Questions raised about integrity of KIUC board election

The ongoing balloting process to determine members of the first popularly elected board of directors of the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative is proving as lively as recent government elections.

During this first full week of voting, many people are questioning why ballots mailed out to KIUC customers earlier this month are required to be mailed to or dropped off at KIUC addresses, and not directly to the third-party firm contracted to count the ballots and supervise the election.

Local business leaders who have voted by mail on questions posed by non-KIUC boards say they usually send their ballots to the accounting firm counting the ballots. For what one leader calls “such an important vote,” he’d like to see a routine that leaves no doubt about an election’s accuracy.

Ideally, the KIUC election should be performed in a manner comparable to public elections, said Walter Lewis of Princeville.

“I can see several areas where issues could arise as to the reliability of the election,” said Lewis, an outspoken critic of the purchase of Kauai Electric by KIUC.

He said there may be questions about whether or not all eligible members received ballots, and that 15 days or less to return a completed ballot by mail makes it difficult for mainland and international members to respond in time for their votes to count.

The fact that the KIUC staff handles mail-in ballots has already provoked public questions about the election’s potential accuracy, Lewis noted.

Anne Barnes, KIUC communications coordinator, has not yet responded to a series of questions submitted by The Garden Island regarding how the KIUC board election is being run.

Gregg Gardiner, current KIUC board chair and a candidate to continue serving on the board, did respond to general questions regarding the election.

Gardiner was asked, “Are there rules and regulations similar to those of the campaign spending commission regulations and requirements for reporting contributions and expenditures?”

He replied: “There is no campaign spending requirement for any co-ops that I know of. The reason, I think, is that co-ops are private corporations even though they are nonprofit. The candidates are not running for a political office. They are running for a seat on the board of directors of a corporation. Having said that, I know of no candidate who has accepted any funds from any outside sources for his or her campaign for the KIUC board. Nor do I know of any candidate who has spent very much for campaigning. I have probably spent the most, and in total I have not spent $2,000. Many candidates have spent nothing.”

Gardiner said KIUC board members are currently paid a stipend of $150 for a day of service.

Another question posed to Gardiner was: “Are co-op elections in other areas of the country as spirited as this one?”

“I think it’s great that so many people were interested in running for the board,” Gardiner said. “The quality of the 31 candidates is absolutely superb, and probably unmatched anywhere in the country. The democratic process will work, and since we have so many well-qualified candidates, KIUC will end up with an excellent board of directors.”

The 17-member, hand-picked, founding KIUC board is giving way via this election to a nine-member board elected by co-op members, who qualify as members by being ratepayers to the KIUC, per the KIUC bylaws.

The call for an election shortly after the sale was approved was also urged by members of the state Public Utilities Commission. The PUC approved the sale of Kauai Electric to KIUC for $215 million last year.

Of the 31 board candidates, six are on the current, founding board.

Like political elections, but to a much lesser degree, there are candidates waving at passing motorists on the highways, putting up campaign yard signs, placing paid candidate advertisements in The Garden Island and on local cable TV and radio, e-mail campaigns for and against certain candidates are underway and there’s lots of letter-writing to the forum page of the newspaper. Yesterday, the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce announced they have endorsed a slate of candidates.

Earlier this week, Dr. Ray Chuan of Hanalei suggested to those on his e-mail list they not vote for any of the “incumbents” and elect any of a number of others.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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