YVEA board requests substantial change in bylaw approval process
Some longtime members of the Yampa Valley Electric Association co-operative are concerned and confused about a proposed bylaw amendment that, if approved by the consumer membership, would mean a significant change in the way the YVEA bylaws are amended.
Currently, specific YVEA bylaw amendments must be approved by the members during the annual voting process. Ballots for both board member elections and bylaw changes are mailed to all co-op members and went out in the mail this week.
“Currently, the YVEA bylaws restrict amendments of certain provisions of the YVEA bylaws to the membership,” read the YVEA mailer that arrived to member households in May.
However, on this year’s ballot, the YVEA Board of Directors requested an amendment that “would allow all provisions of the bylaws to be amended by the YVEA Board of Directors, provided such action by the board is preceded by at least 30 days notice to the membership.”
The proposed written notice “may be accomplished through newspaper publication, Colorado Country Life publication or other forms of written notice to the members,” the mailer noted. Proposed changes also would be posted on the YVEA website. More information is available at YVEA.com/YVEA-Bylaws.
“A person reading this amendment might interpret this to mean the board of directors will now have carte blanche to change the bylaws,” said Norm Weaver, a longtime YVEA member and retired utility employee and engineer. “Should members be concerned about that? It’s difficult to interpret the impact in the change in bylaws.”
In an endorsement email sent to members Thursday, June 2, asking for a “yes” vote, YVEA notes that proposed Amendment 22-02 “will eliminate the need for a membership-wide vote where currently required by the bylaws and instead allow our member-elected board of directors to make changes as needed. By allowing the member-elected board to make all recommended bylaw changes, we would no longer be required to undertake the expenses of bylaw mailings.”
YVEA Board Vice Chair Ken Rogers said the benefits to the members for the proposed 22-02 amendment include “the ability to move quicker on necessary changes and hopefully to realize some savings.”
The May mailer from YVEA noted the proposed bylaw change, if approved, “would also align YVEA’s Bylaws with those of the majority of Colorado electric distribution cooperatives, which already allow all provisions of their bylaws to be amended by their boards of directors.” That term “majority” was per research by the YVEA legal counsel, Davidson said.
Fraser resident Joe Smyth, an energy consultant and co-op utility researcher, said a co-op board with the ability to change all bylaws is significant because the 22 electric co-ops in Colorado are not overseen by an independent regulatory agency as are investor-owned utilities such as Xcel Energy.
“I’m interested in what YVEA board’s explanation is for why in the past they determined these types of bylaws required a vote of the full members and why they think it’s not required now,” Smyth said.
Smyth noted saving funds during co-op elections could be accomplished by approval of electronic voting, which is allowed by Colorado law since 2021.
Smyth highlighted the “extraordinary variety” in how transparent different electric co-ops in Colorado operate.
Smyth said the most transparent co-op in the state is the La Plata Electric Association in Durango, which livestreams all its meetings and posts full recordings of the meetings to its website. La Plata Electric Association also takes detailed minutes from those meetings that explain things discussed, votes and links to policy discussed or changed.
“A number of other co-ops in the state publish meetings minutes, which is required by law, but they provide almost no details, and most co-ops don’t livestream board of director meetings,” Smyth said.
YVEA does not record or livestream board meetings. The ability to phone in to listen to a YVEA board meeting was implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic but has since been discontinued, said YVEA Public Relations Specialist Carly Davidson.
YVEA serves approximately 21,000 members within a 7,113 square-mile territory with a $57.7 million annual budget in 2021, according to Davidson.
Some longtime co-op members say the annual vote on bylaw changes serves as a form of checks and balances for the members. During the June 2019 YVEA annual voting process, requested bylaw amendments were voted down by the members who voted no by a margin of 67 to 42, according to minutes on the YVEA website.
Steamboat Springs resident Paul Hebert, a YVEA member since 1985, said he believes co-op bylaw amendment approval should remain as an annual member-approved process.
“The problem I see is, if the board has the full authority to change bylaws, which could be quite significant, they could really do it without involving the members of YVEA,” Hebert said. “I think that goes beyond what authority they should have.”
Weaver, who ran for a YVEA board seat unsuccessfully in 2020, is concerned there won’t be a clear process for members to understand and revise bylaws changed by the board.
Liz McIntyre, board vice president at Mountain Parks Electric in Granby, said a portion of the co-op’s bylaws can be changed by the board, but other changes must be approved by the members. Mountain Parks Electric board meetings are livestreamed and then posted on YouTube.
“Some of the more important articles dealing with elections and districts can only be changed by the members,” McIntyre said.
Mona Neeley, director of communications at Colorado Rural Electric Association, said CREA does not formally track co-op bylaw amendment policies in Colorado.
“I know there are some bylaws that can be changed by a vote of the board and don’t have to go to the membership. I don’t know how many are at that point,” Neeley noted.
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