In an 11 a.m. media teleconference call Tuesday, David Lombrozo of east Cobb, who is seeking the Area 4 seat held by Johnny Gresham, said "it's appalling, the board's lack of transparency." He said directors are "apparently abusing executive session privileges by making all decisions" behind closed doors.
Eric Broadwell of Roswell, who works as a consultant and is president of Bike Roswell, is challenging Chairman Larry Chadwick for the electric cooperative's Area 9 board seat. He said when he began looking into matters regarding Cobb EMC, "I was devastated by what I starting learning," and later found a "common theme of corruption with EMCs across the country."
In response, Gresham, a board member for four years who previously spent 18 years on the Georgia Department of Transportation board, told the Journal through a spokeswoman: "Those comments tell me that those making them have no idea about how this co-op is run, how we function as a board or what we do. Most likely they would have to eat crow if elected because once you start working with Cobb EMC, you realize this is one of the best run EMCs in the country... But if people want to take cheap shots about things that aren't accurate, I can only point to our record of better rates and superior reliability. Also, we just finished two of our best years operationally and I can't be more proud of this team of employees."
Chadwick was out of town Tuesday and unavailable for comment, co-op spokeswoman Carol Cookerly said.
All 10 directors on the Cobb EMC board are now up for re-election, with many board members sitting for at least a year past their term expirations, due to the postponement of the last three annual elections. A lawsuit filed in 2007, which remains tied up in courts due to appeals, caused the 2008 election of four directors to be postponed, as well as the '09 election of three members and last year's election of three more. Cobb EMC traditionally holds its annual meeting with elections in September.
Lombrozo, who has worked in the telecommunications industry for 31 years and has been a Cobb EMC member for 14 years, said the main reason he decided to run for the board came after he inquired to the co-op about which coverage area his residence is located in. He said he is near a boundary line.
"They said they don't know... and told me to look at the [online, interactive] map," Lombrozo said. "I said, 'but the map is not clear for where I am. Can you just tell me who my representative is?' They said, 'why don't you just send us an e-mail.'"
After asking about further matters, Lombrozo said it became "obvious they were trying to confuse members."
Regarding the Cobb grand jury's indictment of Brown earlier this month, Lombrozo said, "At this point, we'll let Dwight Brown prove his innocence, but the indictment was concerning."
Lombrozo said, if elected, he would like to host weekly or monthly meetings - similar to town hall meetings - for customers in his area. He also said he would like to see more information, such as meeting minutes, reports and analysis, released to the public.
Gresham said, "We put out a lot of information, but some things are proprietary related to the running of the business. We follow the rules, we make decisions in the best interest of the membership at large and we try our hardest to strive for low rates and the highest possible reliability."
Tom Barksdale was moderator for Tuesday's teleconference call, which apparently included about eight people, though the only ones who identified themselves were the speakers, Barksdale, a Journal reporter and another person. Barksdale is the chairman of Cobb Alliance for Smart Energy, a group that advocates for alternative energy and opposes a coal plant being built in middle Georgia, funded by Cobb EMC and other electric cooperatives.
Barksdale stressed his frustration with Cobb EMC's members, who own the cooperative, having to request permission to attend board meetings.
"You put in a request and then you get a letter from a lawyer saying why you cannot go to the meeting," Barksdale said. "We cannot even find when the board will meet."
According to Cobb EMC policy, members cannot attend board meetings unless they are granted permission in writing 14 days before the scheduled meeting.
Barksdale asked co-op officials to change that policy in 2009.
A Cobb EMC spokeswoman sent the Journal the co-op's response.
"Thank you for your October 16, 2009 letter requesting that the Cobb EMC Board of Directors modify Cobb EMC's longstanding rule regarding member attendance at Board meetings," the response stated. "An important rationale behind this longstanding rule is that discussions at Board meetings regularly involve confidential, sensitive and privileged information regarding the business, operations, members and employees of Cobb EMC. The Board has considered your request and the rationale supporting the existing rule, and the Board believes that it would be inappropriate to change this longstanding rule."
As for the upcoming elections, anyone can run for the board as long as they meet general requirements, such as age and residence. The '08 elections are closed for new candidates, but the '09 and '10 elections remain open, Cobb EMC attorney Dwight Davis earlier said.
The elections have been postponed due to Cobb EMC's continued involvement in a civil suit filed in October 2007 by a handful of EMC customers, led by Butch Thompson and Bo Pounds. That lawsuit alleged breach of fiduciary duty, gross mismanagement, waste of corporate assets and unjust enrichment in relation to the management and operations of the co-op and Cobb Energy. The settlement in the case was approved Dec. 2, 2008. But just 10 days later, the EMC board made bylaw amendments that the plaintiffs said were illegal under the settlement. After a Superior Court ruling was overturned by the State Court of Appeals, the EMC asked the Georgia Supreme Court to review the case, which it announced Nov. 1 that it would.
A decision is expected by the summer, which could pave the way for postponed elections to be held this year.