With the help of the Georgia Sierra Club, EMC members have begun circulating a petition that calls for removal of one or all co-op directors at a special meeting on May 21. According to Cobb EMC bylaws, if the petition garners signatures from 10 percent of the EMC's members, then members can vote at a special meeting to oust incumbents and elect new directors. With more than 193,000 members in Cobb, Cherokee, Fulton, Bartow and Paulding counties, the petition would need nearly 20,000 signatures to reach the 10 percent mark.
A petition drive kickoff event will take place Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at East Cobb Park on Roswell Road. Cobb EMC members are encouraged to participate in the event to pick up petition packets and to sign up to canvass their neighborhoods.
Erin Glynn, national representative for the Sierra Club in Georgia, said the petition drive is a culmination of a year of work and frustration over inaction by Cobb EMC.
"We've all been frustrated and constantly thinking, 'well, what can we do now?'" Glynn said. "There's been no election, there's been no member meeting. We've been examining the bylaws and putting our heads together to see how we can change this thing ... Something like this petition drive is actually something that gives the power back to the EMC members."
Glynn said the Sierra Club has been working with some of its 1,200 members in Cobb EMC's service area to draft a petition and help EMC members take action against Cobb EMC's embattled leaders.
All 10 directors on the Cobb EMC board came up for election at the end of 2010. That's because the last three annual elections have been postponed due to a civil lawsuit filed by Cobb EMC members and subsequent appeals.
Glynn said she and the group she's working with would like to see current EMC directors step down and allow an open election where reform candidates have a fair chance. She does worry even if the petitioners collect the necessary 20,000 signatures that the current board will just change its bylaws and deny members an open election.
"Whatever we do, Cobb EMC is going to say it's wrong," Glynn said. "This is going to be an example in ambition and drive. Whether it actually is taken up by the EMC - it's really up in the air. I don't have a crystal ball. The bylaws state that we can do this, so we're going to do it." There's also the issue of whether the courts would allow a petition-driven election to occur. A December 2008 settlement in the civil suit called for specific actions to be taken regarding how directors could be elected going forward. Once that is determined, the postponed '08 election was to occur. However, Cobb EMC directors made bylaw amendments just days after the settlement, which plaintiffs attorneys said went against the agreement. That all remains pending a decision from the Georgia Supreme Court.
EMC attorney Dwight Davis said he believes the petition could not apply to - at least - the directors in the '08 election, and that the organizers should check with courts before moving forward with the petition.
But Glynn said, "The petition campaign is wholly separate and will neither affect nor be effected by the various lawsuits. The ability to petition is given to members in the bylaws of Cobb EMC and do not have anything to do with what is going on in the courts."
Mark Hackett, a Cobb EMC member for 13 years, said he remembers when Dwight Brown, Cobb EMC's former president and CEO who was recently indicted on multiple counts of theft and racketeering, formed the for-profit corporation Cobb Energy in the 1990s. He said he watched as it became a cash cow for Brown and board members.
"I'm outraged," Hackett, an east Cobb resident, said. "We've got a situation where Cobb Energy spent $20 million to put their name on the Cobb Energy Center. That's $20 million of Cobb EMC's money and they're advertising like they're coca-cola. And the members really didn't have a choice. The board that has presided over this fiasco aren't going up for election ... and it's not clear when there's going to be an election."
The Georgia Supreme Court decision, expected in the summer, could pave the way for the postponed elections.
Hackett, who spent his 20-year career in the energy industry, said he believes that Cobb EMC needs a new board that is focused on bringing power to members for a good price. He said he learned about the petition drive on Monday and has already started collecting signatures from his neighbors.
Dan Davis, a Cobb EMC member for 11 years, said he started researching Cobb EMC, Brown and the board about five years ago, when articles began to surface about Cobb Energy.
Dan Davis, a northeast Cobb resident, said he didn't believe the relationship between Cobb EMC and Cobb Energy was jiving, per bylaws.
"I was pretty convinced that the board and leadership had basically hijacked the co-op and moved all of its assets over to Cobb Energy, and were very clearly benefiting themselves through preferred stocks and high salaries and retirement benefits," he said. "The profit wasn't coming back to the co-op as far as I could tell."
Dan Davis believes Cobb EMC members' rights have been violated.
The EMC customers who brought the lawsuit in 2007 alleged breach of fiduciary duty, gross mismanagement, waste of corporate assets and unjust enrichment in relation to the management and operations of the co-op and Cobb Energy. The settlement in the case brought Cobb Energy back under the umbrella of the co-op.
While the Sierra Club has been a driving force behind the petition, Davis said this isn't an effort of any environmental group, but an attempt by members to take back their co-op.
"This is not two or three or four environmental groups coming together to put a wedge in between the board and the members," he said.
The Sierra Club opposes Cobb EMC's plans to build a coal-fired power plant in middle Georgia.
GreenLaw and the Southern Environmental Law Center have represented Sierra Club's Georgia Chapter, the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in challenging the issuance of permits for the plant.