Crow Wing Power remains under fire by opposition
- By Jennifer Eisenbart Aitkin Independent Age firstname.lastname@example.org - May 5, 2020
Group is organizing to try and elect new board members to change ’transparency’ issues
A long and bitter battle between Crow Wing Power Cooperative and at least one member of its board of directors has taken a new turn.
Recently, board member Bryan McCulloch took to Facebook to defend his stance against CWP CEO Bruce Kraemer, and now there is an organized effort to try and elect new members to the Board of Directors.
In recent weeks, Tim Quincer – who is helping organize the opposition to the current CWP Board of Directors – sent out a press release announcing a volunteer task force to elect three specific members to the CWP board
A Facebook page called “CWP Accountability” has been created as well. Ballots for the annual election are scheduled to be mailed to cooperative members in mid-May according the Char Kinzer, Crow Wing Power public relations manager. Election results, normally announced at the annual meeting, will be announced June 12 as the annual meeting has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Results will be posted on the cooperative’s website at cwpower.com.
The current board is comprised of nine members with three members elected to three-year terms each year. Board members represent all of the power company’s service areas. Members vote for candidates from all districts regardless of which district they reside in.
The move to replace board members stems from an issue that came to light last year about payments to board members for their work with Hunt Technologies through 2006. The company, which made meters for CWP, was close to bankruptcy, and Kraemer took over that company and ran it in lieu of them hiring a CEO. Kinzer said that Kraemer received no salary for the six years of work, and the Board of Directors did not receive pay outside the $5,000 a year the members were already earning.
In an article in the Morrison County Record in May of 2019, CWP Board of Directors president Bob Kangas sent a letter to the media, explaining that board members were offered a bonus of $70,000 per member for their six years of work with Hunt Technologies, when the business was sold.
Two of the board members did not take the bonus, according to Kinzer. The bonuses came about when Hunt Technologies was sold for $129 million total – with a net profit to CWP of $42 million – in 2006. Kinzer said that Kraemer was contracted to receive 1.5% of the gross sale, which turned into $1.9 million, “which was much larger than anyone anticipated,” she said.
Kinzer said that $12 million of that was returned in capital credit checks to members, while just over $5 million was used to clear some property as well as address some building work. The rest, Kinzer said, was saved for a future investment.
That investment turned out to be a manganese mine in Emily, which Kinzer said is an investment to make money for the cooperative and the area. Quincer and other members disagree with that statement, and McCulloch has gone on record saying he will not sign non-disclosure agreements discussing the mine because he feels it doesn’t allow for proper communication with members.
As a result, McCulloch has not been able to partake in the discussions, he said.
It was 13 years from the point where the bonuses were paid until the story broke in both the Brainerd Dispatch and the Star-Tribune last spring and summer. The dispute between parties has been ongoing now for months, with both sides claiming the right side of the law. McCulloch and his supporters say that the matter has been brought to the attorney of the state attorney general’s office, while Kinzer says that the cooperative has not done anything wrong.
Quincer said members involved with the pursuit of action by the attorney general’s office have made it sound like action might be coming, but it’s unsure when or how. In the meantime, Quincer said he and others in the co-op are working to replace board members and increase transparency.
“They’re being compensated, outrageously, for a non-profit,” Quincer said, adding that tax returns from 2018 show executives making hundreds of thousands of dollars. “We’re also a little concerned about our electric rates.”
McCulloch said in his online post that members of the cooperative voted last June to require more transparency. Included in that was a request for a forensic audit of the cooperative, which has not been done.
Kinzer, meanwhile, speaking for the cooperative said, “we have been extremely forthright where we can be,” publishing board and meeting minutes.
“We’ve been trying to be much more open,” she said, adding that the Emily manganese mine discussions involve potential proprietary information with a for-profit company and can’t be discussed publicly.
“The manganese mine, we can’t be really open with,” she said, adding that North Star Manganese required the non-disclosure agreements in order for negotiations to move forward.
Crow Wing Power Co-op serves mostly members in Crow Wing County, with members in Aitkin, Morrison and Cass counties.
