Nelson, 63, should know the EMC inside out, having been with the co-op for 37 years, including seven as chief operations officer and the past four-plus months as interim CEO.
Now the long-suffering members want to know if and how he will change the culture of his predecessor, Dwight Brown, who is under indictment on charges of theft, racketeering, fraud and conspiracy to defraud government entities.
Nelson told the Journal's editors he wanted to make the EMC more transparent by creating an advisory council from the membership and "to make time to meet with members" along with his staff and "try to answer questions, particularly on where we are going in the future." He said, "I think our doors are going to be open to that."
Transparency along with listening to members would be a welcome change. Management meetings with members should be a step in the right direction, depending on how much transparency actually occurs. Will the meetings and the open doors result in the membership receiving more information about the management and operations of the co-op?
Early indications are not what can be considered promising. For starters, Nelson said he had no intentions of releasing the EMC's quarterly earnings although other utilities are required to do so. He argued that it would not be "wise" because the figures are unaudited versus a publicly held company's duly audited results. That could be fixed by having an audit, but Nelson dismissed it as "just more expense."
It's hardly the time to be pinching pennies on an audit to ensure that members are kept fully informed - after the EMC has spent who knows how much on lawyers and PR consultants defending itself and Brown against the lawsuit by members that finally brought management to heel.
Nelson also was not forthcoming about his salary. He would not disclose what he is being paid, passing off the question by laughingly saying, "it's less than" Brown's $300,000 a year. This is not a laughing matter. If the members of Cobb EMC do not have the right to know what their CEO is paid or the right to know what the quarterly financial performance of their co-op is - then what do they have the right to know?
If CEO Nelson is unwilling to tell the members what they are paying him, he might reconsider his talk about transparency.
Unfortunately, changing the CEO does not automatically change the culture of the co-op into one of genuine transparency with open doors and open books. The way to fix this problem is to elect new directors who will change the culture - or else persuade the General Assembly to amend the law governing EMCs to require their compliance with the state's Open Meetings and Open Records acts. Or both.