An artist’s rendition showing what the Pedernales Electric Cooperative plans to do to the front lobbies of its regional offices helped convince five members of the Board of Directors to vote against reinstating in-person bill payments. Indoor bill-paying kiosks as shown in the image should be available in most regional offices in the next three months, staff reported. Courtesy image
In a rare 5-2 split vote, the Pedernales Electric Cooperative board rejected a resolution by Director James Oakley to reinstate in-person bill payments in co-op front offices. Director Travis Cox was the only board member to join Oakley in voting to reopen regional lobbies to accept cash or check payments.
“I went to the Marble Falls office and had two people come in within 10 minutes to pay their bills because the kiosk wasn’t working right,” said Oakley, adding that the kiosks are outside and are drive-through. “I think it’s important we focus on the members. This is a member-owned co-op. I think members ought to be able to come in and pay bills like they have in the past.”
Over 81 percent of all payments are handled through automated or self-service functions, PEC Chief Operations Officer Eddie Dauterive told the board. He explained why the change was made in the first place.
“We are trying to use this opportunity to encourage our members to go to paperless or autopay,” he said. “It’s a cost savings to members; it’s a cost savings to us.”
Oakley said the process has been bumpy and inconvenient for some members.
“I realize it’s a minority number of members (paying in person), but they are still members,” he said.
Director Travis Cox agreed with Oakley about the poor optics when it comes to member services. The transition in August caused enough trouble at front offices that PEC hired security guards, which now greet anyone coming in the front door.
“With security guards posted at each office, it doesn’t feel like a co-op anymore,” he said. “We say, ‘Think like a member,’ and we need to do that.”
The cooperative had “Think like a member” trademarked after adopting the phrase as a company-wide initiative.
In his slide show, Dauterive presented an artist’s rendering of the co-op’s final goal in terms of front office service. The picture depicts an indoor kiosk and an available employee who can help members operate it if they have trouble. The kiosks will take cash and checks, Dauterive said.
Having a person handle cash payments over the counter requires special security cameras, cash drawers, safes, employees who are trained to count out their drawers at the end of the day, and armed cash couriers, he continued.
Director Emily Pataki referenced the artist’s drawing as the ultimate goal and asked how long it would take to get each lobby to that point.
“It will be two to three months,” Dauterive said. “We are ordering the kiosks for the front lobbies. Each lobby will need to go through renovations, and we need to move staff around.”
Oakley reiterated that the process as it stands has not been seamless and that the co-op should revert back to its prior practices until all the problems have been solved.
“If you’re going to change boats, you need to make sure the other one floats before you get in it,” he said.
Director Milton Rister agreed the co-op had a problem that needed to be fixed but indicated he would vote no on the resolution.
“As a board member, I agree with what Judge Oakley is putting forward here,” he said. “We need to get on top of this and get it fixed. On the other hand, I can’t vote to actually instruct (CEO) Julie (Parsley) and Eddie (Daurterive) that this is how you should manage. That’s what we hire them to do, and they have to deal with the day-to-day. We deal with the few complaints. Eddie and Julie, I hope you have heard the message here.”
After Dauterive’s presentation, the board took a break for legal counsel to work with Oakley on wording his motion so everyone was clear on his objective.
“The purpose of this is to put the brake on and get more input from members before we change our business model,” Oakley said before his motion was voted down 5-2.