Crow Wing Power members have an opportunity to shape the board of directors-their representatives in the electric power cooperative-for three seats in the June 2019 election.
The co-op has been involved in controversy recently around its handling of a manganese mine near Emily. Critics have pointed to a lack of transparency to members and called for a forensic audit.
Of the nine seats on the board, three are up for election-District 1B, District 2A and the at-large seat for District 3. While all three incumbents are making a bid for another three-year term, there are multiple challengers as well. Members may vote for one director per district via mail-in ballot to be received by no later than June 8, while members may also submit their official ballots in person until about 11:15 a.m. (or whenever the board president calls it), during the co-op's annual meeting 9-11 a.m., Saturday, June 8, at the Crow Wing Power headquarters at 17330 Highway 371, Brainerd.
Crow Wing Power is a power electric co-op-with a number of for-profit subsidiaries under its control-that serves 38,000 members in Crow Wing, Cass and Morrison counties.
District 1B primarily covers the northeast portion of Cass and Crow Wing counties, including Remer to the north, Longville to the west, and Outing, Fifty Lakes and Emily to the south.
District 2A primarily includes southern Cass County, northwest Morrison County and western Crow Wing County near Gull and Round lakes. Communities in this stretch include Nisswa, Pillager and Motley.
For the at-large seat, members can select a director from District 3-both 3A and 3B-which comprises Brainerd-Baxter up to Nisswa, as well as Crosby-Ironton to the west, down to Fort Ripley, Little Falls, Pierz and Royalton at the southernmost border.
District 1B: Eric Larson
Eric Larson hails from Otsego and owns property near Crosslake with his wife, Suzanne, with whom he shares two children and three grandchildren. Now retired, he has been active as a member of the American Society for Quality and Oratorio Society of Minnesota choir. The Dispatch was unable to reach Larson for comment on his candidacy.
"If elected," Larson wrote in the cooperative's pamphlet. "I promise to work diligently on behalf of Crow Wing Power and the members to provide reliable service at a reasonable cost."
Boasting degrees in physics from Hamline University and electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, Larson describes himself as a "fact based decision maker," who believes in "listening to people, gathering data and analyzing data in order to make decisions."
Previously, he's worked in the computer and medical device industry and sports extensive experience as a regulatory agent and inspector for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, being involved in numerous FDA facility inspections and authoring three FDA-approved 510(k) submissions. During his career, he made efforts to improve electronic reporting, served as a team leader to redesign a major database in the agency, served as a coordinator of the corrective action program and trained employees on numerous topics.
District 1B: Doris Mezzenga (incumbent)
Doris Mezzenga, first elected in 2016, lives by Crosslake. She is the director of the Crosslake Food Shelf, active in Crosslake's Salem West Lutheran Church Ministry and a member of the church. She is married to her husband, Jan. Mezzenga did not respond to requests for comment from the Dispatch.
"It has been my honor to represent you on the Board of Directors for Crow Wing Power," Mezzenga wrote for cooperative pamphlets. "As a priority, I will continue to support and promote Crow Wing Power's commitment to efficient and reliable services to our 37,000 members. You are the member/owners of this co-op and whenever decisions have to be made, my first thought is 'What is best for our members.'"
Furthermore, Mezzenga noted the co-op had benefited from a "strong management team, dedicated employees and an innovative Board of Directors."
District 1B: Jan Peterschick
Featuring a background in sales management anchored by an associate's degree in retail merchandising and experience handling up to 30 sales representatives below her, Jan Peterschick pointed to experience dealing with difficult personalities, complex sales and other problems as a "fresh perspective" and "value through experience" she can bring to the board if elected.
"I worked for the largest privately held company in North America," Peterschick said. "One of our mottos is if you can't have the things you do thrown up on the front pages of the New York Times, don't do it. It's about integrity."
A retired resident in Fifty Lakes since 2015, Peterschick enjoys extended family in the area and has been active in Telephone Pioneers of America, as well as Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Pequot Lakes.
In conversations with the Dispatch, Peterschick described the co-op as something of a private business owned by a community of members, describing them as "bosses."
"I am really looking for a role that I can fill that would benefit the co-op and also would be a challenge for me," Peterschick said. "So, really, it's about giving back to the community and utilizing the skills that I have."
In terms of ongoing controversy on Crow Wing Power and increased scrutiny on the board of directors, Peterschick criticised what she sees as business activities more in line with private sector interests than what should be happening at an organization owned by the community at large.
