpose of the protective order. It is in place to prevent Mr. Sparks and his attorneys from releasing information that UDWI has provided to them during the discovery process. Likewise, UDWI cannot release information Mr. Sparks’ attorney has provided to the cooperative.
Our members are calling for each and every detail about the case to be disclosed publicly and that is simply not possible, nor is it how any legal case would be handled.
Throughout the discovery process, our attorneys have produced documents that may contain social security numbers, bank account numbers, or vendor account numbers, which are NOT public information and cannot be released by UDWI.
UDWI does have a transparency policy in place that details what information our members should be able to see or request from the co-op. As we go through this legal case, UDWI will remain committed to this policy and is monitoring how it applies to the information surrounding the civil case. If there are items that the cooperative can legally share with our members, which meet the criteria of the transparency policy, we will do so.
As the co-op has done since the beginning of this lawsuit, we are closely following the advice of our legal counsel and cannot offer additional comments on the civil case at this time.
The board and management team are focused on the future and will continue to seek new ways to provide quality services to our members.
UDWI Approves Rate Decrease
June 19, 2018
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC Board of Directors voted to approve the Cooperative’s first rate reduction in more than 25 years at the Monday evening meeting.
An average residential member who uses 1,100 kilowatts per month will see their electricity costs drop by approximately 4 percent when bills arrive in early August. As part of the new rate structure, UDWI is eliminating the seasonal differential in the energy charges; members will now pay the same cost for energy for every month of the year. This change will help lower members’ bills during the highest usage periods of the summer and winter.
Part of the savings is also the result of a monthly $2 reduction in the facility charge portion of the member’s bill. This facility charge helps provide the basic infrastructure and systems required to provide electric service. This fixed reduction will be applied to all residential members’ bills and is not affected by how much, or how little, electricity they use.
UDWI will work to maintain these lower rates and the reduced facility charge for the next three years.
“This rate decrease is the direct result of the $1.5 million in operating cost reductions that the management team has achieved over the last six months. Every dollar we have saved in expenses is flowing directly back to our members via this rate reduction,” said CEO Doug Childs. “This rate reduction is the ‘proof in the pudding’ that the cooperative is now being ran like a business for the sole benefit of the members.”
UDWI is going against both state and national trends by lowering rates and reducing the facility charge. In fact, other electric providers in the state are requesting significant rate increases citing rising energy costs and more money being needed for capital improvement projects.
This spring, a Cost of Service and Rate Study was conducted to ensure that charges were accurately reflecting the cost of providing electric service to members across each rate class. This study analyzed all costs associated with operating the cooperative; from power supply costs to line repair and replacement.
UDWI contracted John Wolfram, of Catalyst Consulting, to perform the rate study. Wolfram has more than 25 years of experience in electric and gas utility operations, regulatory affairs, planning, and rate setting. Since founding Catalyst in 2012, he has supported utilities on a wide array of issues and has conducted Cost of Service and Rate Studies for utilities across the country, with a focus on supporting utilities in Indiana and Kentucky. Wolfram used well established industry standard methodologies to analyze all of the cooperative’s costs—from purchasing power, to the cost of distributing that power to the members. He provided detailed data to the Board of Directors and UDWI management that confirmed a rate reduction is possible.
“This UDWI team is clearly focused on setting the utility on a right path. They are dedicated to providing reliable service to the membership at the lowest possible cost,” said Wolfram. “Most other utilities undertake rate reviews with the aim of increasing rates, so working with UDWI on this review has been a pleasure.”
This rate change shows that the cooperative is improving and making positive changes for the members. The cooperative has many ongoing initiatives that will continue to strengthen the organization including long-term financial planning, new rate and financial policies, and on-going cost management efforts.
Rate information will be posted on the UDWI website (also click below), and members are welcome to contact the office with any questions concerning these rate changes.
UDWI Linemen Support the E5 Foundation
April 27, 2018
The Utilities District of Western Indiana recently completed work to install new poles at the ballfields of the E5 Foundations, a local organization that works to bring smiles to children and their families who are dealing with an illness, hardship, or other special needs.
UDWI teamed up with The E5 Foundation, created by Major League Baseball Player Scott Rolen, to install four donated poles at one of E5’s ballfields, two for lighting and two for netting, which will extend playing time on the field and increase safety for spectators.
This nonprofit organization, located in Smithville, gives families an opportunity to participate in outdoor recreational activities through Camp Emma Lou, Family Retreat Weekends, T.E.A.M. Field Trips, and the Hot Corner Kids Program.
“It was great to be able to contribute something to this organization that is trying to make life better for children,” said Jeremy Feltner, UDWI’s lead foreman on the project. “I’m looking forward to see how else UDWI is going to get involved in helping members in our community like this.”
