Back in December 2019, I announced my plans to retire this month to readers of Kansas Country Living. I celebrated my 63rd birthday early in May and along with the best wishes, many have questioned my motives for retiring at an early age, especially when I genuinely profess to have had my dream job. My response has always been that life is short, there are many books to read, things to learn, places to volunteer, and adventures on which to embark.
That motivation is so much more concrete as we come to grips with the uncertainty and the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tragedy that so many are enduring from loss of jobs to loss of loved ones is providing new gravity to the “enjoy every day” mantra.
This has truly been my dream job and my 40-year career in association and utility work has been meaningful and rewarding. The utility industry has changed dramatically over that timespan and the pace of change is accelerating. Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. (KEC), as the association for 30 different electric cooperatives, helps those utilities adapt by pooling resources to provide services more effectively and efficiently as a collective group. It is a model that has benefited cooperatives and their consumer-members for more than 75 years.
So, what’s ahead for our association and its leadership? The KEC Board of Trustees has completed a thorough search that lasted several months and attracted more than 200 applicants from across the country. The KEC leadership position requires a mix of skills that includes connections to state and federal politics, excellent communication skills, vision, and an ability to pivot to and respond to the needs of our member cooperatives.
The KEC board found all that and more in Lee Tafanelli as the association’s next CEO. Lee Tafanelli is a familiar name to most in Kansas. Before joining KEC this month, he held several titles — most recently as adjutant general for the State of Kansas and major general in the U.S. Army. The Kansas adjutant general position is appointed by the governor and Tafanelli had the bi-partisan confidence of Sam Brownback, Jeff Colyer and Laura Kelly. The responsibilities of the adjutant general are vast and include administration of the Kansas Army and Air National Guard, director of Kansas Homeland Security and director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. In addition to his nine years as adjutant general, Tafanelli’s record of service includes military support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and nine years in the Kansas House representing the 47th district.
Clearly his career provides extraordinary experience in areas important to electric cooperatives that must regularly engage at the Statehouse in Topeka and the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Cooperatives must also be effective before a host of state and federal agencies that are very familiar to Tafanelli. In addition, he can help cooperatives respond to unexpected challenges such as pandemics and more traditional disasters caused by ice and wind. We are all confident Tafanelli has the vision and professional network to prepare cooperatives for the future.
The KEC board found all that and more in Lee Tafanelli as the association’s next CEO.
“I am honored to have been selected for this new leadership role at KEC. I live in a rural area of Kansas and understand the critical role electric cooperatives have always held in the vitality of our state’s economy,” Tafanelli said. “KEC has an outstanding reputation for effective advocacy on behalf of its member cooperatives and their consumer-members. We have an excellent team working with legislators, in communications, continuing education, safety and loss control. I’ve always had great respect for the association and I know we can build on that legacy in the future.”
I believe strongly that cooperatives are the ideal model for the utility industry. Cooperatives are democratic, member-owned and not-for-profit and our future leaders get excited by these core cooperative benefits. Commitment to community is also a primary cooperative principle and I believe the recent pandemic has solidified the importance of a healthy network of family, friends, neighbors, businesses, faith and service to others.
I predict a bright future for electric cooperatives and you are in great hands with Lee Tafanelli. Best wishes to my cooperative family — stay healthy, and keep in touch. And while the pandemic may dictate whether the next adventure is a book or travel, I’m off to the next chapter!
Bruce Graham is Chief Executive Officer of Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. in Topeka.