Qwest labors to keep contact
A retiree raises a fuss after letters and e-mails go without responses.
By Andy Vuong
Posted: 07/29/2009 01:00:00 AM MDT
When Qwest's board of directors successfully beat back a proposal this year to let minority shareholders call special meetings, it contended the company already had "open lines of communications with stockholders."
In its proxy statement, the company also noted how
shareholders could correspond with directors at Qwest
So, 18 Qwest retirees did just that. The result: Three letters were returned to the sender and none of the others received a response.
Retiree Nelson Phelps, whose letter to board member James Unruh was one of the returned items — he raised concerns about perks given to chief executive Ed Mueller — later asked Qwest at its annual meeting in May to address the boomerang letters.
Mueller assured Phelps the issue would be corrected. Naturally, the shareholder did the most obvious next thing: He resent the letter.
It bounced back yet again.
Phelps followed up with an e-mail in late May to the company's lawyer, wondering if Qwest took its "open lines of communications" strategy seriously.
After a second e-mail July 15, Phelps got a response from Unruh two days later — three months after his original inquiry.
Qwest blamed the returned letters on "a mix-up in our mailroom," spokesman Nick Sweers said.
"We have fixed the problem," Sweers said. "We always welcome shareholders to communicate with our board and will respond when appropriate."
Still, Phelps remains miffed.
"I got a response because I kept after them," Phelps said. "So when Qwest says it takes this very seriously, the proof that they don't take it seriously is in not responding to 18 letters that were sent last April."
The communications issue should draw interest from the Securities and Exchange Commission, Phelps said, especially since the other 17 retirees have yet to hear back.
"The SEC over the past couple of years has tried to be more meaningful in their rulings to try to help shareowners have more of a say in American corporations," Phelps said. "One of the big pushes has been to try to get more interaction between the board of directors and shareowners."