As part of its efforts to reduce excess costs, UDWI has had to make the difficult choice to dramatically cut its charitable contributions. But, the co-op hasn’t stopped looking for ways to help its members and the community in which they live. Instead, the cooperative has focused its efforts on opportunities that give its time and expertise in more meaningful and financially responsible ways.
“A team of our linemen dedicated their time to get the poles in place between service calls so not to interfere with member needs,” UDWI CEO Doug Childs said. “This is the type of giving back in the community that UDWI will continue to support; dedicating our people and available resources to organizations and programs that improve the lives of our members. When we can help our communities, we will.”
New Board of Directors Meet for April
April 23, 2018
The three newly elected Directors, Mike Williams, Dax Collins and Sophie Haywood, joined existing Board members for the April meeting at the Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC Monday evening.
The agenda included a Board resolution to allow management to facilitate the sale of .93 acres of UDWI-owned land to Crossroads Café. The owners of Crossroads approached UDWI to purchase the small piece of land, which is located adjacent the café, in order to secure enough space to update its current septic system to meet code requirements. UDWI expects the sale to be finalized within 30-60 days.
The Board is considering a temporary rental of the property located across from UDWI headquarters for the staging of equipment needed by road construction crews who will begin resurfacing the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge over White River on Route 54. Management is in the process of negotiating an acceptable rate with the State’s contractor.
Director of Member Services Kim Todd gave a recap of the April 14 Annual Meeting. This year’s member gathering was held at a savings of about $95,000 to the co-op. Todd reported that attendance was down at the meeting, but the elections saw a record number of votes with the addition of online and mail-in ballots. The total cost came in around $35,000 instead of the $130,000 spent last year because of the significant reductions in food, entertainment, giveaways, and personnel needed to staff the event.
“The purpose of the Annual Meeting is to allow members to vote and for UDWI to hold its annual business meeting, both of which we were able to do at a dramatically lower cost,” said CEO Doug Childs. “I want to applaud the staff for improving the election process and hosting a great event, while working to keep with our mission to reduce spending in all areas.”
The Board discussed the Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest forms for all Directors who will each be required to sign the form annually. All UDWI employees will also be given Code of Ethics forms to sign each year.
Directors were designated to serve on Board Committees for the year. Committees and members include:
Audit Committee: Dax Collins, Todd Carpenter, and David Burger
Budget Committee: Mike Williams, Dave Burger and Dax Collins
Bylaws & Policy Committee: Sophie Haywood, Ron Thompson, and Mike Williams
Equipment and Building Committee: Ron Thompson, John Royal and Jim Jackson,
Member Relations Committee: Sophie Haywood, John Royal, and David Burger
In addition, Todd Carpenter will serve as the UDWI Representative for the Hoosier Energy Board.
The next Board meeting will be held Monday, May 21, instead of the usual fourth Monday, which falls on Memorial Day.
Members Cast Record Number of Votes for UDWI Annual Board of Directors Election
April 14, 2018
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC held its 82nd annual meeting Saturday at White River Valley High School April 14, where three new Directors were elected by a record setting 2,963 votes, representing 19.4 percent of the total membership.
New voting options helped increase total overall participation in electing new Directors--2,915 members voted early by mail and online, and 48 voted at the annual meeting.
The UDWI Board of Directors is welcoming new members Mike Williams for District 5, Dax Collins for District 7, and Sophie Haywood for District 8.
“It is great to see so many of our members getting more involved in the co-op and casting their votes,” said CEO Doug Childs. “With all the changes being made so far in 2018, it is important to hear from the members to know what they want to see from their cooperative, and this election gives us great insight.”
The annual meeting included a question and answer session with members and CEO Doug Childs. Childs also presented the State of UDWI to an audience of nearly 120 members, and Election Committee Chair Genie Bowers announced the election results.
The new board members will join the five current members who will continue to serve as directors for 2018-19: Todd Carpenter, Ron Thompson, Jim Jackson, John Royal and David Burger.
Following the annual meeting, a new slate of officers was elected; Mike Williams will serve as Board President, Todd Carpenter as Vice President, Dax Collins as Treasurer and Sophie Haywood as Secretary.
“I am here to work together as a board, and I look forward to building on all the progress that has been made,” said Williams. “I am honored to take this position on the board and appreciate the support of the other Directors.”
UDWI would like to thank Roger Shake and Bill Watkins, who both served more than 30 years on the Board of Directors. During the past year, both Directors actively supported the adoption of the transparency policy and new voting options for members. UDWI wishes them the best and appreciates their decades of service to the cooperative.
