We were pleased to see the La Plata Electric Association hire a new CEO last week, Jessica Matlock, an assistant general manager of the Snohomish County Public Utility District, a municipal electric company in Washington state.
Matlock has had a 13-year career there, according to her LinkedIn page; she currently handles external affairs and customer and energy services, following years in government and external affairs. She has an impressive résumé, although she has not run a utility or a co-op like LPEA before.
The LPEA board must have seen something in Matlock that made them think she was the right person to lead a 33,000-member electric cooperative at a watershed moment. Elections are underway now for three of four board seats, with races pitting caution and cost concerns against the get-greener-faster crowd. The voters are the ratepayers.
So with cost an issue, it was curious to see LPEA flatly refuse to disclose how much it will pay Matlock. The message was: It is none of your business.
The Herald asked, of course. It is a routine question, an everyday matter of public interest – all the more so when LPEA has trouble getting even a third of its members to vote. We suspect some of them do not even realize they are co-op voters, despite the lavish brochures they got from LPEA. We think they might be interested to know whether LPEA is paying Matlock as much as retiring CEO Mike Dreyspring.
Dreyspring made $296,896 in salary and benefits in 2017. We know that because LPEA must disclose it in its annual IRS form 990, which is public.
It is possible LPEA is paying Matlock less than what it paid its CEO in 2017. It also could be paying her twice as much. It could be paying her $1 million a year, which could come out of your electric bill; it is unlikely, but we do not know it is wrong because LPEA says it is “not our current business practice” to tell its members and ratepayers how it spends their money.
It is a heck of a way to run a monopoly, not to mention a peculiar thing to do to voters.
We assume it will eventually disclose Matlock’s pay in its tax filing, as it must by law – a year or more from now. Perhaps it will disclose it before its next round of board elections.
We think it should disclose it now.
And we think the board candidates – Joe Lewandowski, who is running unopposed; challengers Sarah Ferrell and Jeff Mannix; incumbents Dan Huntington and Jack Turner; and Archuleta County candidates Holly Metzler and Michel Whiting – owe it to the public to make statements now.
The incumbents should show some backbone and disclose the amount of Matlock’s pay, or say why they think they can and should hide it from you.
The others should take a clear stand in favor of transparency, or say why it is better to keep the members in the dark even as they ask them for their support.
If you know any of these candidates, ask them yourself whether they think it is good for the LPEA board to make such a hire and conceal the compensation from the public it claims to serve.
We would like to see Matlock get off to a good start. There is ample work ahead for someone who must steer the course between prudence and the interests of price-sensitive ratepayers on one side, and combating global climate change from one corner of one Western state on the other. With so much perceived urgency, Matlock and the board will need all the consensus and goodwill they can muster.
That is a two-way street. We think trust begins with transparency.
So how much will Matlock be paid?