Pioneer Electric rejects questions on legal grounds

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 20, 2004

The president of the Rural Electric Member Action Committee (REMAC) alleges several things are amiss about the ballots mailed to Pioneer Electric Cooperative members last week.

Margaret Pierce said the biggest problem with the ballots is that her name appears on a yellow insert saying she is on a credentials committee, who will oversee the vote tallying.

&uot;The very fact that my name appears on the yellow insert accompanying the proposed bylaws booklet is misleading to the members of REMAC and Pioneer Electric,&uot; she said.

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&uot;My telephone has been ringing constantly since last Friday with Pioneer Electric members calling me to inquire if this means that REMAC is in accord with these proposed bylaws.&uot;

She said her resp-onse to the callers to and to others is a resounding &uot;no.&uot;

On Friday, Pioneer was questioned about Pierce’s name being included on the sheet, but through Phil Butler, of Bradley, Arant, Rose and White, L.L.P., the law firm representing Pioneer in a suit brought against them by three members of the co-op, chose not to address any of the questions The Greenville Advocate submitted regarding the suit or the proposed bylaw changes.

&uot;While under normal circumstances I am sure the management would be pleased and willing to discuss with you or any one else the details of these issues, three members of REMAC have, of course, made the decision to bring such issues to the Circuit Court of Butler County, Alabama,&uot; he said. &uot;Pioneer respects the right of these Plaintiffs to bring such issues to the Court and looks forward to addressing the same in the litigation and under the rules of Court set forth by the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure.&uot;

He went on to say &uot;Pioneer respects the rule of law and since these Plaintiffs have brought these issues before the Court, the Court is therefore the appropriate forum to address these issues.&uot;

The question was asked of Pioneer if anyone with the organization asked Pierce to serve on the credentials committee.

Pierce maintains they did not.

&uot;I was not asked to be appointed to the credentials committee nor was I consulted about placing my name on the yellow insert,&uot; she said.

&uot;The first time I knew anything about this matter was when I opened the mail that was sent to my home.

I am willing to serve on this committee; however, my willingness to serve is in no way an endorsement of Pioneer’s actions.&uot;

Pierce also took issue with statements by Butler that was reported in Wednesday’s Advocate.

&uot;The statement by Pioneer’s attorney, Phil Butler, that ‘these proposed bylaws fall completely in line with what REMAC petitioned of Pioneer months ago’ is untrue and misleading,&uot; she said. &uot;The true fact is that REMAC has never petitioned Pioneer for anything.&uot;

She said at a meeting of the REMAC membership held in Hayneville on Jan. 10, copies of a proposed petition were given out for distribution.

&uot;Several of Pioneer’s management and employees along with two Pioneer trustees showed up uninvited at that meeting, and they also obtained a blank, unsigned copy of the proposed petition,&uot; she said.

&uot;All efforts to obtain signatures for this proposed petition halted soon after that meeting.&uot;

She said no further action was taken to complete the petition and no petition was ever submitted to Pioneer’s board or management.

&uot;If this is the petition to which Mr. Butler refers in his comments, then he should take the time to read the full content of the petition,&uot; she said. &uot;That petition, if it had been completed with signatures and presented by REMAC to Pioneer Electric’s Board of Trustees, would have asked for an immediate independent audit of all books and records of Pioneer Electric as well as a rewrite of the bylaws of the Cooperative.&uot;

She said the petition stated: &uot;Such rewrite shall be mutually acceptable by the Rural Electric Member Action Committee on behalf of the membership of Pioneer Electric Cooperative and shall be presented for adoption at the 2004 annual member’s meeting.&uot;

She said so far no one from REMAC has been invited or asked to participate in a rewrite of the bylaws.

&uot;These proposed bylaws are totally unacceptable by REMAC,&uot; she said.

&uot;Indeed, REMAC is complaining about the content of these proposed bylaws because they are, in no way, written to protect the best interests of the members of Pioneer Electric or the Cooperative itself.&uot;

She alleged again of gross abuses of authority and power and the member’s rights being diminished under the proposed bylaw changes. She said members should vote &uot;no&uot; and attend the meeting on Saturday, April 3, at Greenville High School.

&uot;This is your opportunity to speak up and say no to the adoption of bylaws that will ultimately destroy our rural electric cooperative,&uot; she said. &uot;This is our cooperative and it is time for us to make that fact known.&uot;

Another item asked of Pierce was who is footing the bill for the lawsuit.

&uot;REMAC is paying the expenses of our attorneys as they need reimbursement,&uot; she said.

&uot;As to their fees for services in this litigation, when the plaintiffs are successful in this lawsuit, it will be up to the court to determine who will pay the attorneys’ fees.&uot;

Also, much discussion has been tossed about over Pioneer’s land purchases.

The response continues to be the land is for industrial development.

Considering new industries would increase jobs in the area, Pierce was asked if REMAC is against the cooperative’s involvement with such ventures.

&uot;When Pioneer is taking the member’s money and giving it away as it has been doing, yes, we are opposed,&uot; she said. &uot;It is a proven fact that electric cooperatives that stick with the electric utility business and provide electric services to their members are the electric cooperatives that do well.

Pioneer needs to stay out of spending the cooperative member’s money on private enterprise.

Millions of dollars of our cooperative’s money have been wasted in the name of economic development.&uot;

Pioneer’s attorney let his statement stand when asked how much it is costing the cooperative to use an outside company to handle their new ballots.

They were also asked for their opinion on why they believe the plantiffs asked for the bylaw changes and are now against them.

The Advocate also asked the cooperative management about REMAC members, or other cooperative members not being allowed to sit in on board meetings, after REMAC members recently claimed to have been stonewalled while trying to do just that.

They were also asked to respond to REMAC’s growth that now includes what REMAC claims to be 10 percent of the co-op’s membership.

Pioneer was also asked why they are using an outside law firm since it pays Cleveland Poole to serve as its in-house counsel and also when the management decided to work towards changing the bylaws.

Butler refused all questions, saying they would not argue the case in the media but would let their case be heard in court.