As a "genuine grassroots movement," CASE leaders' midnight rides include going door-to-door and setting up stands at major Cobb events to hand out literature and urge adoption of their reformist platform, Barksdale told the Journal last week.
Started with seeds sowed by environmental groups in 2008 in direct response to the announcement that Cobb EMC would be involved in the building of a coal-fired power plant in middle Georgia, CASE today is an independent organization with a core leadership of seven individuals and 15 dedicated committee members, Barksdale said. He said CASE has a roster of hundreds of EMC members who receive the group's mailings.
When Barksdale, 68, started leading the group in February 2009, he said CASE leaders were focused on getting Cobb EMC to back away from supporting Plant Washington. However, "At the same time, there was developing a reaction against what, nationwide, seemed to be these out-of-control EMCs," Barksdale said. "...What we concluded was, the best way to achieve any environmental goal was to precisely reform Cobb EMC."
He said changing the composition of the Cobb EMC board would appeal to those who are concerned with corporate governance as well as the people who support CASE's environmental objective.
This was at a time when Cobb EMC was involved in a lawsuit filed in October 2007 by EMC customers Butch Thompson, Bo Pounds and a handful of others. That lawsuit alleged breach of fiduciary duty, gross mismanagement, waste of corporate assets and unjust enrichment. A settlement in the lawsuit was reached in December 2008, but some of the terms of the agreement, such as holding postponed election of directors, are on hold pending a Georgia Supreme Court decision on bylaw changes made just days after the settlement.
All 10 directors on the Cobb EMC board are now up for re-election. The civil suit and subsequent appeals have postponed the past three annual elections. CASE is backing five reform candidates for the board.
One area of specific change Barksdale wants to see is a board that allows members to attend directors' meetings.
Although the Marietta-based Cobb EMC is a cooperative that is owned by its members, the member-owners are barred from attending board meetings unless they submit a written request 14 days in advance of that meeting. Barksdale, however, said he knows no case when a request has been granted.
"We see no reason why those meetings cant be handled like any other elected body," he said. "I know Cobb EMC is not exactly like county commissions. But, look, if you are elected, we don't see any reason why they can't follow the same pattern that CASE does, that county commissions and city councils (do)."
Barksdale asked co-op officials to change their rule regarding members attending board meetings, but was told the reason it is in place is because directors regularly talk about confidential and sensitive matters. However, Barksdale acknowledges that some things need to be discussed behind closed doors, but maintains that the co-op directors should merely convene in executive session when those issues come up.
Not all agree with Barksdale on this and other issues. After Barksdale wrote a letter to the editor publicizing his views, Bob Elsberry, who retired in 2005 as the co-op's senior vice president for member relations, wrote a response that was published in the Journal Feb. 1.
"The core of Barksdale's argument seems to be that Cobb EMC members have no control over the co-op. Apparently he has chosen to ignore the principles of representative governance," he wrote. "...A short refresher for Mr. Barksdale: Just as voters elect members to Congress to represent their interests, members of EMCs elect boards of directors to ensure their co-ops provide reliable and affordable electricity. But EMC members do not vote on decisions they have elected board members to make, just as citizens do not vote on legislation in Congress."
He later wrote: "Aside from Barksdale and the handful of malcontents that attend CASE meetings - including representatives of the anti-coal Sierra Club - a 2010 survey of Cobb EMC members found the majority are satisfied with their co-op. And with good reason."
While Elsberry stated that opponents of Plant Washington are becoming "desperate" in their "quest to stop the development of this important energy facility," Barksdale says the plant and other proposed in the state pose a direct threat to the health of Georgians.
"We're talking about the pollution of Georgia's air and water," he said.
Additionally, Barksdale said Cobb EMC members should be concerned with the "economic and financial drawbacks of building that plant." He said Georgia Power's leaders and other heads of electric utilities have "specifically said we are not going to put our future in coal-fired power plants."
He said CASE leaders would like to see the co-op invest in alternative energy sources, but he said "energy efficiency alone would accomplish a great deal."
Cobb EMC spokesman Sam Kelly, however, maintains that building Plant Washington will be cheaper for ratepayers than investing in nuclear or solar energy.
Power4Georgians is a consortium of six electric membership cooperatives, including Marietta-based Cobb EMC, that plan to build and own Plant Washington in Sandersville, about 130 miles southwest of Atlanta. Dean Alford, spokesman for Power4Georgians, said the group hopes to have all permitting issues resolved and financing in place by the end of this year, paving the way for four years of construction and a fully operational, $2.1 billion, 850-megawatt coal plant by 2016 or 2017.
Barksdale was an analyst with the federal government for 32 years. He is a native Georgian who resides in Woodstock. He spent two years in the Army. He said CASE does not have an opinion on Cobb EMC leader Dwight Brown's recent indictment on multiple counts of theft and racketeering.
CASE's monthly meetings, which are open to anybody, are held at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the Rib Ranch restaurant, 2063Canton Road in Marietta. CASE's website cobbemcwatch.org.