TOP STORIES OF 2017: No. 1 -- Member concerns spur changes at UDWI REMC

Monday, January 1, 2018

The series of changes at Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC spurred by member concerns was voted the number one story for 2017.

The year of news surrounding the local REMC started with three long-time board members being unseated and most recently another board member resigning from his position, as well as an internal audit being performed, an FBI investigation, a new CEO being named and a civil suit being filed against the cooperative.

In 2016 a group of REMC member-owners started raising questions about the inner-workings of the cooperative and its affect on the rates. In early 2017, the conversation shifted the cooperative’s board of directors and leaders looking at ways to make changes.

In February, REMC leaders sat down with the Greene County Daily World to discuss changes being made to cut costs and potentially lower rates. Several members also spoke with the GCDW to present specifics on why they were concerned, ranging from board member salary to excessive spending on community giving.

In March, it was announced three individuals would be running to unseat the board members up for re-election in districts one, two and four. The push for new board members was successful with a large turnout at the April 8 annual meeting resulting in the implementation of new board members John Royal, David Burger and Todd Carpenter.

The continued changes within the board prompted an internal controls audit, which brought in an independent accounting firm to comb through the cooperative’s financial records. The May announcement about the audit also prompted the board to place CEO Brian Sparks on paid administrative leave, pending the results of the audit.

Within days, a reportedly unrelated investigation by the FBI was also confirmed.

While phase one of the audit was never released to its members, the outcome resulted in the termination of Sparks in June, who had served as the CEO for 10 years and worked for the cooperative a total of 33 years.

“Upon our review of the information from the internal audit, and after much thoughtful deliberation, we determined Mr. Sparks did not fulfill management expectations for UDWI. Mr. Sparks is relieved of all duties and responsibilities effective immediately,” a press release from the board of directors stated.

In the months since Sparks’ termination, the board has stated it is working diligently to make changes, including making monthly meetings more accessible to its members. The board also voted to discontinue the lifetime insurance benefit offered to board members, which was one of the many concerns brought before the board about its inner-workings.

An interim CEO was named to the cooperative in July, and the board welcomed member input in its search for a new CEO through an online survey asking what qualities should be sought in the cooperative’s new chief executive officer.

In late October, Douglas Childs was named the new CEO following a national search. Childs brings more than 32 years of experience, 22 of which were spent working with municipal utilities for the City of Hamilton, Ohio’s Department of Public Utilities.

As 2017 comes to a close, there have continued to be more developments as changes continue at UDWI REMC.

Last week, former CEO Sparks filed a civil suit against the cooperative, alleging breach of contract and unpaid wages. The civil case filed in Greene Superior Court requested liquidated damages totaling $378,840 plus attorney fees and costs.

Last Friday, District 8 board member Jack Norris announced his resignation, as well as the withdrawal of his name from the 2018 board of director elections.

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