The annual meeting also featured community booths from Greene County General Hospital, Greene County Sheriff’s Department, Hoosier Energy, and Cub Scout Pack 468. The UDWI Community Fund presented grants to Lyons Community Food Pantry and Springville Gym Restoration Board.
SIDEBAR: Offical 2018 Board of Directors Election Results
Mike Williams 1,960 (67.9%)
Roger Shake 926 (32.1%)
Dax Collins 1,929 (67.7%)
Bill Watkins 919 (32.3%)
Sophie Haywood 1,103 (38.1%)
Jeff Dorris 709 (24.5%)
Steve Lindsey 668 (23.1%)
J. Scott Sargent 414 (14.3%)
UDWI REMC Holds March Board Meeting and Presents First “State of UDWI” Address
March 26, 2018
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC held its March Board meeting where Chief Executive Officer Doug Childs presented the first “State of UDWI” address to the Directors and attendees.
The presentation included the progress made during the past several months by management and the Board of Directors as well as the challenges that lie ahead for the cooperative. UDWI plans to make the presentation an annual pre-election event to inform members on the current state of the cooperative and will make the information available on its website. Click here to view the presentation.
Under Childs’ leadership, along with support from the Board, an in-depth and ongoing review of all expenditures has resulted in $1 million in budget savings for the cooperative during his first 100 days as CEO.
In addition, UDWI has dismantled the existing health care plan, reduced staff numbers and job redundancies and established controls on employee use of UDWI equipment, property and vehicles. Management is also enforcing prudent “management rights” by disciplining poorly performing or negligent employees, mandating employee training and has upgraded UDWI property and cyber security systems.
Among those challenges presented, is the cooperative’s acknowledgement of member frustrations related to transparency and operations of UDWI. To meet those challenges the Board has created a transparency policy, established an audit committee and budget committee, has stopped charitable giving and supported drastically cutting the operating budget to bring focus back to the cooperative’s primary mission—to provide reliable electric service at the lowest possible price.
Childs also shared statistics on the current infrastructure in the UDWI system, which includes aging poles, transformers and equipment. Nearly half of UDWI poles are more than 50 years old and more than 1,000 miles of the 2,160 miles system are in need of repair or replacement.
“We have significant infrastructure challenges ahead and must address our aging system,” said Childs. “We’ve saved $1 million in this year’s budget and that equates to 10 miles of line we can rebuild. It is the start of a new focus of saving and allocating our money to where it is needed the most every year. We know that our members do not want rates to go up, so we are looking at ways we can run the co-op and make the critical capital improvements needed without increasing costs for our members at this time.”
The presentation showed how incoming member payments are used to operate the cooperative with about 51 percent of every dollar being used to purchase power and the rest being allocated for capital improvements, vegetation control, personnel, and all other operation & maintenance expenses.
Childs closed with UDWI’s commitment to continue to explore every area of operation for cost cutting and to use member funds in the most economic and efficient way possible. This efficiency will be checked each year with a third party audit of the cooperative’s finances, the first of which was completed this month and showed no discrepancies for the year.
The cooperative will also focus on increasing open and honest communications with its members to build a stronger relationship with the communities it serves.
“We know that our members have a vested interest in the way the cooperative operates and want to be able to trust the leadership, so we will do our best to keep them informed and address their concerns,” said Childs. “Our members have already made a big statement by setting a record for voting ahead of this year’s annual meeting through online and mail-in ballots with 2,276 votes already cast for the Director elections. We encourage everyone to continue to let the cooperative know what is important to you.”
UDWI REMC Holds February Meeting
February 19, 2018
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC held the second board meeting for 2018, where further plans were introduced to reduce operation costs and update members on voting for the upcoming elections.
The agenda included the elimination of health benefits funding for Directors and introduced a new compensation structure for the Board. The Board collected regional, state and national data to develop a conservative compensation rate that reflects UDWI’s ongoing effort to reduce costs for the Cooperative.
Effective immediately, Directors receive $500 per month for general Director duties and $200 for additional committee meetings, which take place seven to eight times per year. Directors required to attend Indiana Electric Cooperatives (IEC) meetings will receive $300 for those day-long events, which are held every other month in Indianapolis. The Board also eliminated mileage reimbursement for all local travel. This new structure reduces compensation from an average of $21,252 to around $8,100 per Director, per year, and will save the Cooperative over $157,000 annually.
The audit committee has chosen Monroe Shine for an audit of the 2017 UDWI financials. Monroe Shine has already started the review and results will be given to UDWI in the coming months. The establishment of the audit committee and an annual audit are action items recommended from the Phase II audit conducted last year. A third-party audit of all financials will be conducted each year for the Cooperative moving forward.
