Three groups — Cobb EMC Owners Association, Take Back Cobb EMC and Cobb EMC Watch — have been reaching out to members online and in person, all with the stated goal of ousting the current directors.
Leaders of all three groups are predicting that members will pack Piedmont Church for the meeting, which begins at 10:15 a.m. They are also optimistic that members will reject mail-in ballots for director elections, as they are urging.
The groups oppose mail-in ballots because there is no limit on how much money or other resources the EMC can expend in promoting its candidates, which the reform crowd sees as an unfair advantage.
Sam Kelly, a vice president at the cooperative, said turnout “is anyone’s guess.”
The cooperative is urging members to vote for mail-in ballots.
Piedmont Church is at 570 Piedmont Road, Marietta, 30066. Registration begins at 8 a.m. After the meeting concludes at 12:30 p.m., voting will be open until 5 p.m. The mail-in ballot issue is one of two on Saturday’s ballot. The second is whether to limit future compensation of directors.
Unofficial ballot results are expected shortly after voting ends on Saturday.
Here’s a look at each of the reform groups:
All six members who filed the derivative lawsuit in 2007 formed this group earlier this year, said Tripper Sharp, one of those plaintiffs.
“We have no special purpose other than we are members getting involved in their EMC and standing up against the wrongs we believe have been committed against the members,” he said.
The group’s mission statement spells out its purpose: “To replace Cobb EMC’s incumbent Board with members who will place the interests of the members as their highest priority while assuring the well-being of the EMC’s employees and overseeing the prudent fiscal management of the corporation.”
On Saturday, Sharp said he expects the mail-in ballots amendment to be rejected by a wide margin, and the second question, on limiting future compensation of directors, to pass by a wide margin.
“If everybody who has said they’re coming on Saturday shows up, we’ll need three of those churches,” he said. He was also critical of the EMC meeting ads that highlight the voting portion, which is from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., and mention nothing about the members’ meeting, which begins at 10:15 a.m.
“They clearly don’t want people to attend the presentations. They don’t want people to hear the truth,” Sharp said. “It’s just another way they’re trying to manipulate things.”
Cobb EMC Owners Association has held two meetings, each attended by 40 to 50 people, Sharp said. The group’s email mailing list numbers more than 2,000 people, he said.
If successful in replacing a majority of board members, the Cobb EMC Owners Association wants, first and foremost, to see a full forensic audit done.
“And for that audit to be made available to the membership,” Sharp said. “We are definitely asking for more openness and transparency in how the board operates. This is a membership-owned cooperative. They need to be responsive to the members questions and needs.
“The board needs to get back to the basics: providing electricity to members at the lowest possible cost. That seems to have gotten lost over the years,” he said.
Sharp said the Owners Association does “agree on a lot of things” with one of the other reform groups, Take Back Cobb EMC.
“We have a similar goal, and we do talk about things,” Sharp said. “I don’t think we’ve done any events together, but we’re keeping the communication open.”
The Owners Association operates through donations.
“We have a donation form on our website, and we’ve received some donations that way,” he said. “The signs we’ve printed were donated. The website has been donated by actual members. And we (the plaintiffs) have all kicked in a little bit. We’re on a very tight budget. … We’re just a group of regular members trying to make a difference at Cobb EMC.”
Joel Mendelson, campaign coordinator of this group, says its “sole focus is rooting out corruption at Cobb EMC by electing a new and accountable board of directors.”
Although initially it was a project of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Mendelson said his group now has no environmental motives.
“We want whatever’s in the best financial interest of EMC members,” he said.
He also predicts a large turnout of reform-minded members on Saturday.
“My prediction is we’re going to have a whole heck of a lot of members, with the majority of them voting no on the mail-in ballots,” Mendelson said. “I think the church is going to be pretty packed.”
Mendelson said his group has about 1,000 people on its email list.
“I would say that’s our core base,” he said.
Take Back Cobb EMC also wants a forensic audit of the electric cooperative’s financials, if a new board is elected.
“We want to see the new board members hire a forensic audit firm that would go through every dollar that was spent by the previous board under the direction of Dwight Brown,” he said. “From that, we are hopeful that the current board will then make decisions that lead to the lowering of our electric rates.”
His group’s main goals are financial accountability, transparency and honesty with EMC membership.
“This is a community-based group for EMC members that want to root out corruption, clean up EMC, and bring it back into the hands of the members,” Mendelson said.
Like the Cobb EMC Owners Association, his group relies on donations, but has also securing grants from private foundations. And he was quick to make clear that the groups gets no money from the Sierra Club.
“We have nothing to do with the Sierra Club,” he said. “We are not their partner, nor are we getting one penny from (New York City) Mayor Bloomberg that was mentioned in the court filing.”
The directors, in arguing to the court last month why they should not be limited in spending for their preferred candidates, said they were up against vast environmental resources such as the $50 million Bloomberg pledged to the Sierra Club to fight coal-fired plants.
This group, led by Tom Barksdale, is the smallest of the three, with core supporters numbering about 30 and an email roster of between 500 and 1,000.
It is an initiative of the Cobb Alliance for Smart Energy, which was formed in 2008 in reaction to Cobb EMC’s plans to build Plant Washington, a coal-fired plant in Sandersville.
“By 2009, CASE decided the time had come to commit ourselves to reform Cobb EMC by getting new members elected to the board, and that’s when we established Watch,” Barksdale said. “Elections are our best chance to change EMC for both the cause of the customers and the cause of environmentalism.”
Like the other reform groups, Barksdale expects a large turnout on Saturday.
“I am confident the members are going to reject mail-in voting,” he said.
His group likewise shares the others’ expectations for transparency and accountability from a new board.
“This board has become arrogant and disdainful in its approach to members,” he said. “At the 2008 meeting, a resolution was passed from the floor calling for the current leaders to resign, and it passed overwhelmingly. They said it was just an ‘advisory’ vote, and turned right around and introduced an amendment to make it more difficult for members to offer resolutions from the floor. We want that type of attitude done away with.”
But Cobb EMC Watch also wants board meetings open to members.
“Right now, you as a member, can’t go to a board meeting. That is a travesty. Cobb EMC could certainly allow its members to attend meetings, and go into executive session as needed. Plus, we’d like to see town-hall meetings now and then. We want more democracy, and more information on how they arrive at decisions.”
Cobb EMC Watch relies on donations from members.
“We do not get funds from the environmental groups, or any other special-interest groups,” Barksdale said. “We see ourselves as the real independent voice of the Cobb EMC reform movement.”