Letter to the Editor from John Ward
Have you ever wanted to change something? Most of us have done a lot of that in our lives. The upcoming Crow Wing Power Board Elections are coming up and we definitely need some changes there.
There continue to be lots of questions at CWP. Does the upcoming mining project have individual royalties for anyone? Are there Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA) being offered for
hush agreements? Why are long term, faithful employees being pushed out? Why are there still parts of the monthly meetings closed to folks, including one board member? Why don’t the minutes have ALL the information from the meetings?
These three folks; Bryan McCulloch, Gary Bakken and Loren Beilke, have promised to get answers. Please vote for them in the upcoming election. You can and should vote in ALL
districts, not just yours.
Let’s bring trust, transparency, oversight and futuristic planning back to Crow Wing Power.
11442 Forestview Drive
Baxter, MN 56425
IMPORTANT NOTE from CWP Accountability Group Director/ Member, Tim Quincer
At last year’s annual Crow Wing Power meeting, member/owners of the co-op voted to ask the board to remove CEO Kraemer after he tried to justify taking 1.9 million dollars of our money. We also voted to direct the board to conduct a forensic audit; questioned management on the lucrative Emily manganese mine royalty agreements granted to Kraemer and executives; and heard them say they would work to improve transparency.
Nearly a year later, the board has not removed the CEO, taken no action on an audit, and taken no action to address the royalty agreements!
Let me give you a personal example of how they have approached the transparency request.
Contrary to assurances at the annual meeting, the CWP tax return for the year of the Hunt Technologies sale is NOT available to members. Their explanation—due to the Hunt sale and large profit that year, they couldn’t file as a non-profit, and had to file a corporation return.
Non-profits are required to make their tax returns public. Crow Wing Power is a non-profit utility—its members are its owners.
As for corporate returns? I asked to be provided a copy of that tax return—I am a CWP member--they REFUSED.
The board discussed my request and took a vote on allowing me to visit CWP offices and view the return. That was allowed with conditions—I had to be supervised while viewing the return, and I could not take pictures of or take notes while viewing the return.
One board member—Gert Roggenkamp, who happens to be up for election this year and is one of the board members who took $70,000 from the Hunt Sale—actually voted to deny me the ability to view the return!
And what did I find when viewing the return? There was no mention of the money CEO Kraemer and most board members took from the Hunt sale at all. In fact, that personal profiting has not been noted in subsequent tax returns either.
It should be clear by now—the current board will not take the action the members have asked them to, and we must elect board members committed to doing so.
The CWP Accountability group (see www.cwpaccountabilitygroup.com) is promoting 3 candidates who will work for the change that members have asked for: Bryan McCulloch, Gary Bakken, and Loren Bielke.
Brainerd Dispatch - Reader Opinion April 23, 2020
The current Crow Wing Power newsletter states there is a “small group of people” raising questions about the operation at Crow Wing Power. It states to please call them, 218-829-2827, to ask your questions or voice your concerns. Let me be clear, a majority of the folks working at and managing Crow Wing Power are hard-working people that truly care about the members they serve. However, facts indicate there have been and are some bad apples who are more interested in their own pocket books rather than investing back in the company's future and the best interests of its members.
To get factual information on what has gone on over the years with our, the members, profits from past, current and future investments, please visit the following sites which will give much more detail into many questionable practices of the folks in charge of running the co-op for its members. Here are the website addresses for you to check out -- cwpaccountabilitygroup.com and cwptruth.com. Also, please check out the CWP Accountability Group’s Facebook page for more information.
Once you have gathered your information, please do what the newsletter asks members to do and call Crow Wing Power to voice your concerns and questions. Also, the ballots for the Crow Wing Power Board will soon be sent out. Since it has been decided the annual meeting will be cancelled, rather than postponed like it should have been, it is imperative to mail your ballot in. Please do your homework and see which candidates running have promised to bring trust, transparency and justice back to Crow Wing Power and its members. Members can and should vote in all districts, not just the one they live in.