For the first time, Cobb EMC allowed for advanced voting online and by mail on bylaw amendments that govern the Marietta-based cooperative.
With more than 12,000 votes returned before the event, combined with the 600 people filling out ballots in person Saturday morning, it was the most votes cast on bylaw changes in Cobb EMC’s history.
Mark Hackett, president of Cobb EMC Forum that was established in August 2012 when Take Back Cobb EMC and the Cobb EMC Customers’ Alliance joined forces, said the response by members was five times the amount from previous years, which he credited to the support of the new board of directors that took over less than a year ago.
“Our new board has righted the ship,” said Hackett, who added that the board members have made cuts to staff and expenses in order to reduce service rates twice in the last year.
Still, Hackett did warn the crowd of fellow members that Cobb EMC does not have competition in its service area and vigilant members must regulate their own cooperative.
Hackett said as customers of Cobb EMC, they are also the owners of the nonprofit that formed in 1938 and serves more than 177,000 residential and commercial customers.
“These 180,000 customers are us, you and me,” Hackett said.
Members take a stand
During an hour-long period of comments from the audience, eleven people spoke to the crowd, including 30-year member and former U.S. Congressman Fletcher Thompson of east Cobb.
Thompson pushed to have his draft of a members’ bill of rights mailed out to each Cobb EMC member to be voted on in the list of bylaw amendments, but was told by the board that aspects of his draft were inconsistent with state laws.
When Fletcher was told his five minutes of allotted time was up, Ethel Gibson of Acworth, as well as many other people in the audience, shouted, “Let him speak, let him speak.”
Gibson said Fletcher has been a leader in driving the effort for change.
“We owe him a debt of gratitude,” Gibson said. “He has the guts to stand up.”
A board-supported draft of the “Cobb EMC Members’ Bill of Rights” was passed by more than 90 percent of voters Saturday.
Cobb EMC board member Rudy Underwood said much of what was adopted had Fletcher’s “ideas and concepts baked into it.”
In the Bill of Rights, members have the right to vote by a secret ballot and without intimidation, to propose changes to the bylaws, call a special meeting, and attend regularly scheduled board meetings.
In an effort to make Cobb EMC more transparent, members have more access to inspect records than before. However, access is still limited if the information sought is considered privileged, confidential or proprietary.
The amendment specifically reads that an inspection of records must be by a member in good standing, with a written affidavit stating the purpose is related to the business of the cooperative, not to “gratify mere curiosity.”
Board member Tripper Sharp said no members have been denied access to records since the new board took over.
Members support taskforce
As the crowd received updates about complimentary tickets for rides at the fair and waited for raffle prizes to be given out, Steve Boudreaux of east Cobb and a Cobb EMC member since 2006, called for a vote.
Boureaux asked that a taskforce be created, made of Fletcher, a couple of board members and at least an equal number of regular members of the cooperative, in order to further discuss the members’ bill of rights.
Although Cobb EMC President Chip Nelson told Boureaux the resolution would not be binding, a vote of those in attendance would gauge the interest of the membership in starting a taskforce.
Slips of orange paper were raised by almost every person seated in the rows of folding chairs, with only a few members against the proposal. Boureaux said he would like to serve on the taskforce.
Gibson said progress is being made to take control away from the board of directors, and so far the ten newly elected board members seems responsive to making changes.
“I am so happy to see a new board sitting up there,” said Gibson, who attend the annual meeting for the first time since becoming a member 46 years ago.