Ownership has its privileges. It comes with responsibilities but reaps benefits not only for the owner but the community at large. Pride in ownership builds investment in the neighborhood. When neighborhoods thrive, our communities thrive.
You might think this describes home ownership, and you would be correct. But it also defines your ownership in your local electric cooperative. As a consumer of an electric co-op you are also a member-owner of an organization that depends on your active participation.
Within your electric co-op’s local pages this month beginning on Page 16A, you may find articles about your co-op’s nominating committee or the search for consumer-members to run for a position on the board. A majority of Kansas electric cooperatives’ annual meetings will take place in the next few months and one of the most important meeting agenda items will be for members to elect fellow members to fill vacant or retiring positions on their co-op’s board of directors.
Gabe Schlickau, vice president and chief retail delivery officer for Meritrust Credit Union, said he first hesitated to run for a board position for Sumner-Cowley Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Wellington, but after reflection, decided it would be an opportunity rather than a burden. “My first thought was that I didn’t have the time to commit to it. But, the more I thought about it the more I realized it was a great opportunity to serve in a capacity that is very important to the future of a sustainable rural lifestyle and economy for my local community,” he said.
Time, or lack thereof, certainly affects a co-op consumer-member’s decision to get involved in their co-op, especially with competing family activities and work commitments.
Katie Eisenhour, who serves on the board for Wheatland Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Scott City, estimated that in an active board year with considerable topics to address she dedicates about an average of seven hours per week to her board duties including reading and preparing for local, state and national meetings, attending community events and completing ongoing training. “It’s my duty to come to meetings prepared and ready for discussion at the board table,” she said. “And I owe it to the membership.”
Eisenhour, executive director for Scott County Development Committee Inc., was first appointed to the Wheatland board in 2013 to fill a vacant position, and after fulfilling that term decided to run for the board in 2014. “I was intrigued by the complexity of our industry,” she said. “I loved learning about it, representing the members and being a conscientious well-informed board member and I wanted to remain one.” She was re-elected in 2017 and is up for re-election again this year.
Told she was the first female on the board in about two decades, Eisenhour’s community development and farmers cooperative background brought a new mindset to the board table where collaboration is key. “I have the privilege of serving with a board that has great diversity in skill sets. To have people from insurance, banking, construction management, finance, as well as farming and agriculture makes discussion at the board table far more robust,” she said. “If we don’t collaborate together for the sake of all the members of our cooperatives in Kansas, even nationwide, we lose big time,” she added.
Eisenhour and Schlickau are committed to continuing their board education and both have completed various courses offered through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Eisenhour recently earned her Director Gold credential, which is the highest education level offered through NRECA and is designed to advance board members’ knowledge of their fiduciary duty in their role as a board member.
Schlickau, who is in his second year serving on the Sumner-Cowley board, attended NRECA’s winter school to become a Credentialed Cooperative Director and has attended conferences and training organized by Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. (KEC).
Although Schlickau finds NRECA and KEC training to be very helpful as a new board member, he said discussions with co-op staff and other board members are invaluable. “One thing that has surprised me is how diligent our directors are to be sure they know and fully understand the issues of the co-op before making a decision,” Schlickau said. “I knew the directors would be highly engaged, but I have been surprised and impressed to see how much time they spend proactively learning and educating themselves about the issues of the industry.”
Electric co-op board members dedicate significant time to the electric cooperative in the form of regular board meetings, community events, training and learning about the ever-changing industry. This time commitment can be a hurdle for some co-op members who would otherwise consider running for a board position.
Schlickau acknowledged it’s easy to find plenty of reasons not to be involved in the co-op. “However, the more I’ve become involved, the more I realize the future of our rural electric co-ops and our rural way of life is not a given,” he said. “The rural lifestyle that our co-ops support will continue to depend upon people who care enough to invest their time in order to maintain a sustainable co-op for their communities and the generations to come. If not you, the member-owner, then who?” he asked.
If serving on a board doesn’t work into your schedule now, consider the opportunity down the road as the future of our electric co-ops depend on engaged and informed members.
“The quality of life we enjoy today is a direct result of cooperative members just like you who built the co-op and maintained it to this point,” Schlickau said. “Now it’s our turn to ensure a sustainable future. Our rural electric infrastructure is very reliable and pretty easy to take for granted.”
For Eisenhour, the decision to get involved comes down to people and community. “If you love serving people and want to be part of making notable change in your community, I encourage you to run.”