"We're a cooperative. We're owned by the members," said Peterschick, who noted she believes it's unethical for directors or executive staff of a public co-op to take bonuses. "... I'm not going to take that job to make money. I'm going to take it to benefit the co-op, the members and myself."
District 1B: Giles Radtke
The proprietor of electrical-mechanical contractor Radtke Service LLC, employing anywhere between 20-50 employees at any given time, master electrician Giles Radtke lives in Emily and also owns Quality Fabricating in Breezy Point. He is chair of the North Dakota Contractor Safety Council and a member of Northern Lites Cycle Club.
"I believe my business and field experiences have given me the knowledge and qualifications to contribute another positive, well-rounded view, and assist in decision making with the board," Radtke wrote for Crow Wing Power pamphlets. "I would like to give back to my community and serve on the board to use my knowledge to help make the best decisions for members."
Radtke noted coverage of Crow Wing Power and accusations of impropriety and unethical behavior by directors, employees and executive staff ultimately compelled him to throw his hat in the ring.
"You should not have to jump through hoops just to hear what your board of directors is doing," Radtke said.
Radtke said he is looking to improve transparency and communication between the co-op and members-such as a more comprehensive and informative website, timely agendas and notices to the public, and clearly articulated explanations for electricity rates. He noted he's in favor of better infrastructure and stronger safety protocols.
He said he is in support of a forensic audit of the cooperative. He said the co-op should steer away many of its for-profit subsidiaries, including the Emily mine, and focus on electric power services for the sake of the membership.
District 2A: Paul Cibuzar
Sporting a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Minnesota, as well as a master's degree with doctoral work in operations research, Paul Cibuzar of Nisswa, pointed to expertise and leadership as cornerstones of his bid for the Crow Wing Power Board of Directors.
Cibuzar is married to a teacher at Pillager Public School, with whom he has children and grandchildren. He served for 22 years in the Marine Corps and 24 years as a military consultant, featuring a bevy of stations and experiences from time abroad, much of it dealing with electrical power throughout the globe.
"I have the leadership skills and can work in any kind of situation," Cibuzar said. "I've been involved with electric power all over the world. I've designed, installed and operated with it."
As he noted in Crow Wing Power publications, Cibuzar intends to acquire the best possible balance of electric dependability and affordability, a focus on transparent and standardized operations at the co-op, a realistic and proactive push for more environment-friendly sources of energy, as well as an emphasis on a well-qualified, well-trained workforce for the co-op.
Prompted by coverage of ongoing issues at Crow Wing Power, Cibuzar said he contacted his representative, Gordon Martin, to explore the issue. While Martin was willing to speak at length on his own activities for the co-op, he failed to discuss much of any fiduciary, business oriented or operational topics, Cibuzar said. At one point, Cibuzar said he was stonewalled at multiple attempts to speak at a board meeting, even when he met predetermined requirements laid out by the cooperative.
"I've been in numerous boards for General Electric and McDonald-Douglas," Cibuzar said. "You sign a nondisclosure agreement on certain specific dealings, but you don't sign a non-disclosure agreement to avoid talking about what you do on your job."
Cibuzar said he's in favor of an investigation to determine what happened and if anyone is culpable for failures within the cooperative.
District 2A: Gordon Martin (incumbent)
The longest-tenured member of the Crow Wing Power Board of Directors, 480-acre crop and cattle operation owner Gordon Martin, of Pillager, has served since 1992. A lifetime resident of District 2A, he's been a voice on the Land O'Lakes national board, spent 43 years on the Township Mutual Insurance board, as well as a host of church-related, banking, community, nonprofit and local business governing bodies.
"In the last nine years, we have returned several million dollars in cash to our members, while still maintaining our lines and right of ways to cut outages, blinks and line loss," Martin wrote for Crow Wing Power publications. "I supported our capital outlay to update equipment and improve our core business."
Martin noted he's compelled to run for another term in order to see the Emily manganese mine come to fruition.
Calling for a "return to the bottom line for Crow Wing Power and return equities back to the consumer," Martin said the board has made mistakes in the past, but never intended to hurt members or shortchange the cooperative for personal gain.
He pointed to his fiscal management experience as a plus and lauded himself as one of the best qualified to guide the cooperative in that regard.
District 2A: John Terwilliger
A past mayor and current council member of Lake Shore, John Terwilliger pointed to a life that's often revolved around public service. He has degrees in electronic technology from Wadena Technical College and a bachelor's degree from Bemidji State University.
