Democratic Governance Scorecard: Our Scoring Methodology

Rural electric cooperatives differ from investor-owned and city-owned electric utilities in an important way: they are owned by their members, or those who purchase power from them. As owners, co-op members have a unique right to participate in decision-making at their electric co-op, but many co-ops in Virginia aren’t living up to their responsibilities to involve member-owners in their governance. Co-ops are graded in four key areas: board meetings, bylaws, board elections, and information accessibility. Access the Scorecard here, and read on for the full methodology.

Four key areas of co-op grades in the Scorecard

To assess whether co-ops in Virginia provide democratic governance to their members, we measured the ability of member-owners to:

  • Change their co-op’s bylaws,
  • Attend, participate and read minutes from board meetings,
  • Engage with executive leadership,
  • Access a fair voting process in board of directors elections,
  • Access key financial and political information, and
  • Benefit from many other good governance practices!

We relied on publicly available information on each cooperative’s website and in their Bylaws (where available) to answer our questions about democratic governance. Co-ops could earn a total of 40 points; the highest-scoring co-op in Virginia earned 27. 

Scoring out of 40 points possible: 0-8 = Failing; 9-16 = Deficient in many areas; 17-24 = Needs improvement; 25-32 = On the right track; 33-40 = Meets good governance standard.

Board Meetings

Attending board meetings is an important way member-owners could be involved in the governance of their cooperative, but in Virginia, they often run into significant barriers.

While most utilities owned by cities allow their customers to attend and speak at board meetings, all but one Virginia co-op prohibit their member-owners from attending or participating in these meetings, where important decisions are made about programs and policies offered by the co-op. Lack of access to board meetings and meeting notes means that member-owners are often unable to speak to the board about important issues or hold their representatives accountable for how they vote. 

We measured co-op policies for board of directors and board meeting transparency to member-owners by looking at 7 items for an overall possible total of 15 points. We deemed the ability of co-op members to attend board meetings to be the most important item in this category. Co-ops with open board meetings could have earned up to 4 points on that item alone – but again, only one co-op in Virginia makes this possible for its member-owners.

Scoring this category: 0-3 = Failing; 4-6 = Deficient in many areas; 7-9 = Needs improvement; 10-12 = On the right track; 13-15 = Meets good governance standard.

Bylaws

Amending bylaws is another way member-owners could be involved in the governance of their co-op, but again, not all co-ops make their bylaws readily accessible for viewing by members. Others don’t provide avenues for member-owners to change or amend their bylaws.

We asked whether each Virginia co-op made its Bylaws available to its member-owners, whether they were available online, and whether they could be amended by members. These three items were worth a total of 10 points. The good news is that most Virginia co-ops do make bylaws available online. 

Scoring this category: 0-2 = Failing; 3-4 = Deficient in many areas; 5-6 = Needs improvement; 7-8 = On the right track; 9-10 = Meets good governance standard.

Board of Directors Elections 

Another obvious way for member-owners to be democratically involved in their co-op is to vote for their representatives on the co-op’s board of directors. But at some electric cooperatives in Virginia, incumbent board candidates face no challengers during elections and maintain their seats for years or even decades. In some cases, when incumbents do face challengers, they can rely on board of director friendly proxy voting. 

We measured co-op policies for board of directors elections, including the process of becoming a candidate and available methods for voting. We reviewed 6 items for an overall possible total of 10 points. Critically, we deemed direct elections and independent review of election outcomes  as the most important items in this category. 

Scoring this category: 0-2 = Failing; 3-4 = Deficient in many areas; 5-6 = Needs improvement; 7-8 = On the right track; 9-10 = Meets good governance standard.

Other Transparency and Information Accessibility Items

Finally, we explored whether Virginia’s electric cooperatives made other important information available to their member-owners, including: information about electric rates and rate changes, contact information for executive leaders (including board members), information about how to run for board and board of directors candidate profiles. Co-ops could earn a total of 5 points for the 5 items in this category. 

