A group of Cobb EMC members called Take Back Cobb EMC, with help from the Georgia Sierra Club, kicked off a petition drive at East Cobb Park to collect signatures from fellow members of the electric cooperative in order to conduct a special meeting and board election on May 21. About 100 people showed up during 2 hours to sign the petition or collect petition packets to distribute, the group reported.
As people showed up to inquire about the petition, they were also met by Cobb EMC employees and volunteers who said they wanted to make sure those same folks were provided accurate information and not lies.
Take Back Cobb EMC members are unhappy about the present board's decision to re-hire indicted, former CEO Dwight Brown as an independent consultant to Cobb EMC. He was recently indicted on multiple counts of theft and racketeering.
"Our goal at Take Back Cobb EMC is to get like-minded Cobb EMC members together to be able to actually have our EMC back for the people," said Joel Mendelson of east Cobb, Take Back Cobb EMC coordinator. His parents, with whom he lives, are Cobb EMC members.
"We're fed up with what's been going on with the Cobb EMC board of directors for the last several years. There's been a complete lack of open governance and transparency. There haven't been fair and open elections for the board of directors."
Dressed in blue T-shirts that displayed the cooperative's logo, Cobb EMC employees and volunteers stood only a few yards away from where Take Back Cobb EMC was collecting signatures. They politely asked petitioners whether or not they knew the real story about the cooperative.
Though individuals from both sides had conversations with one another, the entire scene at the park was largely non confrontational.
"What they've decided to do is get involve in corporate governance. They would like to see the face of the Cobb EMC board changed to a more green board and they have decided to take back the board through a petition drive," said Cobb EMC spokesman Sam Kelly.
"We wanted to provide a balance to whatever is being said by the radical environmental groups and that is, we're providing factual information and good things that the Cobb EMC board has done in the past 15 years, like taking our rates from almost the very highest in the state down to below mid-pack."
Brochures that Kelly's team passed out stated that "When Dwight Brown was appointed CEO by the Board of Directors of Cobb EMC in 1994, the rates for electricity were among the highest in Georgia, and had risen consistently from the 1980s through 1993. Over a 15-year period, from 1993 to 2008, Cobb EMC had no rate increases."
It also goes on to explain that the way the EMC was able to keep rates affordable was because the board of directors and Brown "created a new model for the way electricity was purchased and provided to members."
Meanwhile, those who signed the petition disputed such claims.
Since 1998, Nick Krohne said he has been a Cobb EMC member and can't understand why the rate on his bill changes constantly, even after multiple conversations with customer service representatives. He joined with Take Back Cobb EMC on Saturday.
"I'm a single guy, I live alone, I have a house in Kennesaw and I don't use that much power. When my bill goes from one price to 40 percent more than that just in January for no reason whatsoever, when all of my appliances are gas, that screams that there's an issue," said Krohne, 31.
"If there was a transparency whatsoever of what they're doing, I would feel so much better. But all I'm hearing is that there's massive corruption in there, the person in charge is facing jail time, and they're bending over backwards to put him in power. I feel like someone's taking money out of my wallet."
Kevin and Demi Doyle of east Cobb, 17-year Cobb EMC members, also signed the petition.
"I'm more than dissatisfied. I'm angry at the arrogance, corruption, the above the law (attitude)," said Demi. "I'm angry that the board of directors is allowing this and not listening to the people."
According to Cobb EMC bylaws, if the petition garners signatures from 10 percent of the 193,000 EMC members, or roughly 20,000 signatures, then members can vote at a special meeting to oust incumbents and elect new directors.
All 10 directors on the Cobb EMC board came up for election at the end of 2010 because the last three annual elections have been postponed due to a civil lawsuit filed by the cooperative's members and subsequent appeals.
"It's not realistic at all because the Georgia Supreme Court has an appeal right now to determine whether or not members of Cobb EMC can vote for contested director elections by mail-in ballot," Kelly said of the petition.
"The plaintiff group, which is the group that filed the original civil suit, has blocked that because they would like to have just a regular meeting just like we had been doing for the last 71 years. The Cobb EMC board of directors feels like allowing all Cobb EMC members to be able to vote by mail is much more democratic."
Cobb EMC member David Lombrozo, who along with fellow member Eric Broadwell, is campaigning to become a new board member, said the most important aspect of the petition is its power to educate members about what's going on with the EMC.
"It's good for the members to get involved, so in that sense the petition is valuable," he said.