Eye-popping pay, perks at Louisiana electric co-ops sparks investigation

BY MARK BALLARD AND DAVID J. MITCHELL | mballard@theadvocate.com; dmitchell@theadvocate.com SEP 19, 2018 - 11:51 AM 

The Louisiana Public Service Commission opened an investigation Wednesday into the compensation and other perks of board members and top executives of all Louisiana's rural electric cooperatives. 

The unanimous five-member commission agreed to open the inquiry after Commissioner Foster Campbell called the pay of the CEO and board members of a north Louisiana co-op "absolutely disgusting."

Campbell noted that the Claiborne Electric Cooperative, which serves 26,000 customers in one of Louisiana poorest areas, had a profit of $700,000.

But its CEO Mark Brown earned $280,000 in annual pay and benefits and members of the board of directors earned a combined $330,000 in per diem and other benefits.

Campbell made note of the $49,647 in pay and benefits that Claiborne board member Richard Noles earned, asking the co-op executives called before him in Baton Rouge how "in the hell you can explain this."

The Claiborne co-op was seeking commission approval for a more than $80 million loan to start a broadband internet service and Foster and co-op officials have previously clashed over the concept. 

Later, when officials with Dixie Electric Membership Corporation were up for an unrelated matter, Campbell questioned executives of that Baton Rouge-area co-op about top officials' pay. 

The commission learned that co-op board members collected between $6,000 and $34,000 per year. The $34,000 in pay included per diem, contributions to a health savings account, medical and vision policies, staffers told the commission.

"Boy, boy, boy, there y'all go again," Campbell said.  

Later, as other Louisiana co-ops appeared before the commission for rate increases, the commissioners drilled further into the status of co-op board members and how they are elected. 

Commissioner Campbell claimed that though there are membership elections, it's hard for regular co-op members, who are the customers, to get elected, calling it "good ole boy stuff."

Campbell requested the commission's attorneys to determine if the PSC can establish rules laying out how co-op board members are elected in the future  and possibly what their compensation is.

DEMCO officials are expected to speak with PSC members later on Wednesday to discuss an audit into improper benefits and perks board members and top executive may have received from the utility's vendors. 
NOTICE OF INTENT TO LEASE PROPERTY 
PURSUANT TO LA. R.S.33:4717.2

The Natchitoches Parish Port Commission ("Port Commission") hereby gives notice of its intention  to enter into a lease on or after the 23rd day of August, 2018, with Biomass Power Louisiana, L.L.C., Inc. at the Natchitoches Parish Port site in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. 
The Port Commission Offers the following information regarding the proposed lease:

1) The Port Commission will lease a site at the Natchitoches Parish Port to Biomass Power Louisiana, L.L.C. for the construction and operation of a wood chip mill, wood pellet mill and barge loading/unloading. The initial term of the lease will be for a term of thirty-five (35) years, with one fifteen (15) year option to renew, which option must be mutually approved and agreed upon by both the Port Commission and Biomass Power Louisiana, L.L.C ..

2) The property to be leased is a tract of land containing 75.00 acres, more or less, and being more particularly described as follows:

A certain piece, parcel or tract of land located in Section 41, Township 10 North, Range 7 West, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, containing 90.00 acres, more or less, being more fully shown on a survey by Robert Lynn Davis, Professional Land Surveyor, dated February 28,2017, and being more fully described as follows:

Begin at the corner common to Sections 41,42 and 81, Township 10 North, Range 7 West, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. 

Conveyor Corridor

A certain piece, parcel or tract of land located in Sections 41, 42, 47, 80 and 81, Township 10 North, Range 7 West, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, containing 1.4 acres, more or less, and being more fully shown on surveys by Robert Lynn Davis, Professional Land Surveyor, dated May 23, 2014 and August 19, 2013. 


Tract 1

A certain piece, parcel or tract of land located in Section 47, Township 10 North, Range 7 West, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, containing 0.985 acres, more or less, being more fully shown on a survey by Robert Lynn Davis, Professional Land Surveyor, dated July 23, 2014.

3) As consideration for the proposed lease, Biomass Power Louisiana, L.L.C. shall pay the Port Commission base rent during the primary term of the lease in the amount of $3,995.83 per month.

Additionally, the project will bestow a significant economic impact on Natchitoches Parish and surrounding parishes and will necessarily result in the creation of a significant number of additional jobs in the area. 


4) A copy of the above-referenced lease is on file for public inspection during regular business hours in the office of the Port Commission, 5690 Highway 486 Building 1, Campti, Louisiana 71411. 


5) The appraised rental value of the property to be leased to Biomass Power Louisiana, L.L.C., as determined on June 22, 2018, by a real estate appraisal performed by Mike Bordelon, SRA is Two Thousand Two Hundred Eighty-nine and 59/100 (U.S. 2,289.59) Dollars, per month.

6) Any objections to the foregoing proposed transfer will be received by Travis Tyler, Executive Director of the Natchitoches Parish Port Commission, on the 22nd day of August, 2018, at 2:00 0' clock p.m. at the offices of the Port Commission, 5690 Highway 486 Building 1, Campti, Louisiana 71411. 
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