Looking back at 2018, if you were to ask what The Watchdog’s proudest moment was, you’d be surprised at my answer.
It wasn’t motivating the (Public) Utility Commission — I took away the “P” because they don’t care about us — to do necessary improvements to its PowerToChoose.org electricity shopping website.
It wasn’t helping a hard-working waitress, hurt by a shady used-car dealer, find another car.
It wasn’t even showing thousands of homeowners how to protest their property taxes, and then hearing from many who wrote The Watchdog to say they had won their cases.
It’s this: My 10-year battle with Tri-County Electric Cooperative has finally come to an end.
How did the war end? Well, the co-op recently shared my favorite food recipe with its 76,000 members in 16 counties.
That’s how you know a war is over.
When the other side shares your prized recipe it’s time to bury the ... spatula.
Why was I battling an electricity co-op a decade ago when I wasn’t even a member? Do you know how these co-ops work?
There are more than 70 throughout Texas. They came up during the Great Depression when most rural areas didn’t have electricity.
If you live within a co-op’s boundaries, you must get your electricity from them. You can’t find the best electric company on the PowerToChoose website because you can’t escape the monopoly. The co-op has you lock, stock and powered up.
You can’t complain about them to the (P)UC because they are unregulated.
It’s hard to learn about their operations because co-ops are not covered by state open records and open meetings laws.
Some operate like secret societies. A decade ago, Tri-County was among the most secretive. Customers contacted me because they couldn’t get information.
The guy who ran the co-op was A. Craig Knight, the executive vice president and general manager.
He earned more than $300,000 a year. I knew that because it was on the co-op’s nonprofit federal tax forms, which are public.
Knight’s father ran the co-op before him.
Azle-based Tri-County was the epitome of the old-boys network.
Knight didn’t like me. He didn’t like my questions. He didn’t like how I championed the causes of his customers.
To me, he was Snidely Whiplash, the villain with the handlebar mustache in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle show on TV. (OK, then for the purposes of my story I am Snidely’s archrival, Dudley Do-Right.)
I once asked Snidely if I could attend the members’ meeting and watch the election process for board of directors. He said he’d put it to the members for a vote.
So I showed up one night in 2009 at a Fort Worth church carrying my new Flip Mino camera (remember those?) so I could record whatever transpired.
I didn’t get past the front door.
The subsequent video posted on YouTube — “Newspaper Columnist Dave Lieber Evicted from Texas Co-Op Meeting” — has a mere 630 views. It’s a jerky, almost unwatchable three minutes of me getting kicked out.
Snidely never put my admission to a vote.
I learned later that only 90 members attended the annual meeting, not enough for a quorum. Under the rules at that time, if there was no quorum, the director who held the job was automatically selected again without opposition. This particular director had been on the board for 30 years. What a racket.
Inside the secret society
Flash forward four years to 2013.
I move to a new neighborhood. And guess who my new electricity company is?
Although I champion the reform of electricity shopping for millions of Texans, the Lieber family can no longer shop for power. At least, as a co-op member, I have more of an inside view.
So how do I, as Dudley Do-Right, pester Snidely Whiplash? Every few months I send in my prized recipe for the legendary “Lieber’s Lasagna.” I include a letter nominating myself for inclusion in the Recipe of the Month feature in the co-op’s newsletter.
I wanted to be like Eunice Olson of Weatherford (“Chocolate Éclair Cake”) and Lezlee Shearman of Dennis (“Cherry Pumpkin Bread”). But for obvious reasons, my recipe was never printed.
Let me brag on my lasagna. Better than any lasagna I’ve ever tried. Here’s the secret: Every bite contains a perfectly seasoned, marble-size meatball. Mmmm.
Just thinking about it, the way the cheese falls off the mini meatballs — mmmm.
I imagine the conversation at Tri-County’s headquarters.
Employee who opens mail: Oh, Mr. Knight, Lieber sent us his lasagna recipe. Again. What do you want me to do with it?
Snidely: Toss it. As long as I’m running this place his recipe will never appear in my newsletter.
But I keep sending.
Then last year, quite suddenly, Knight retired from his job. I don’t know why.
I saw my opening. Dusted off my lasagna recipe and sent it in once again.
I’ve written thousands of newspaper stories, seven books and one play. But nothing pleased me more in my writing career than when the June issue of Texas Co-op Power magazine arrived.
On page 18 — across from the story “Give Your Home an Electrical Safety Checkup” — is my recipe!
Meatball-in-Every-Bite-Lasagna. Submitted by David Lieber.
Dudley Do-Right wins again.
Here’s the recipe. If you make it, let me know how it turns out. Happy holidays from The Watchdog!
Ingredients: 1 pound extra-lean ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, pepper, seasoned salt, garlic powder, olive oil, three 15-ounce cans of tomato sauce, Italian seasonings, box of lasagna noodles, 1 pound of ricotta, 1 pound pound of mozzarella and a cup of Parmesan cheese.
- Season ground beef with Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, pepper, seasoned salt and garlic to taste. Mix thoroughly. Roll into marble-sized meatballs.
- Brown in olive oil. Add three cans of tomato sauce and Italian seasonings. Stir until it simmers, then remove from stove and strain out the meatballs.
- Boil lasagna pasta in salt water (with some olive oil to prevent sticking). Cover bottom of lasagna pan with tomato sauce and line bottom with three strips of lasagna. Dot with spoonfuls of ricotta, slivers of mozzarella and a little Parmesan.
- Spread half the sauce and add all the meatballs evenly. Repeat with another layer of lasagna, sauce and cheese.
- Bake 45 minutes at 325 degrees.