Updates to electric cooperative bylaws don't always generate much member excitement, but an all-out campaign at a New Mexico co-op to elevate the issue caught members' attention, resulting in changes long-sought by board trustees to help future operations.
Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative created the “Return Power to the Members" campaign last year to change a co-op bylaw that required an annual meeting quorum of 5% of its 22,500 members, something it hasn't achieved in 30 years. By painting the issue as one of member democratic control and using a creative approach, the co-op persevered.
“We needed members to know how important they are to us. They've always been important, but they came out in droves to help us," said Karen Wisdom, senior manager of contract administration and compliance at the Española-based co-op.
For its efforts, the co-op is the 2023 recipient of the Edgar F. Chesnutt Award for Best Total Communication Program, presented May 2 during NRECA's Connect Conference in Jacksonville, Florida. The award, the highest honor bestowed by the Spotlight on Excellence Awards program, is named for Edgar F. Chesnutt, manager of corporate communication for Arkansas Electric Cooperatives from 1961 until 1987.
A lower-quorum threshold was important because the 5% rule prevented trustees from passing new bylaws enacting reforms to operate efficiently in the future, said John Ramon Vigil, board secretary and chairman of a committee overseeing the campaign. The new quorum is 2.5% of eligible voting members.
The co-op decided that six special district meetings in its service area instead of one big annual meeting would be its best bet to draw enough eligible voting members to make the bylaw change. For outreach, the co-op used 10 different communications channels—from door-to-door visits to social media to banners. JMEC's 11 trustees and most of its staff worked at the special meetings held on weekends.
For the effort to succeed, the 5% quorum had to be reached at four of the six meetings. They ended up hitting that mark at five of the meetings, and members approved the updated bylaw to lower the quorum.
“We shouted the message early and often about why it was urgent for members to attend, register and vote," Wisdom said. “I have never, ever in my entire life seen a group of people work so hard and so beautifully together."
The co-op's “nontraditional" strategy won kudos from Chesnutt judges for its creativity, success and member engagement. The campaign “demonstrated the co-op's dedication to its consumer-members" and its catchy title “opens the door to the next step, a campaign to engage and involve members in the co-op," judges said.