Larry Chadwick, who has been a director since 1982 and chairman of the board since 1988, and Sarah Brown, who joined the board in 1979, will not seek reelection, Nelson said. Their seats are up for election in February and May.
He also hinted strongly that others on the 10-member board may also exit. When asked if the other eight members still intend to seek reelection, Nelson replied: “I’m not going to say all the others are.”
On Nov. 12, four seats on the board will be up for election. Those are in Areas 1, 6, 7 and 10, seats now held, respectively, by Don Barnett; Al Fortney; R.J. Patel; and Henry Balkcom.
Two more rounds of elections are scheduled for Feb. 18 and May 12.
Nelson spoke to reporters at EMC headquarters Wednesday afternoon to unveil eight “new day transparency initiatives” that he said are unprecedented for Cobb EMC.
Perhaps most notable to members, bills going out in October will say “Cobb EMC” — not Cobb Energy, as they do now. Cobb Energy is the for-profit company set up in the late 1990s that led to the 2007 lawsuit by members who claimed the cooperative’s assets had been drained. However, the name of the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center will not be affected.
The company will also begin releasing quarterly earnings reports, with the first such report — for the quarter ended July 31 — posted online perhaps as early as Friday. Shortly after he was named CEO in July, Nelson told the Journal he wasn’t sure of the need to release such reports.
In January, Cobb EMC could become the first electric cooperative in the state to open its board of directors meetings to members and the press.
“I’m confident it will be passed at the October meeting (of directors),” Nelson said. Although exact logistics are still being worked out, the meetings would likely have a public comment portion. Meeting agendas would also be posted online in advance of the meeting.
Nelson said current board meetings tend to last about 90 minutes, though the board of directors met for four hours on Tuesday. He expects a crowd to attend at first, so executives intend to hold the meetings in the community room.
“That first one we may have to have in an arena,” Nelson joked.
But not all business will be conducted in open session, such as power negotiations and personnel issues, he said. Those types of actions will be done in executive session.
“You’re not going to get a power supplier to bid and expose his prices,” Nelson said. “It just won’t happen.”
In another effort at being more transparent, Nelson again reversed course and disclosed that he is being paid a base salary of $474,00. With full benefits, his total compensation comes to $483,000, he said. In July, Nelson said that he didn’t see a reason to disclose his salary and that “possibly it could do more harm than good.”
By contrast, Dwight Brown, the former head of the company, was paid $575,000 in salary in 2010.
And Randall Pugh, the chief executive at the state's largest EMC, Jackson EMC, earns $425,000 per year, a spokeswoman said.
Come Jan. 1, all 550 employees of Cobb Energy will be returned to Cobb EMC. The employees were transferred to Cobb Energy when that company was created and have never been returned.
“We think employees should be working for Cobb EMC,” Nelson said. Assets of the nonprofit, such as meters, were also moved to Cobb Energy, but those have all since been returned, he said.
Nelson is also sticking with his idea for a 10-12 member “advisory board” of members to act as a sounding board for management and directors.
“They’re really catching the temperature of members,” he said. He was vague about who would choose the members, though he said the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit in 2007 could appoint some.
“We need them to come here with a heart to help the EMC ... an open mind,” he said.
Also, the cooperative has a new financial management plan that includes retiring capital credits, which members could see as a credit on their bills early next year.
And lastly, the EMC is seeking a new design of its logo, perhaps a new “face” to go with a new day. Design work for the logo has just gotten started, Nelson said.
As for a forensic audit, Nelson said he has been told that it could cost $800,000 to $1.2 million, and insisted he doesn’t “have anything to fear from a forensic audit.”
“A number of members want that. ... We might as well consider it and see if it’s passed by our board and move on with it,” he said. The directors will take up the issue at their Oct. 25 meeting.
“We’re a cooperative. We’re owned by the members, and members have a right to know,” he said.
Plaintiff Tripper Sharp suggested the directors — most of whom are entitled to $211,000 in retirement pay from the EMC — could turn that money over to the EMC to help cover the cost of the audit.
“If they were truly wanting to provide transparency to the members and they’re worried about paying for a forensic audit, why not just turn over their retirement funds?” Sharp said. “I would think that if they had nothing to hide, they would have already commissioned an independent forensic audit. Why are they waiting until the 11th hour to come up with these efforts at transparency? They’re doing some damage control now — and I applaud them for finally seeing the light. But I wonder if it might be too late for them. All these things are what we’ve been wanting the EMC to do.”
Another plaintiff, Bo Pounds, agreed.
“We could have done all this $30 million ago,” he said, referring to both sides’ legal fees. “Suddenly they got religion — and that’s good.”