Scoring this category: 0-1 = Failing; 2 = Deficient in many areas; 3 = Needs improvement; 4 = On the right track; 5 = Meets good governance standard.

Democratic Governance Scorecard: Our Scoring Methodology

Rural electric cooperatives differ from investor-owned and city-owned electric utilities in an important way: they are owned by their members, or those who purchase power from them. As owners, co-op members have a unique right to participate in decision-making at their electric co-op, but many co-ops in Virginia aren’t living up to their responsibilities to involve member-owners in their governance.

To assess whether co-ops in Virginia provide democratic governance to their members, we measured the ability of member-owners to:

  • Change their co-op’s bylaws,
  • Attend, participate and read minutes from board meetings,
  • Engage with executive leadership,
  • Access a fair voting process in board of directors elections,
  • Access key financial and political information, and
  • Benefit from many other good governance practices!

We relied on publicly available information on each cooperative’s website and in their Bylaws (where available) to answer our questions about democratic governance. Co-ops could earn a total of 40 points; the highest-scoring co-op in Virginia earned 27. 

Scoring out of 40 points possible: 0-8 = Failing; 9-16 = Deficient in many areas; 17-24 = Needs improvement; 25-32 = On the right track; 33-40 = Meets good governance standard.

Board Meetings

Attending board meetings is an important way member-owners could be involved in the governance of their cooperative, but in Virginia, they often run into significant barriers.

While most utilities owned by cities allow their customers to attend and speak at board meetings, all but one Virginia co-op prohibit their member-owners from attending or participating in these meetings, where important decisions are made about programs and policies offered by the co-op. Lack of access to board meetings and meeting notes means that member-owners are often unable to speak to the board about important issues or hold their representatives accountable for how they vote. 

We measured co-op policies for board of directors and board meeting transparency to member-owners by looking at 7 items for an overall possible total of 15 points. We deemed the ability of co-op members to attend board meetings to be the most important item in this category. Co-ops with open board meetings could have earned up to 4 points on that item alone – but again, only one co-op in Virginia makes this possible for its member-owners.

Scoring this category: 0-3 = Failing; 4-6 = Deficient in many areas; 7-9 = Needs improvement; 10-12 = On the right track; 13-15 = Meets good governance standard.

Bylaws

Amending bylaws is another way member-owners could be involved in the governance of their co-op, but again, not all co-ops make their bylaws readily accessible for viewing by members. Others don’t provide avenues for member-owners to change or amend their bylaws.

We asked whether each Virginia co-op made its Bylaws available to its member-owners, whether they were available online, and whether they could be amended by members. These three items were worth a total of 10 points. The good news is that most Virginia co-ops do make bylaws available online. 

Scoring this category: 0-2 = Failing; 3-4 = Deficient in many areas; 5-6 = Needs improvement; 7-8 = On the right track; 9-10 = Meets good governance standard.

Board of Directors Elections 

Another obvious way for member-owners to be democratically involved in their co-op is to vote for their representatives on the co-op’s board of directors. But at some electric cooperatives in Virginia, incumbent board candidates face no challengers during elections and maintain their seats for years or even decades. In some cases, when incumbents do face challengers, they can rely on board of director friendly proxy voting. 

We measured co-op policies for board of directors elections, including the process of becoming a candidate and available methods for voting. We reviewed 6 items for an overall possible total of 10 points. Critically, we deemed direct elections and independent review of election outcomes  as the most important items in this category. 

Scoring this category: 0-2 = Failing; 3-4 = Deficient in many areas; 5-6 = Needs improvement; 7-8 = On the right track; 9-10 = Meets good governance standard.

Other Transparency and Information Accessibility Items

Finally, we explored whether Virginia’s electric cooperatives made other important information available to their member-owners, including: information about electric rates and rate changes, contact information for executive leaders (including board members), information about how to run for board and board of directors candidate profiles. Co-ops could earn a total of 5 points for the 5 items in this category. 

Scoring this category: 0-1 = Failing; 2 = Deficient in many areas; 3 = Needs improvement; 4 = On the right track; 5 = Meets good governance standard.

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