Since then, he worked as an electronic technician and taught electronic technology. In terms of his motivations, he said he was encouraged by family, neighbors and friends to run.
"I think I listen well to what people want," Terwilliger said. "A lot of people have asked me to run to represent them. My personal motivation is to serve the citizens and keep them better informed of what's going on.
"I think the main thing is that (Crow Wing Power) needs to be more open with all the members-where money's coming in, where it's going, where it's being spent, where it's being invested," Terwilliger said. "I don't think a lot of people knew what was going on."
Terwilliger said he's a strong candidate based on his experiences as a rural resident of the area, his work in public institutions and his volunteer record.
"Being involved in our community is important to (my wife Cindy and me). We are leaders in the Black Bear 4-H Club, hold offices in the Gull Lake Drifters Snowmobile Club and are active members of the Nisswa Area Historical Society," Terwilliger wrote for the Crow Wing Power pamphlet. "We also volunteer and, in 2012, my wife and I were honored to be selected as Nisswa Citizens of the Year."
District 2A: Paul Thiede
"Experience," said Paul Thiede when asked what his strongest qualification to serve on the Crow Wing Power was. "Experience in governing by committee and getting to the bottom of things in a thorough manner."
A resident of Upper Hay Drive, Pequot Lakes and originally of Motley, Thiede's participation in nonprofits, governing bodies, corporations and other entities include the Red Cross, Jaycees, Toastmasters, chair of Mississippi Headwaters Board, MAGIC, ALEC, South Country Health Alliance, Foundation for Economic Education, formerly an elected state representative and Crow Wing County commissioner, as well as buying into the Country Echo and, as editor, helped start the Echoland Shopper.
"Having left public office and being retired, I still have a desire, time and interest in giving back to the community while engaging the general public," Thiede wrote for the Crow Wing Power election notice. "Secondly, having recently acquired property in the Cooperative's area of service, I have watched with interest the publicity that has recently surrounded the Board of Directors."
Thiede noted-in private business and public institutions, which the co-op straddles -"you can't do it alone," and it takes certain skills to work in conjunction with other board members and personalities to give every issue it's due diligence. These issues, he added, are more important than whatever controversies surround Crow Wing Power.
District 3 At-large: Michael Burton
Hailing from Lake Edward Township near Nisswa, Michael Burton said he features deep familial roots in the Brainerd lakes area dating back to at least 1894, as well as a litany of active roles involving business organizations and health care providers. He has a degree from Concordia University in organizational management and communication. The Dispatch was unable to reach Burton for comment.
"Central Minnesota is the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family," Burton wrote for Crow Wing Power. "I believe that my passion for the area, my career path and experience, past and present, prepare me to make a positive contribution to the members of Crow Wing Power."
Activities and accolades include retail experience in downtown Brainerd, chair of the Downtown Business Council, board chair of the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, Board of Directors for First Federal Savings and chair of the finance committee at St. Joseph's Hospital Board, as well as work to establish the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center fund. In addition, Burton wrote that he's been instrumental in creating St. Joseph's Foundation, as well as senior director of development for western states at Ducks Unlimited. He also serves as co-chair of the Natural Resources Economic Development Committee for the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation.
District 3 At-large: Paul Koering (incumbent)
A former state senator and current member of the Crow Wing County Board, Paul Koering, of Paradise Beach Trail, rural Brainerd, has served on the Crow Wing Power board since 2016. He is a member of St. Mathias Catholic Church and a Minnesota Farm Bureau member.
Drawing on his background as an elected official, Koering said it's a boon for the co-op to have a board member who features those connections, understands the process and can facilitate favorable outcomes with the Minnesota state Legislature.
"It has a huge effect on our co-op and has a huge effect on how much people are paying their electricity," said Koering, who noted he's had a good, productive relationship with Crow Wing Power going back decades to his years as a dairy farmer.
Koering lambasted the lack of transparency at Crow Wing Power from the likes of directors and members of the executive staff, citing it as a motivation to run again and a point of focus for him going forward, should he be re-elected. While there's sense in keeping business under wraps during negotiations or in private companies, this rarely should apply to Crow Wing Power, he added.
"This is owned by the members. There are no secrets from the members, they own it," Koering said. "I'm going to figure out how to make this the most transparent co-op. If rates go up, members should know why they're going up. The members need to know that. They need to have their questions answered."