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Campbell, LPSC remain at odds with Claiborne, other electric co-ops

Sparks continued to fly in the ongoing dispute between Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and Claiborne Electric Cooperative.  Originally, the rift was created during Claiborne Electric’s request for approval from the LPSC to seek financing for rural broadband internet, but has now escalated to include all the state’s electric co-ops, subpoenas, audits and investigations.

At the LPSC meeting, Campbell questioned both Claiborne’s and other electric cooperatives compensation and perks for board members, according to a report in The Advocate of Baton Rouge.  Campbell told the Press-Herald Friday that the investigation into perks and other compensation within the state’s electric cooperatives were out of line. He used Claiborne’s treasurer Richard Noles as an example of his assertion. But continued stating that Noles was but one example of the out-of-line spending by Claiborne and other co-ops. “This is much bigger than Richard Noles,” he told the Press-Herald Friday.

Campbell also took aim at Claiborne CEO Mark Brown’s salary, benefits, and reimbursements of more than $260,000.  “Between what they [the board] makes, and the $260,000 that [Brown] makes, they make as much as the whole co-op does,” Campbell said.  Claiborne, in response to the criticism, took action Wednesday, unanimously voting to eliminate the practice of providing health insurance for board members, according to a press release.

“The health insurance benefit has been in place for a long time, but it is not the reason we serve on this board,” Claiborne Electric Board President Hez Elkins said in a press release Thursday.  Claiborne Electric CEO Mark Brown said the board was already discussing possible elimination of the benefit prior to Wednesday’s LPSC meeting.  When the issue was brought up by Commissioner Campbell at the LPSC meeting Wednesday, the board decided to act to eliminate the benefit.”

The state’s 10 co-ops provide electricity to about 900,000 rural members, the report in The Advocate read.  Nonprofit cooperatives were created during the Roosevelt administration as a way to get electricity into rural areas.  Unlike the big shareholder owned utility companies, like Entergy, which include a profit in their rates, coops are nonprofits and instead of profits are allowed “operating margins” or money left over for expenses after the electricity is bought and paid.

The LPSC delayed the rate increase requests of two other co-ops — Beauregard Electric and Concordia Electric cooperatives — because they had failed to provide adequate information about board and executive compensation. Pointe Coupee did.  Claiborne turned over the information only under subpoena.

Also under the microscope was Dixie Electric Membership Corp. DEMCO serves more than 100,000 members in Ascension, Livingston and other Baton Rouge suburbs. The co-op reported the results of an months-long internal audit.

In another move, Claiborne sent a document to its members and the media, addressing all that had transpired over the past several weeks.

“As you probably know, for some time now Claiborne Electric Cooperative and Louisiana
Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell have been in a running dispute related
to our proposed Fiber-to-the-Home Broadband Internet project,” the document read. “It now appears he may be escalating the dispute to include personal attacks against our Board of Directors and management. Claiborne Electric is your Co-op, and we believe you deserve to know the whole story.”