To the Editor:
Over the past several months, there has been much activity taking place at Carroll Electric Co-Operative. Because of what appears to be questionable management decisions, many consumers have started to take a look into the operations of this member-owned entity. The board of trustees had scheduled a series of district meetings to address concerns of the consumers, and put to rest what they and management viewed as “unfounded rumors”. This may have been a good idea, if members were allowed to ask challenging questions, in order for the board and management to back their decisions. Unfortunately, with video-taping taking place, threats of legal actions, and personal company “plants” in the audience, these meetings failed to be informational, and instead came off as propaganda. The board and management feel as though the only issue affecting the consumer population concerns the right-of-way program. This is not true. There are many issues that need addressed; right-of-way management is just one piece of the puzzle. However, that is the only issue that I feel the need to address, since the board has devoted so much time and energy into it, and it is the one issue that I am very personally aware of. The following is not from a disgruntled, terminated contractor. It is from a business owner that is now defending his 27-year local business.
In 1985, I was personally approached by the Operations Manager at Carroll Electric. It was at this time that he asked me if I would like to become contractually employed. Let me make that clear. My business never approached Carroll Electric about employment; they came to me. The manager at the time knew of my work ethic, the quality of my work, my attention to detail, and the satisfaction of the customers that I had worked for. Over the next 2 decades, and 3 Executive Managers, I was repeatedly told by managers and board members alike that my crew did the best work they had ever seen. I was even repeatedly told that I “had a job there as long as there were trees to cut”. My crew was frequently sent out to clear areas that required difficult climbing operations, or a truck with higher reach capabilities than the other contractors. The work that was submitted lasted, and will last much longer than the “5-year” cutting cycle that the Co-Op is presently seeking. Years ago, as other contracted crews were turning in many “miles of line” cleared, we were re-clearing areas neglected in the past, and re-clearing rights-of-way neglected by these crews, including national companies brought in to help get caught up on the system. At that time, I asked the Line Supervisor if we should turn in sub-standard work, as well, in order to pad our “numbers” and increase our “mileage”. The supervisor informed me to keep clearing as I always had, as we were the only crew “doing the job right”. The present Operations Manager at Carroll Electric and the Line Supervisor over the past 2 years have given nothing but laudatory comments about the work submitted by my company, including the statement that, “I wish every crew turned in work like yours.” Upon termination of services, the Operations Manager informed me that we did the best work, had the most capable and properly inspected equipment, did safe and accident-free work, and exhibited impeccable records and integrity. He also said that our work was “too good”, as it would last for 10+ years. Most people would argue that the idea of work that is “too good” does not exist. But, he stated that our “production” was not enough for the cost, and our services would not be needed. This, after my crew for most of the year tackled “hot spot” tunneled-over areas that had been neglected for as much as 20 years. This type of work requires much time and effort to get them up to an acceptable level to ensure that outages no longer occur. The Right-of-Way Coordinator also had us take down enormous threat trees that proposed imminent danger to primary lines, as well as ones that were nowhere near primary lines. He attempted to convince me to “add spans” on to my invoicing on circuits that we had not worked on yet to “increase our numbers”. I informed him that I wouldn’t do that, because it was dishonest. He informed me that “everyone else does”.
As new management took over at Carroll Electric, one of my employees asked a board member if we should possibly be looking for employment elsewhere. The board member told him, “Why would you do that? The only comments we ever get is about the tremendous job that you do. You don’t have a thing to be concerned about.”
Which brings me to what I call the Co-Op’s “Numbers Game”. The 2 biggest problems with the data that Carroll Electric is presently putting out are that it does not put everyone on the same playing field, and it is essentially comparing apples to oranges. Whereas national right-of-way companies are brought in to bid on entire circuit or substation clearing operations, local contractors have always been moved around to address a multitude of problem areas. Often there is much travel time between job sites in a single day. The work ranges from new right-of-way construction, individual threat trees, “hot spot” outage areas, neglected areas because of difficult access, and storm damage clean-up. It would be extremely difficult to assess a “cost per mile” figure to these types of operations, because the “mileage” simply isn’t there. On the other hand, as entire substation clearing is being addressed by the large national companies, they are receiving credit for open spans and areas recently cleared by the local contractors. Not to mention that many of the areas “cleared” by the big company last year, and the ones presently being cleared by the present national company have been deemed “substandard” by the employees working in the field at Carroll Electric. From personal observation, many of these areas have leaning, threat trees and overhanging limbs that will propose a serious threat to the conductors. As far as an even playing field, I will put up the value and capability of my equipment, the necessary inspection records, the owner and employee credentials, and quality of work up against any crew presently working there, including the big national company. I don’t doubt that Carroll Electric needs to rely on outside companies for assistance on the right-of-way program. But the same thing has been tried in the past, and it has failed. Until they administer a quality control program, and ensure that every crew is performing to the highest standards, revenue will be lost in the future. Much of the work presently occurring will fall far short of the 5-year cycle that is desired. On the back of Carroll Electric’s “Facts About Right-of-Way Document” are specifications for right-of-way clearing from the United States Department of Agriculture. My company was the only one that explicitly performed to these specifications, along with the Operations Manager’s “Project Work Agreement” throughout the year.
Over the past several years, one of the board members would occasionally call on my services to perform work for the township road department in his township. This work was always completed under the same rate as the one given to Carroll Electric. And in each case, the trustee informed me that they were very satisfied with the work that was completed. It wasn’t known until recently that evidently Carroll Electric had a problem with my military career. Because this same board member recently stated that one of the problems stemmed from the fact that I would leave to perform active duty deployments, and the “production” from my business would decline. Under past management, I would frequently request, and be granted, extra days of work to offset the time away, including many Saturdays. That opportunity was eliminated under the new management. As I retired from my military career in December of last year, that problem, if it was one, no longer existed.
Upon termination of service work at Carroll Electric, the need was felt to defend my business against the “Numbers Game” presented to the board. It was never thought that this defense would have to be brought to the consumers and local population, as well. Carroll Electric seems to be devoted, at this point, to “black-ball” anyone that has an opinion that varies with theirs. The board has already indicated that they don’t understand how I am getting any work based on “numbers” that they are aware of. In the past several months upon termination, I have worked for many private individuals, 2 government entities, and other organizations. In each and every case, I have submitted bids and estimates based on the rate I was receiving at Carroll Electric. And in each and every case, the response has been the same. “If this is the equipment you supplied to them, and the quality of work you performed, why were you terminated?” My response has been steadfast. I simply state that I do high-quality, safe, honest work, will not perform sub-standard work, will not sacrifice my integrity, and they decided to pursue other avenues. This summary is presented by someone who has done right-of-way work for over a quarter of a century, has made suggestions over the years on how to improve the program at Carroll Electric, and has saved Carroll Electric no less than 3 separate legal actions based on my knowledge. It is meant as a defense of a local business that prides itself in honesty and doing things right. As far as the “Numbers Game” at Carroll Electric; is Carroll Electric going to save money on right-of-way costs this year? You bet, even though they can’t seem to agree on what that “number” actually is. Are they going to lose money in the future? Without quality control, the probability of that is high if substandard work on a 5-year cycle continues. The National Weather Service has indicated that the likelihood of severe weather will continue and increase in the upcoming years. Inspection of these various rights-of-way will reveal which ones will have the greater probability of service interruption.
B & B Tree Service
Tim Brooks – Owner/Operator
Carroll Electric consumer