UDWI also reminded members to be aware of Board of Director election information on their upcoming statements and on the UDWI website, and to also watch for a ballot packet arriving by mail in the coming weeks. For the first time, members will be able to vote for their district’s Board candidate online and by mail-in vote. Voting will also be available at the Annual Meeting Saturday, April 14, which will be held at the White River Valley Gymnasium from 8 -11 a.m., with the official Board of Directors meeting beginning at 11 a.m.
UDWI REMC files counterclaim against former CEO
February 14, 2018
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC filed its counterclaim today against former Chief Executive Officer Brian Sparks, who sued the Cooperative in December alleging Breach of Contract and other damages.
The counterclaim, filed by UDWI REMC’s legal counsel, affirms the Cooperative’s assertion that Sparks was terminated for cause and further cites he owed a fiduciary duty to the Cooperative, which he failed to honor during his employment from 2006 to 2017.
The counterclaim states that Sparks abused his position as CEO and put his and his family’s interests above those of the Cooperative and its members. The filing offers examples of Cooperative funds being used for sports tickets for personal use, sponsorships not affiliated with any UDWI business interest, unapproved and excessive charitable donations, and political contributions that were not actually given to political candidates or causes.
Included in the filing, are allegations that Sparks caused UDWI to incur improper and personal expenses for him and members of his family, and that he did not follow appropriate procedures for documentation, reimbursement and did not demonstrate legitimate business purposes for expenses. The claim states that Sparks’ conduct constituted malicious, fraudulent and, in some cases, blatant theft or conversion of UDWI funds.
UDWI’s counterclaim requests an award for damages, which includes all losses caused to the Cooperative by Sparks including the ongoing and significant costs of the internal investigation related to his actions, monies paid to Sparks that he unjustly collected during his employment, and attorney’s fees.
UDWI staff and Board of Directors will provide no additional comments regarding the counterclaim and pending legal matters.
UDWI REMC Board Evaluates Benefits for Directors
January 25, 2018
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC held a vote to eliminate Board of Directors' health insurance at its first meeting of the year Jan. 22--the motion failed.
While the Board is not in total agreement on the issue, it is working to reach consensus. The Bylaws Committee, comprised of three Directors, was tasked earlier this month with addressing Director insurance and compensation, and is currently gathering information on how similar organizations provide benefit options to board members.
Once completed, the findings of the Bylaws Committee will be used to help the Board make an informed decision about whether UDWI will continue to provide this benefit, and if the amount allotted to Directors for the insurance should be adjusted or eliminated. The Board of Directors plans to bring the insurance and compensation issue back to the floor for further action at its next meeting Feb. 19.
"The vote to eliminate Board health insurance did not pass at this month's meeting, but the Board is committed to fully examining this issue and finding common ground," said Board of Directors President Ron Thompson. "Along with our CEO, Doug Childs, we are reviewing every expense for the co-op and have already approved more than $600,000 in budget cuts for 2018. We will look at the findings of the Bylaws Committee and if the information shows that our benefits and compensation are out of line with other cooperatives, we will make changes."
UDWI REMC Holds First Board Meeting for 2018
January 22, 2018
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC is beginning the year with its first board meeting, where further plans were introduced to continue developing transparency as well as more efficient operating costs for its members.
The agenda included the introduction of a 2018 operating budget that cuts expenses for UDWI REMC by more than $600,000, representing the most significant budget reduction in recent history for the cooperative. Health insurance costs, tree trimming expenditures and the annual meeting budget are among the line items that have all been cut dramatically in order to save money this year and for the years ahead. Click on this link to view the 2018 UDWI REMC Budgets.
UDWI REMC will continue to analyze the entire operational budget to keep looking for ways to save, and by early spring plans to bring further revisions to the board.
“We are looking at every dollar and making sure operationally we are doing the best we can,” said UDWI REMC CEO Doug Childs. “We will continue to scrutinize internal and external budgets and aim to control spending for our members.”
Hoosier Energy issued its Power Cost Adjustment (PCA) for the upcoming quarter, and UDWI REMC has decided to not pass through the suggested increase to customers. The PCA suggested an increase to rates for the next three months, and historically UDWI REMC has always accepted this increase, but does not feel the need to do so at this time.
Also on the agenda was an update on the Cost of Service Survey and Plan currently underway. The Cost of Service Plan will further analyze how the cooperative delivers services to its members and identify areas for improvement and efficiency. CEO Doug Childs plans to deliver the results of the Cost of Service results to UDWI members in a series of public meetings this spring, dates and locations will be announced through the UDWI website and media announcements.
