Letter: Name change seems regressive

Published 6:30 am Saturday, October 3, 2020

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As the longest-serving CEO/president of Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services, I have been quiet about Freeborn-Mower activities for 15 years since my retirement. However, the proposed change of the name of the cooperative finally struck a nerve. The years I was responsible for managing Freeborn-Mower I was fortunate to have a very progressive board of directors. We believed the cooperative could be used to provide services that rural members did not have available. We changed the name from Freeborn-Mower Electric Cooperative to Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services. Following our lead, other electric cooperatives did the same. This name change back to Freeborn-Mower Electric seems to be regressive and limits the opportunities for the future of the cooperative and its members.

What my board did, for example: City dwellers had cable TV while our members did not have the same kind of services. Freeborn-Mower had the vision to create a cooperative called the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative. I was privileged to be one of the 12 charter board members, along with a fellow Minnesotan, Bob Bergland, former secretary of agriculture under President Jimmy Carter. Our goal was to provide satellite TV to all rural customers in the nation. Our cooperative served both Freeborn and Mower counties. We later sold these territories for five times more than our investment, knowing that those services would continue for all rural customers.

We also recognized that our members were aging; therefore, we adopted Operation Roundup. Operation Roundup raised approximately $100,000 for Alzheimer’s research. I was then appointed as a board member to the state Alzheimer’s Board. Operation Roundup is still in existence today.

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Having realized during storms how difficult it was for the members of our cooperative to report power outages, I created the Cooperative Response Center, along with the help of other cooperatives. I was the first CEO and managed the cooperative until it was up and running. This cooperative is currently headquartered in Austin and now provides answering services for the entire nation.

None of these efforts would have happened without the vision of the board of directors, along with a financial commitment and staff time in order to expand to other services for the benefit of the membership. The name change indicated to our members that the cooperative would seek out any opportunity to enhance their lives as members of our cooperative.

When I assumed responsibility for Freeborn-Mower Cooperative in 1979, we had one of the highest electric rates of the 29 Dairyland cooperatives. When I retired in 2005, we had one of the lowest electric rates of the Dairyland cooperatives. From 2005 until present, our electric rates have doubled. There is no doubt the cooperative needs a larger facility. The only questions are the following: Is it overbuilt? Will it be plusher than it needs to be, and what is the impact on our electric rates? The first two questions no one knows. The management and board do not realize what a valuable tool Freeborn-Mower could be to expand opportunities and benefits for all members of its cooperative. Freeborn-Mower board members receive substantial pay and benefits. It is time to reveal their per diem to help attract more candidates for these positions.

In closing, I do not support the name change.

Ron Steckman

past president

Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services