KIUC board travel tops $112,000

Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water. The other third is covered by Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative’s (KIUC) board members and employees travel.

According to KIUC board of directors’ travel expenses for the year to date provided by KIUC Communications Director Anne Barnes, directors and other KIUC staffers have spent in excess of $112,100 as of the end of September.

Travel destinations have ranged from Hollywood, Fla. to Toronto, to San Diego to Las Vegas, Japan and Belgrade, Mont.

Reasons for travel included meetings, lunch in Alaska, training, conferences, and a trip to Honolulu to buy furniture.

Earlier, KIUC President and Chief Executive Officer Harry A. “Dutch” Achenbach said board members had spent $76,000 on travel expenses this year. In an e-mail reply to questions, board Chairman Gregg Gardiner had said the budget for board travel is $50,000.

According to KIUC records, which include airfare, hotels, ground transportation and meals, directors and employees traveled to 14 different venues so far this year.

KIUC leaders said information about the board is available on the Web site, kiuc.coop, and that board meetings are open to the public. The expenditures would indicate that the board members approve their own travel, and seeks no input for KIUC membership and perhaps even KIUC employee managers.

At least 10 persons affiliated with KIUC, including board members Dee Crowell, Gardiner, Ray Paler, James Mayfield, Ron Kouchi, Susan Stayton, and former board member Saburo Yoshioka who eventually resigned due to nepotism issues, attended the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Annual Meeting in San Diego. A majority of them stayed from Feb. 24 through March 3.

Gardiner, at that same function from Feb. 23 through March 2, claimed $3,356.72 for expenses for meetings and conferences. According to KIUC records, KIUC membership paid more than $500 in airfare for Scott Lopez to attend the NRECA conference. According to KIUC’s Web site, Lopez was a KIUC youth-tour delegate to Washington, D.C., in 2004.

Gardiner made trips to Toronto for the Electricity Storage Association Annual Meeting; to San Diego for the NRECA’s Annual Meeting; to Las Vegas for the NRECA Directors Conference; to Washington, D.C., for the NRECA Legislative Conference; to Woodbridge, Va. for the NRECA National Directors’ winter conference; to Denver, Colo., accompanied by Achenbach, to attend a Wind and Energy Conference, and to Arlington, Va., for dinner with NRECA leaders.

There were also trips to Nagoya and Tokyo, Japan, and trips in May to Alaska, including Anchorage, Ketchikan and Fairbanks, to visit leaders of Alaskan co-ops to study battery-storage systems. On most, but not all trips, Gardiner was accompanied by one or more board directors.

According to records, KIUC employees Annie Crain and someone identified as Mitchell Oishi spent close to $400 on Jan. 5 to fly to Honolulu for the purpose of “board furniture.”

Directors Teofilo “Phil” Tacbian and Mayfield in July had lunch in Alaska with representatives from power companies in Sitka, Ala. They spent $153.73 for the meal, but revealed no expenses for airfare or hotel stays. Tacbian, a new director, also attended NRECA Directors Summer School in Big Sky, Mont., from July 23 to 26. No data was provided for his airfare or hotel-stay costs.

KIUC’s nearly 30,000 members pay the highest electric rates in the state, and among the highest co-op rates in the nation.

Kevin M. Katsura, legal counsel for the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), said rules and mechanisms are in place at the PUC to handle questions concerning KIUC activities.

Katsura said an informal or formal complaint in writing may be made by any person against any public utility, pursuant to Hawaii Administrative Rules (HAR) §§ 6-61-66 and 6-61-67.

He said that, among other things, the complaint should be drawn as to fully and completely advise the utility leaders and commission members in what respects the provisions of the law or rules have been or are being violated or will be violated, and should set forth in plain language the facts claimed to constitute the violation.

As to whether the PUC members failed to create a category for cooperatives, Katsura replied, “The Commission regulates ‘public utilities’ as defined by Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) § 269-1. HRS § 269-1 does not define ‘public utilities’ by type of ownership. Any change to this definition must be done by legislative change. The commission has the power to examine into the condition of each public utility pursuant to HRS § 269-7.”

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