Beginning April 1, Discover card and American Express will not be accepted for bill payments because of the high fees that UDWI REMC incurs to process those payments. Visa and MasterCard will continue to be accepted. Also, members who pay their bill through UDWI’s automatic bank drafting program and receive their billing each month via email (paperless billing) will receive a $2 credit on their monthly statement.
In addition to the termination of a policy that gave employees and Directors “benefits for life” upon retirement, UDWI REMC is also terminating the policy that gives those same benefits to the CEO. This represents an additional cut in expenses that were expected to grow over time and is the last remaining benefits for life policy for current employees and Directors.
UDWI also reminded members to be aware of Board of Director election information on their upcoming statements and on the UDWI website, and to also watch for a ballot packet arriving by mail in the coming weeks. For the first time, members will be able to vote for their district’s Board candidate online and by mail-in vote. Voting will also be available at the Annual Meeting April 14, but UDWI is optimistic that the new voting options will increase voter participation.
December 22, 2017
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC Board of Directors accepted the resignation of District 8 Director Jack Norris.
Norris submitted his resignation Wednesday, Dec. 20 citing personal reasons for his decision. Effective immediately, Norris will no longer serve on the Board of Directors and has withdrawn his name as a District 8 candidate for the 2018 Director elections.
At this time, the Board has made no decision about filling the vacancy. Cooperative by-laws give the Board two options to address a vacant seat: the Board may appoint a member to fill the position, or leave the seat vacant until the election in 2018. A Board-appointed member would be deemed a temporary Director, and would only serve until the next election cycle unless he or she chooses to officially file as a candidate for the District and subsequently wins the election.
Members interested in running as a candidate in the 2018 elections for District 8, which represents portions of Greene and Owen counties and includes the greater Bloomfield and Worthington areas, must submit all required documentation and obtain 50 signatures of support by Jan. 14, 2018. All required paperwork is available at the UDWI REMC headquarters in Bloomfield during regular business hours. No late submissions will be accepted.
December 19, 2017
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC Board of Directors finishes up the year at its Dec. 18 meeting, and plans to finalize more new policies—adding to an already long list of positive changes for the cooperative in 2017.
One of the items on the December agenda is the first-ever Transparency Policy for the Board and UDWI. This policy categorizes and defines cooperative information that will now be available to members either online or by request. A number of Board policies, financial documents, and staff reports are now among documents the Board plans to make accessible.
“We listened to our members and know that the Board and co-op must operate in a way that gives our members access to information,” said UDWI Board Treasurer Todd Carpenter. “UDWI belongs to the members, we should all have a clear understanding of why choices are made, and how we make budget and policy decisions. The Transparency Policy gives members valuable insight into the cooperative, and sets a precedent that I hope will be followed by all future UDWI Boards.”
The adoption of the Transparency Policy adds to several other policy changes already put in place by the Board to improve the operating procedures and the financial health of the cooperative.
Policies such as implementing purchasing controls, changing check authorization procedures, developing a wage and salary plan, eliminating post-retirement benefits, and instituting an Internal Audit Committee and Budget Committee will all give the cooperative better tools to control operating costs.
In addition, the Board enacted a whistle blower policy and nepotism policy, improving the work environment for employees.
The Board also voted to add online and mail-in voting to the 2018 elections, which will give members the opportunity to choose their Director without being required to attend the Annual Meeting in the spring to cast their vote. This is the first significant change made to voting process in decades, and the Board believes that these new options will encourage more members to get involved.
“We have made tremendous progress this year as a Board, and have done our best answer the call from our members to make the co-op better,” said UDWI Board President Ron Thompson. “Most encouraging is the selection of our new CEO, Doug Childs. He has hit the ground running and is already demonstrating his understanding of what is best for our members, and embracing our efforts to make UDWI more accountable and the best place to work for our employees.”
The Board plans to commission a rate study in 2018 to confirm costs are structured in the best way to deliver reliable service at the best value to the members. It will also put in action a plan to replace lines that are aged or in need of repair.
SIDEBAR: OVERVIEW OF BOARD ACTIONS AND POLICY CHANGES IN 2017
Hired CEO Douglas Childs, after completing national search that included 70 applicants.
Imposed purchasing controls pending comprehensive review of the UDWI procurement policy.
Imposed restrictions on charitable giving and advertising expenditures drastically lowering expenses in both areas compared to prior years.
Hired Danny L. Arnold as Interim CEO.
Approved amendments to the Audit Policy creating a functional board Internal Audit Committee with authority conduct periodic reviews of accounting practices and requiring monthly reviews of all CEO credit card purchases and expense reimbursement requests.
