The nearly 200,000 members of the electric cooperative will be voting on whether to allow mail-in ballots to be used in future elections of directors and whether to prohibit future retirement benefits to be paid to directors.
How the membership votes on the first question — on which the sides are in sharp dispute — could be an indicator of whether the incumbent directors are at risk.
The plaintiffs who brought suit against the cooperative in 2007 are urging members to reject the mail-in ballot option for now, fearing the company’s executives will rig the voting to further entrench the directors.
If members agree, the plaintiffs believe they would have a good chance of unseating some of the current 10 directors if members had to vote in person, where they would hear directly from the plaintiffs.
The company insists that is nonsense, and that mail-in ballots simply make sense for a company with members spread over five counties, including a portion in south Georgia.
If members approve the mail-in ballots, the company and its directors would have the advantage, because they can spare no expense in advertising and promoting for their candidates — even though they will send one mailing for every candidate, even those challenging incumbents.
Saturday’s meeting will be at Piedmont Church, 570 Piedmont Road, near the intersection with Canton Road. Members can begin registering at 8 a.m.
At 10:15 a.m., the program will begin. Each side will have 20 minutes to present their arguments, and then the plaintiffs who brought the suit will have five minutes to close.
After that, members can ask questions and discuss the issues for 90 minutes. There will be four microphones set up on the main level of the church’s sanctuary. Members seated in the balcony will need to walk down to the microphones if they wish to ask a question.
Uniformed Cobb Police officers will be directing traffic outside the church, as well as assisting with crowd control inside the church.
Members will need to fill out an application for a ballot, which will be handed out outside the church doors. By the end of this week, that application will also be available on cobbemc.com for those wishing to fill it out in advance and bring it with them.
In the lobby of the church, members will turn in those applications and be given a ballot. Sam Kelly, the EMC’s vice president of public relations, told those gathered Monday afternoon at the church for a walk-through that the company’s registration system will not allow the same member to get more than one ballot. Thirty laptops will be staffed — and monitored — during registration, he said, and the company will also have a backup computer server on site, just in case.
“It’s a fail-safe way to register folks,” he said. The EMC’s Pataula District, in south Georgia, is on a different computer system, so those members will register in a separate part of the lobby, as will people bringing proxies for a relative in their household.
Once the program ends and voting opens at 12:30 p.m., Whitley, the meeting’s chairman, will likely allow people with disabilities to go cast their ballots first, and then dismiss one section of the sanctuary at a time to go vote, to avoid cramming the lines.
Election Services Corp., which will be handling the ballot tabulations, will have 20 privacy booths set up for members to mark their ballots, Kelly said. And there will be at least three ballot boxes where members will deposit their paper ballots.
Each ballot box will be overseen by three people: one from the company, one from the plaintiffs and one from Election Services.
The ballot boxes will be emptied every 15 minutes or so, with Election Services staffers taking the ballots to a closed room for counting. Only Election Services staff will have access to the ballots, Whitley said.
Kelly said Elections Services would have six or seven people counting ballots.
Ballots can be cast until 5 p.m., and then the final collection and tally will be made. Whitley said he expects to announce the preliminary results by 5:15 or 5:20 p.m. at the church.
The Journal will be live-tweeting Saturday’s meeting and the results as soon as they are available at twitter.com/mdjonline.
The first directors’ elections will be held on Nov. 12. Elections for seats in Areas 1 (now held by Don Barnett); 6 (Al Fortney); 7 (RJ Patel); and 10 (Henry Balkcom) would be decided at that meeting, and those elected would serve until the annual meeting in September 2014.
On Feb. 18, 2012, elections are set for seats in areas 2 (David Herndon); 3 (David McGinnis); and 9 (Larry Chadwick). Those elected at this meeting would serve until the annual meeting in September 2015.
Finally, on May 12, 2012, seats in areas 4 (Johnny Gresham); 5 (Kay Anderson); and 8 (Sarah Brown) would be decided, with the winners serving until the annual meeting in September 2016.
There would be no elections in 2013.