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Vote is a 'yes'

Members of the West Plains Electric Cooperative and Oliver-Mercer Cooperative voted to consolidate Thursday night at Trinity High School. The new co-op is to be called the Roughrider Electric Cooperative.

Members of the West Plains Electric Cooperative and Oliver-Mercer Cooperative voted to consolidate Thursday night at Trinity High School. The new co-op is to be called the Roughrider Electric Cooperative.

Members of the two co-ops overwhelmingly approved the merger, as 85 percent of the West Plains ballots favored the consolidation and 75 percent of the Oliver-Mercer approved the matter. West Plains CEO David Schelkoph and Oliver-Mercer Manager Clayton Hoffman were pleased with overall turn out.

"Oliver-Mercer had 1,029 members vote. We have about 2,900 members total," Hoffman said. "West Plains had 914 members vote out of their 3,300."

There were 794 votes for consolidation from Oliver-Mercer and 785 West Plains' members approved.

The consolidation has been two years in the making, with both co-ops looking carefully at what changes were needed. Hoffman said they also have looked at how other co-ops have consolidated.

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"The West Plains Cooperative board of directors gave me their vision of consolidation to work on with the ultimate goal of having one co-op under the Missouri River," Schelkoph said. "It could take many years. We began talking with other co-ops first, with Slope Electric in New England and then with Oliver-Mercer."

It wasn't a good fit with Slope, he added. There currently are five co-ops in the southwestern quarter of the state.

"We then worked out with Oliver-Mercer on (possible) consolidation and presented the plan to our memberships," Schelkoph said. "It's amazing how complex it is to consolidate. You need detailed reports to do due diligence to it. It takes a lot of research and time."

Both co-ops have to be comfortable with it, he added.

The next step for the new Roughrider Electric Co-op is more paperwork to be done, Hoffman said.

"There are a lot of letters to write," Schelkoph said. "The state needs to hear the changes, we need to get the federal government to acknowledge the changes and communicate with our lending institutions. We want to be done with that by Jan. 1, 2008, but working through the holidays we might not."

If the process runs a few weeks later that's fine, but it would be due to paperwork, not members having problems with the consolidation, he added.

"One of the important parts is to make sure our employees get acquainted with each other and have a comfortable transition," Hoffman said. "We need to establish a communication system between the offices to allow easy communication, which is essential."

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Another essential item of business for both co-ops when discussing consolidation is to not consolidate co-op employees.

"No employees will be dismissed due to the consolidation," Hoffman said. "We might realign things as far as job responsibilities are concerned. As time goes on with natural attrition and people retiring, we will also look at those positions to see how we could utilize people in reducing employment numbers with a consolidated co-op."

There are 40 total employees within the consolidated co-op. A concern for both boards is to not allow any major changes in serving their members, Schelkoph said.

"We certainly don't see where we are overstaffed," Hoffman added.

Management is a different ball game. A new management alliance between Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative, Slope Electric and the new Roughrider co-op is being formed.

"Myself and Don Franklin, manager at Mor-Gran-Sou, will oversee or manage the alliance management, which will provide management services to the entities they are serving," Hoffman said. "The board of directors will remain the same and conduct business as they have done in the past."

Schelkoph's position is being absorbed into this alliance, but he remains CEO until the new co-op is formed. No other positions are being absorbed, Hoffman added.

Neither man is too worried about how well the two co-ops will work together.

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"With two different co-ops working as one there is going to be subtle differences to work through, but not a lot," Schelkoph said.

Any time you create a new entity there are bumps along the road and you can never anticipate everything, Hoffman added.

"We are looking at it from the common sense approach and will resolve things for the best interests of everyone," he said. "I think we have things pretty well under control."

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