Approved amendments to the Budget Policy establishing a standing budget committee having responsibility to work with staff on the preparation of Operating and Capital Budgets and to conduct periodic reviews of budgets as needed during the budget year.The budget committee is charged with gaining a detailed understanding of each expense in the budgets and to make recommendations to the full Board for approval.
Approved a Whistleblower Policy to provide protection from retribution and outlining the procedures to follow for any employee who has knowledge of practices that may be illegal, unethical, or contrary to the best interests of the cooperative.
Approved an employee Nepotism Policy to clarify UDWI employment practices as they pertain to the hiring of relatives of existing employees or directors.
Changed Board policy to make member attendance at Board Meetings easier.
Approved a formal Wage & Salary Plan to establish classifications of salaried and hourly employees.The plan defines areas of responsibility for the Board and management and places limitations on the CEO’s authority under the plan.
Repealed the Board Policy authorizing post-retirement medical insurance benefits for all current and future directors.
Ended the practice of providing post-retirement medical insurance for current and all future employees.
Finalizing the adoption of a detailed Transparency Policy designed to allow member access to certain records maintained by the cooperative.
Assumed authority for approval and changes to the Employee Handbook
Authorized Bylaw Amendments to permit mail-in and Internet voting for director elections beginning with the 2018 Annual Meeting.
Began work on a 125 Cafeteria Plan to bring withholding practices into compliance with IRS regulations.
UTILITIES DISTRICT OF WESTERN INDIANA REMC
TRANSPARENCY POLICY (Member requests for Cooperative information)
UDWI REMC enacted its first Transparency Policy to make Cooperative information more accessible to members, while still allowing staff and the Board of Directors to fulfill their duties and efficiently run the Cooperative.
This policy provides guidance on the types of information that members may access, as well as information that will not be released because of confidentiality, legal or safety-related issues.
In regard to the information deemed “available and accessible to members,” UDWI REMC is in the process of determining which items will be placed on the Cooperative website for instant access and which items will be available upon oral or written request. (Please note that loading information onto the UDWI REMC website will take time to complete and will be done in multiple phases.)
When requesting information, members may be asked to provide proof of identity, and any documents made available to a member may not be used for commercial use.
The Cooperative reserves the right, in its sole determination, to have its attorney or one or more of its personnel present during all times that a member is reviewing or copying information or data.
Such information and data will be made available to the requesting member during normal business hours in a timely manner so that providing such information shall not interfere with the proper activities of the Cooperative.
Information photocopied will be charged at a fee of $0.05 per page requested. Management will not assemble data in any form other than which it exists.
December 1, 2017
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC Board of Directors announced this month the termination of a policy that gave employees and Directors “benefits for life” upon retirement, if they had reached 20-plus years of service to the cooperative.
The termination of the policy removed an estimated $3 million in debt liability for UDWI—a debt that was projected to increase significantly during the coming years as more employees reach retirement age and healthcare costs continue to rise.
Effective immediately, employees and Directors, regardless of years of service, will not receive UDWI-provided health insurance upon retirement. A separate policy that concerns benefits for life for the CEO upon retirement will be addressed at the December board meeting to determine if it will be terminated as well.
Already retired employees and directors, who are currently receiving the coverage, will continue to receive the benefit at this time. The Board decided that a sudden termination of plans for current recipients who rely on the benefits could cause undue personal and financial hardship to the retirees who have not had the opportunity to plan for alternative coverage.
The benefits for life policy, which had been in place for more than a decade, provided health benefits to retired employees and Directors as well as their spouses, and was fully funded by UDWI. The UDWI Board of Directors determined the policy was financially unsustainable and added unnecessary risk to the cooperative. This policy change expands on a decision made by the Board last month that had already discontinued the benefit for retiring Directors.
“Our first priority is to run the cooperative with the best interests of the members in mind, and continuing this benefits for life policy was not serving our members,” said UDWI Board President Ron Thompson. “We value our employees and want to make sure their experience working at UDWI is a positive one, but we cannot continue to provide benefits after they retire. We have to make decisions that are for the greater good of the membership and the fiscal health of the coop—this is one of those decisions.”
This policy does not change current benefits of those working at the cooperative; employees and Directors will still have healthcare coverage while employed at UDWI REMC.
October 30, 2017
UDWI REMC Names Douglas Childs as New CEO
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC has named Douglas Childs as its new Chief Executive Officer. The UDWI REMC Board of Directors released Child’s name after a robust national search process to fill the CEO position.
