The five endorsed candidates are: Area 2, Rudy Underwood; Area 3, Kelly Bodner; Area 4, David McClellan; Area 8, Bryan Boyd; and Area 9, Sheri Wilburn. One more session is set for Tuesday night for Area 5, which has 11 candidates.
This past week, Cobb EMC CEO Chip Nelson and several Cobb EMC employees who are also members of the electric cooperative turned out at the two meetings, leading some skeptics to believe the vetting sessions are being stacked in favor of management-approved director candidates.
“I believe what happened is the same shenanigans they were doing at their old annual meetings to elect their own slate,” said Eric Broadwell, a candidate in Area 9 who did not win the group’s endorsement. He estimated there were 75 to 80 employees at Thursday night’s meeting, which was held at Butch Thompson’s office in Kennesaw. “Employees should be able to participate, but I don’t know if executive management should be there, because they’re basically selecting their boss.”
Nelson said that is not correct.
“We have about 170 employees who are also members, but we had only 30 employees there (Thursday) night, best I could tell, and we understand there were about 40 employees there Tuesday night,” Nelson said. “All members of the EMC have a right to be there, and several weeks ago I called and asked the Owners Association people if it was OK if our employees come and vote, and they said yes.”
Company executives forwarded to all employees an email from the Owners Association giving dates and locations for the meetings, Nelson said, though he insisted that none of the employee-members attended the meeting while on company time.
As for his vetting votes, Nelson said he doesn’t look at it as though he’s choosing his boss.
“I look at it as what’s best for the members of the co-op,” he said. “The members need to look at the candidates as individuals, and they ought to look for the best ones they think should do the job. If they strongly feel there should be someone else, they should vote for that person.”
Tripper Sharp is one of the 11 candidates who will vie for the group’s endorsement on Tuesday night, and he is also one of the plaintiffs that brought the 2007 derivative lawsuit that has transformed the management of the utility. The Owners Association was originally formed by the plaintiffs to the suit.
“It appears to me that the CEOA has been hijacked by the management of Cobb EMC,” Sharp said, adding that he’s not surprised. “They are so desperate to keep the status quo.”
Sharp said that on Tuesday night, about 20 people were turned away from voting in the first area because they arrived late. Once vetting in an area began, no more ballots were given out. Also, members could not cast their ballots until after hearing all the candidates in an area.
“I think the CEOA endorsement now is simply the management’s stamp of approval,” Sharp said. “You can’t tell me that when you have people who depend on EMC for their livelihood, they’re not going to be motivated to vote a certain way.”
Dianne Brackin, another one of the plaintiffs, agreed.
“It’s very obvious there were numerous employees there. People had just come in from working, and others were staying there a long time with crying children,” Brackin said. “I can’t believe they were there by their own volition.”
Still, when asked if the Owners Association had been hijacked, Butch Thompson, who was part of the plaintiff group and hosted the vetting meetings at his construction company’s offices, said “absolutely not.”
“EMC employees have more at stake right now than anybody,” Thompson said. “The ballgame changed when none of the board members sought re-election. I’m not disappointed in any person who’s been endorsed so far. Several people had supporters there with them. Former Sheriff Bill Hutson had an entourage of people there.”
Hutson is a candidate in Area 3 but was not endorsed by the group.
“It’s important for the employees to be involved because their future’s at stake. If we’re going to move forward with a progressive EMC, it’s time for those folks to be recognized as the good employees that they are,” Thompson said. “Did they stack the deck? I just can’t see it.”
David Welden, one of the organizers of the Owners Association, said he kept an eye on the employee-members Thursday night “because I knew there was some complaining from people defeated at the previous vetting.”
“They were working diligently and treating it as highly important,” Welden said. “They were all there at the end.”
But his group did not announce various vote totals received by each candidate, only who got the most votes and thus the endorsement.
“This is not a political campaign, and we’re not going to allow the vote counts to be used to embarrass anyone,” he said.
Pat Henry, an EMC member who has paid close attention to the Cobb EMC saga over the years and attended nearly all of the Owners Association’s meetings, said she is disgusted with this week’s vetting and fears “we’ll never be rid of the corruption there.”
“I hope people understand it was rigged by the employees,” she said. “I think the endorsements will be a hindrance to getting good representation on the board, considering what I saw this week.”
Sheriff Neil Warren was one of those who showed up a few minutes late on Tuesday night and was not allowed to vote in Area 2, where his friend Charlie Jones was a candidate. Jones did not get the group’s endorsement.
“Was I mad? No. Disappointed? Yes, but more upset at myself,” he said. “I knew what the process was.”
But Warren said members should take the CEOA with a grain of salt.
“When you have 170,000 members, and this relatively small group ‘endorses’ someone, I think it’s misleading,” Warren said. “If 75 people voted, they ought to say ‘75 members voted to endorse.’ And if a percentage of those were employees, that ought to be disclosed.
“Is it in the best interests of EMC members, what went on Thursday night? I’m not sure that it is.”