Saturday’s special members meeting was the final hurdle in finally moving forward with board elections, which have been postponed for three years due to the October 2007 lawsuit.
Applause wildly favored plaintiffs during morning presentations from both sides at the court-ordered special meeting, held at Piedmont Church in east Cobb.
After prepared presentations by each side, the floor was opened to comments by the members. About 60 people spoke.
First up was plaintiff Tripper Sharp, who told the crowd that GreyStone EMC adopted mail-in ballots years ago and voter turnout still remains low.
“They get less than 1-percent return,” Sharp said. “It’s downright false that this will improve the voting rate. Ask yourself why the management is pushing this so badly.”
EMC member Thomas Loy followed by saying, “I think most of us would like the convenience of voting by mail, but with the current provision and lawyer language on ballots, I think it would end up in unfair elections. If I ran for the board, I’d have to have right friends to do it. I urge you to vote against that provision.”
Former Congressman and current EMC member Fletcher Thompson, who has been vocal against the co-op throughout litigation, said he had prepared remarks, but warned that “they’re not complementary to directors.”
“Mail-in ballots is what management wants,” he said. “If you vote against mail-in ballots, you’re going to cause the biggest nightmare to directors that they could possibly have. They do not want to have to appear before you in person and try to explain why they have … mismanaged Cobb EMC.”
However George Powell, who is married to former Cobb Commissioner Thea Powell, said he was going to vote for mail-in voting because he believes strongly “that the broader vote is the better vote. I don’t believe the people have made the case that the directors will control things if we allow mail-in ballots.”
There were a handful of others who supported the mail-in option, but the majority favored denial, as well as rejecting the payment of retirement benefits for future directors, which was Amendment 2 on the ballot.
Grover Paulson said, “The defendants have spoken about major corporations. Those companies have stockholders who are owners of those companies, and the business is operated to create value for the owner. The EMC more recently has created value for its directors.”
At that point, moderator Joe Whitley interrupted and reminded him to stay on topic, which drew shouts from some in the audience that Paulson was on topic.
Paulson concluded: “The conflict of interest is pretty obvious. Management and directors have found a gold mine. They took the gold and gave members the shaft.”
Deborah Allen said she was struck by the hypocrisy.
“We’re in a church,” she said. “If they’d acted like Christians to begin with, we wouldn’t be here!”
But Lynn Vester asked, “How can limiting the vote of the membership be good for us? We knock out people who would like to participate. I feel it’s important to protect that right to vote for all of our members.”
And Tom Wilder, who said he’s been a member since 1971, said: “When I turn on a switch, there’s a good chance the lights will come on.”
Chandler Bridges said he’s been a lawyer for 40 years.
“The conflict of interest is so absolutely clear I can’t understand how these people could do what they’ve done,” he said.
Barbara Chaliff and others said they also didn’t like the wording of amendment two, which grandfathered in already-vested retirement benefits to directors.
“I worked as a consultant for Big Four accounting firms. Malfeasance in office should not be shielded by being grandfathered in,” she said.
Many spoke of how their compensation packages were far smaller, or had been cut, after they retired from their jobs.
Dwight Davis, the lawyer for the EMC and directors, said during his 20-minute presentation that directors have previously restricted retirement benefits.
“This has already been in place for two years,” he said. “The new board member is not receiving the retirement benefits, but we believe it should be in the bylaws.”
The other nine directors enjoy the retirement benefits of $1,100 per month for 16 years after the director turns age 65 and retires from the board.
The meeting remained mostly cordial, with the occasional shouting from the crowd and raised voices at the microphones.
As EMC members continued to speak their opinions inside the sanctuary of the church, others drifted out into the lobby areas and halls, and could be found reading recent Journal articles about the co-op and talking amongst each other about EMC actions they found inappropriate.
Newest director R.J. Patel, who was appointed in 2010 following the death of longtime director Frank Boone, spoke to a group of reporters.
The meeting, he said, “gave people a chance to express themselves. A mail-in vote gives more people the chance to do the same thing.”
He also believes directors aren’t being given a fair shake.
“Nobody’s actually sat down in front of me and gotten to know me before judging me out there,” Patel said.
As comments concluded inside the sanctuary, the rest of the attendees poured into the lobby areas to cast their ballots.
Tripper Sharp later said it was apparent that most of the speakers at the meeting favored the plaintiffs, while the majority of those who spoke in favor of the EMC were co-op employees.
“We saw most of them out protesting against us yesterday,” he said. “And I understand that most of them are here on the clock and were positioned to speak here at this meeting … they are buying votes, clear and simple.”
Polls remained open for a few minutes past the 5 p.m. stop time due to people continuing to file into the church. Driveways into the church were blocked by Cobb Police at exactly 5 p.m., and those already on the church property at that time were allowed to vote.