Letter from Board President, Ronnie Campbell addressing recent concerns:

I am Ronnie Campbell, current president of Sandhill Telephone Cooperative board of directors.  The following Facebook post is a description of my compensation and experiences while serving on the board and is a reflection of my past 30 days of duties as a board member.  I am not speaking on behalf of other board members or any other Sandhill representatives.

I appreciate questions and concerns any cooperative member may have.  Those directed to me can usually be answered over the phone or with a returned call once I check and validate the appropriate response.  If I cannot answer the question, I will direct the caller to someone who can.  The board of directors’ compensation is and has been for years, public information and posted on the internet – just like any public or government entity.

There has never been any intent to hide this information since it is there for any internet user to read.

The compensation has been basically the same for the length of time that I have served on the board (13 years this October).  The three sources of compensation are monthly meetings, compensation for travel to conferences, and family coverage health insurance.  This has been policy for years before I became a board member.

During my tenure on the board, there has been one vote to increase director compensation by approximately $140 for each month of meetings, and one vote to decrease compensation to cover the health insurance increase in 2015.  For me, personally, this resulted in a $12 per month increase in compensation (the $140 increase less $128 paid toward insurance rate increase).  My monthly compensation now equals approx $212 plus $50 travel allowance.

While some may be under the impression that I am paid $212 per month for one meeting, this is not the case.  This is the monthly amount you are paid regardless of how many meetings you are asked to attend.  I have attended as few as one meeting in a month, but as many as five in a month.  In fact, in this past 30 day period I have been involved in five meetings for a total of approx 11 hrs, travel included.  This time does not include time spent answering phone calls from cooperative members who have concerns or just want to ask about SHTC business.  I truly welcome these calls and have never kept track of them but some months it probably equates to one a day.  My point is the $212 I receive each month is for a month’s worth of services – not for one single meeting.  In my case this equates to about $7 a day.  Travel to conference and seminars sponsored by the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) are compensated at a rate of $13.50 per hour.

NTCA is the organization that basically makes sure telephone cooperatives throughout the country survive through a cooperative effort to provide insurance, set guidelines for operating a cooperative, guidelines for cooperative employee compensation, as well as lobbying efforts to encourage Congress to enact reasonable regulation and provide funds to operate as a cooperative  NTCA encourages all directors to attend all conferences and seminars, but recommends two as the absolute minimum per year.  All directors do not attend all the conferences at one time.  It was agreed that half of the board attend this years Legislative Conference. The last conference I attended was in March and was the Legislative Conference in Washington, DC.

This basically was my itinerary:  Sunday morning – get up at 7 am, go to Charlotte to catch the plane, get to hotel in DC at 1:45pm, and register for the conference between 4 & 6pm.  Monday is a day full of meetings from 8:50am to 6:30pm.  Tuesday starts at 7:50am and the day is full – attending meetings in the offices of our SC representatives Senator Tim Scott, Senator Lindsay Graham, Representative Tom Rice and others to help with issues affecting the cooperatives.

The three main issues of concern this year:  impact of the Universal Service high-cost program budget shortfall, impact of the rate floor, as well as issues specific to our company.  The next morning we left at 8:00 am to head home.  My point is we wasted no time while we were there – I personally did not leave the hotel except to travel to Capitol Hill for our legislative visits and to walk next door to eat at West Wing Café.  While it costs money to attend the trips we gain insight and it helps let our representatives know who we are and air our needs, especially considering federal and state cuts and regulatory changes that in recent years have cost SHTC over $1 million in revenue per year from where we used to be.  Without NTCA lobbying, it could be worse. One highlight of the Monday meetings was a chance to hear the new FCC chairman, The Honorable Ajit Pai. Considering the lack of support coming from DC in recent years, I am encouraged by his proposals and points of view which appear favorable to our cause.  It doesn’t hurt that he grew up in Parsons, Kansas, in an area as rural as ours.

The overwhelming portion of compensation that a director receives is healthcare benefits.  As far as I know, informed cooperative members have always been aware of this compensation, as many have asked me about it when considering a run for a board seat.  As most are aware, healthcare costs have skyrocketed in the last several years (SHTC premiums are no exception).  I agree this is an astronomical cost for insurance but it is the same coverage we’ve always had – just costs many times what it used to.  Insurance has always been part of employee and board members compensation.  My family healthcare benefit totaled $21,846.  To recap, my total compensation for 2016 (as shown on my Form 1099 from SHTC is $32,120.76) – $21,846 family insurance, $8652 (fully taxable income) in checks to cover a years’ worth of meetings and travel compensation, and $1622 for board liability insurance that we must have in order to operate.

I went online to check the compensation provided by two other comparably-sized co-ops. in SC and the amounts are very similar.  They vary from director to director at these co-ops. just like ours does.  My guess is it is the insurance cost that causes this.  Insurance premiums are based on the age of the director and, as we are all aware, this can cause a great deal of variance.

Another issue that I know is of much concern to our membership is the disbursement of capital credits.  For 2016 the Sandhill Board approved the disbursement of $2,072,391(TWO MILLION, SEVENTY TWO THOUSAND, and THREE HUNDRED NINETY ONE) to our membership. Of the six co-ops. in SC, we ranked #1 in amount distributed for each access line ($153.57 average).  We returned more money per line than any other cooperative – double the amount Horry Telephone Cooperative (Myrtle Beach area) returned per access line.  Not only is Horry the largest cooperative in SC, it is the largest (and probably most valuable) in the United States.  The reason the amount of capital credits we are able to return to membership ranks #1 in SC is because of the conservative approach that the Sandhill Board has taken toward our monetary investments and our investment in the future.  Most money earned by co-ops today is not through day to day revenue generated by internet, television, security, land lines, etc. but by investment return that allows us to cover income shortfall and federal budget cuts that keep coming our way.

Without a conservative approach to finances there would be no capital credits to return.  People ask why we don’t return all capital credits accrued annually.  The answer is simple – we could not keep our doors open.  It would be the same as someone who lost their job taking all their savings and spending it at one time.  It would not be the smart thing to do. Investment income over the years is what allows us to enhance and expand services and be able to implement government mandates and other federal requirements. Trust me when I say that we like being able to return money to our members, but we must also keep an eye on our future financial needs.

Since the founding of SHTC the cooperative has returned more than $113,000,000 (ONE HUNDRED THIRTEEN MILLION) to our membership.  I dare guess few co-ops. throughout this country are able to make this claim.  With a continued conservative approach to finances we hope to be able to continue to return money to our membership for many years to come.

If anyone has any questions for me please feel free to contact me.  I am not difficult to contact as my office and home numbers are listed in the SHTC directory.  In addition, I am out in the public almost every day.  I choose not to have a personal Facebook account.  I don’t have the time necessary to maintain it.  Thank you for being a member of SHTC.  Your membership helps us to continue to be a strong and integral part of all the communities that comprise the Sandhill service area.

Ronnie Campbell
Sandhill, President – Board of Directors