Childs brings to UDWI REMC more than 32 years of experience including over 22 years working with municipal utilities for the City of Hamilton, Ohio’s Department of Public Utilities. His experience includes utility financial management, power supply planning, operations and safety, capital budgeting, rate planning and personnel management.
In his current position as Energy Management Administrator for the City of Hamilton, Childs plans and manages the City’s power and natural gas supply as well as the area’s largest renewable electric generation portfolio. He also manages all bond financing, debt compliance and regulatory compliance. Previously, he served as the Director of Public Utilities for Hamilton, managing 235 employees and an Operations & Maintenance and Capital budget in excess of $300,000,000.
Childs was named to the American Municipal Power Board of Directors in 2013 and holds the designation of Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). Prior to moving to the utility industry in Hamilton, he was named administrator of the year during his time as a Financial and Investment Analyst for Northern Kentucky University. He is a native of Hamilton, Ohio and received his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Finance from Miami University.
“We could not be happier to welcome Doug to UDWI. His solid energy background and expertise in finance and planning will serve our members, the employees, and the Board well,” said UDWI REMC Board President Ron Thompson. “We were so impressed with Doug through the entire interview process—he is a communicator and a leader, and we are looking forward to working with him to move the cooperative forward.”
Childs will assume the CEO role on Nov. 20, taking over for Dan Arnold who has served as interim CEO since July. “We cannot begin to thank Dan enough for his work during the past few months, his leadership and steady guidance have been invaluable to our Board and employees,” added Thompson.
As CEO, Childs will advise and assist the Board of Directors in the development of strategy, policies, budgets and contracts. He will also oversee the day-to-day operations, foster member relations, and ensure that the activities and operations of the cooperative are conducted in accordance with the bylaws, policies, mission and goals.
“I’m honored by the Board’s decision to select me as the next CEO of UDWI, and I want to thank everyone who has been so welcoming to me and my wife, Patricia,” said Childs. “I am excited to begin working with the dedicated staff and the Board to serve the members of UDWI. My immediate focus is to ensure that we are providing the best service and making the best operational decisions for UDWI. I look forward to becoming part of this community and beginning a new chapter with the cooperative.”
October 23, 2017
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC is moving into the final phase of selecting a Chief Executive Officer for the Cooperative.
During the past two months, the UDWI REMC Board of Directors received more than 70 applications from candidates around the country to fill the leadership role. After reviewing the applicants from a wide variety of industries, including both private and public sector backgrounds, the Board selected a group of around 15 candidates to proceed to phone and video interviews.
Candidates also completed a skills and personality assessment to further validate that they possess the necessary characteristics to lead the Cooperative and conduct day-to-day operations with a “members first” mentality. The field has now been narrowed to three final candidates, who were each interviewed by the Board in-person at UDWI.
“This process has been extremely thorough and we’ve taken the time to make sure the Board has the information we need to evaluate the applicants. We have been impressed with each of the people that were part of the final round of interviews, and feel very confident that we will be able to name a new CEO soon,” said UDWI Board President Ronald Thompson.
August 25, 2017
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC Board of Directors released today the report from Phase Two of the internal control audit, performed by the independent firm Blue & Co.
The audit was conducted in two phases; Phase One reviewed detailed financial and accounting information as well as budget and operational activities at a staff and management level, and those findings were used by the auditors to make the recommendations provided in Phase Two, which reviewed UDWI’s board governance and accounting policies and procedures.
The auditors reviewed UDWI’s processes for business functions, and compared them to best practices for organizations similar to the cooperative in an effort to identify ways to strengthen the organization.
The report includes recommendations ranging from vendor selection, staff purchasing limits, paid time off, and proper documentation of credit card and cash purchases to budget review and check cashing procedures.
UDWI Board of Directors initiated the audit partly in response to members’ concerns on the cooperative’s day-to-day business operations.
“We have listened to our members’ concerns and will use the audit findings to make sure that the way UDWI functions is in the best interest of our members,” said UDWI Board President Ron Thompson. “Some of the recommendations identified in the audit, such as a more stringent review of the budget and board oversight for vendor payments, are already underway, and we will continue to implement new policies that will make our cooperative stronger.”
The UDWI Board is committed to addressing each area of the audit and will work with staff to improve and enforce policies and procedures. Members will continue to receive updates on how the cooperative is improving and strengthening operations.
Phase Two of the audit report is now available to members. Please click here to view. Also find UDWI's response to the audit on pages 12-20.
August 11, 2017
The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC is seeking member input through an online survey to assist in the search for a new chief executive officer.
Survey questions address qualities, experience and competencies desired in a CEO candidate. Upon conclusion, results will be compiled and considered by the Board of Directors as it progresses with its interview and decision-making processes.
