About 12,000 members took the opportunity to do so, EMC board Chairman Ed Crowell said Friday.
The Marietta-based cooperative holds its annual meeting at Jim Miller Park this morning where the advance votes will be combined with those who vote in person from 8 to 9:30 a.m. on amendments to the nonprofit’s bylaws.
Cobb EMC is owned by its roughly 177,000 electricity customers, also referred to as members. Most live in Cobb, although the co-op also serves surrounding counties.
Last year’s annual meeting saw a turnout of 370 members. But with advance voting and the fact that this is the cooperative’s 75th year, Crowell expects a larger turnout today.
“We have done a lot of things over the past year, a lot of things our members like, and I think the members have been paying attention to what we’ve been working on,” he said.
Member bill of rights a sham?
One proposed amendment is a “member bill of rights,” which promises to gives members the power to vote by secret ballot, propose bylaws, call a special meeting and remove board members.
These may all be good things, yet it’s a sham, said former congressman and retired lawyer Fletcher Thompson of east Cobb. Thompson points to the clause at the end of the bill of rights where it states that any of the rights that conflict with existing bylaws may not trump the bylaws.
“Their (bill of rights) is strictly a sham,” Thompson said.
The problem with the existing EMC bylaws, Thompson said, is that it gives the EMC board the authority to ignore any proposed bylaw amendments that members offer up.
Thompson said he tried to bring up his own bill of rights proposal last year that would amend the bylaws so that Cobb EMC would be subject to Georgia’s sunshine laws just as school boards, nonprofit hospital boards, city councils and county commissions are. Thompson said his ultimate goal is to force the EMC to return excess money to members in the form of rebates, something its board is not doing.
But Crowell, Cobb EMC president and CEO Chip Nelson and attorney John Moore blocked his proposal, Thompson said.
“They deliberately and intentionally did not send it out to the members because they did not want the members, 177,000 members, to see what was in it,” Thompson said. “It’s going to require probably a lawsuit to go in and remove the fact that the Board of Directors in their discretion can refuse to bring up matters. This is the first time in the history of Cobb EMC that a member has not been able to bring up a proposal that the Board of Directors don’t like.”
Yet Thompson cited his age and health, saying he’s not sure he has the energy to continue the fight.
“I’m 88 years old,” he said. “I don’t have my law library any more, and I just can’t really fight this thing.”
Not a government Crowell, who lives in west Cobb and is president and CEO of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association, was first elected chairman of the EMC board in 2012.
Crowell said the reason he opposes Thompson’s push to make the EMC comply with Georgia’s Open Meetings and Open Records laws is because the EMC is not a government.
“We’re not the town council or the school board and we don’t want to act like it,” Crowell said. “We don’t see any benefit to the members if we were to do that.”
Crowell said Cobb EMC is a private, nonprofit corporation that is accountable to its members.
“We publish our financials monthly,” he said. “We have audited quarterly financials that we publish so our members can look and see what’s going on. We make the board meetings open to members if they want to come in and sit in a board meeting, and of course we make all the records of those meetings available to the members as well.”
Crowell disagrees with Thompson’s interpretation of the proposed members’ bill of rights.
“He clearly doesn’t understand what’s going on, that’s just the long and short of it,” Crowell said. “The members’ bill of rights that is being proposed and voted on by the members is mostly pulling existing bylaws to the floor so that the members can quickly and easily see where they are.”
Thompson said he plans to attend the meeting this morning, although he is discouraged.
“A lot of publicity had been given to it, a lot of presents have been given out, Cobb EMC has spent a lot of money on public relations, they’ve bought a lot of steak dinners for firemen and so forth, and they’ve been what you call a superb civic corporation, I guess you’d say,” Thompson said. “They’re going to give away television sets and iPods and everything else at this meeting. It’s just frustrating as hell to me.”