“We encourage all members to let their voices be heard by taking part in the survey. We hope to receive as many survey responses as possible. The cooperative wants to hear our members’ ideas, concerns and comments,” said UDWI REMC Board President Ronald Thompson.
As a member-owned electric cooperative, UDWI REMC adheres to the principle of “democratic member control” to provide part of the framework for the way the cooperative, its members, and the community to work together. This principle exists to ensure all members have a voice in their local cooperative, and completing the survey is one way to allow members to provide input and offer new ideas.
Members can find the survey link on the UDWI website at www.udwiremc.com and need to have their account number on hand to complete the survey. The survey period will close on August 22, 2017. A written copy of the survey is also available from the UDWI office in Bloomfield.
August 2, 2017
As the Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC moves forward in the process of selecting a full-time CEO, UDWI members have the opportunity to take an active role in the process by providing their input in an online survey.
“UDWI REMC is an electric cooperative, and the UDWI Board of Directors believes members should have a voice in how their cooperative is run and who runs it,” explained UDWI Board President Ronald Thompson. “As we prepare to select a CEO who will lead us into the future, we value our members’ input.”
The survey link is now available on the UDWI REMC website at www.udwiremc.com. Members who do not have internet access may complete the survey at the cooperative or contact the UDWI REMC office for additional assistance. The survey will remain open until Aug. 22, 2017.
Prior to interviewing candidates, the electric cooperative will implement a two-prong information-gathering process, a behavioral assessment combined with a targeted selection aspect. The UDWI Board will use a behavioral assessment tool to measure a candidate’s performance against the needs of the cooperative. Targeted selection will gather input directly from the members by means of the online survey. Survey questions address qualities, experience and competencies desired in a candidate. Upon conclusion, results will be compiled and considered by the Board of Directors as it progresses with its interview and decision-making processes.
“We are forging ahead into the future with a continued commitment to serving our members by ensuring that we understand their needs,” Thompson said. “We want to keep the lines of communication open, and we encourage our members to take an active role in their cooperative.”
July 19, 2017
The UDWI Board of Directors has named Dan Arnold to serve as interim CEO.
Arnold is a veteran REMC employee with 42 years of experience. He served in a number of management positions and eventually as CEO during his 18 years with Johnson County, and then as CEO of Orange County REMC for 24 years before retiring in 2015.
Under Board direction, Arnold will run day-to-day operations for UDWI, and provide leadership, advice and assistance to the employees while the Board conducts the search for a permanent CEO.
The Board is working to identify possible candidates to serve as the new CEO, and will work with a facilitator to assist in the selection process during the next few months.
The Board also wants to hear from the members during the search for the future CEO. Beginning in August, members can complete a survey that will provide input to the Board about which qualities and career experiences are most important for the new CEO. We will notify members when the survey period begins and how they can participate.
June 30, 2017
The UDWI REMC Board of Directors met Thursday and voted to terminate the employment of Chief Executive Officer Brian Sparks.
Upon our review of the information from the internal audit, and after much thoughtful deliberation, we determined that Mr. Sparks did not fulfill management expectations for UDWI. Mr. Sparks is relieved of all duties and responsibilities effective immediately. A search for a new CEO will begin immediately.
In the coming weeks, our members will receive a summary report from the audit, which will be followed by actions the Board will take to strengthen our cooperative. The findings of the audit did not reveal any specific problems or incorrect information on our members’ accounts or bills. Information from the audit pertaining to individual staff members will not be released based on UDWI employment policies.
We will continue to provide updates to our members as they become available, but at this time, the Board will provide no additional comments on the audit or the termination of Mr. Sparks.
June 20, 2017
The UDWI Board of Directors remains committed to keeping our members informed on the activities taking place at UDWI. Since our last update, the staff have been working diligently to provide the auditors with all necessary information for the thorough evaluation of the financial records of the organization.
The independent accounting firm, Blue & Co., has informed us that the audit is progressing as planned, and that we can expect them to provide information to the Board in the coming weeks.
When the audit has been completed our members will receive a report on the findings and recommendations, which we will make available on our website. After the results have been evaluated, we will also share how UDWI will incorporate the audit’s recommendations into the operations of the cooperative.
As we reported last month, a separate federal investigation is also underway. The Board and leadership continue to cooperate fully with this investigation. We understand that our members have questions about the investigation, but should any information on the findings be released it would be through agencies leading the investigation and not UDWI.
UDWI Executive Officer Brian Sparks remains on a paid leave of absence. Michael Chapman and Shane Smith continue to serve as interim CEOs.
We also want to thank our members, and the community, for their continued support and interest in UDWI. We will provide additional information to you as it becomes available.