REMAC pledges to fight

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 7, 2004

At a special called meeting Saturday, Pioneer Electric Cooperative announced, after both mail and in-person ballots were counted, that its members had voted to change their existing bylaws to allow voting by mail in future elections.

More than 400 of the co-op’s 11,000 members were on hand at the meeting, which was held at Greenville High School, and when the 4,909 votes were tallied, 2,974 voted to approve the changes, while 1,935 voted no. Of those in attendance Saturday, Pioneer said there were 104 ballots cast at the meeting.

Co-op manager J. Malloy Chandler greeted various members as he strolled about the high school’s auditorium lobby.

Email newsletter signup

However, when he was asked what he thought of the turnout, he refused to comment.

Later that day, Terry Wilhite, Pioneer’s official spokesman, issued a prepared statement.

&uot;This was the most members we’ve ever had participate in a Pioneer sponsored event,&uot; he stated.

&uot;The fact that 104 voted on site and another 4,805 voted by mail indicates a strong desire for mail balloting.

The participation of so many members further strengthens Pioneer Electric Cooperative.&uot;

The audience was filled with a large contingent of Pioneer employees and also those interested in the outcome of the vote.

The company responsible for creating the ballots, mailing them and then tallying the votes was Market Research Insight (MRI) of Pensacola, Fla.

MRI is a market research firm, which analyzes and produces strategies for businesses, industries and political campaigns.

Dr. Verne Kennedy, the founder and president of MRI, spoke to those present about the balloting process.

He said ballots that were returned by mail were computer tallied and also hand counted for accuracy.

They were then stored in a secure location.

With the help of two people from the audience, Kennedy announced that Linda Gaffney, of Greenville, had won the big screen television offered as an incentive to members to return their ballots quickly.

While that may have left Gaffney happy, the announcement of the vote tally left many unhappy.

Margaret Pierce, president of Rural Electric Member Action Committee (REMAC), said that she and others members of her group believe more than 104 people voted Saturday.

&uot;I challenge that only 104 people voted (Saturday),&uot; she said.

&uot;There were more ballots cast.&uot;

Pierce said she was led to that conclusion due to the different colored ballots that were handed out at the meeting Saturday, and her role on the credentials committee.

&uot;They were giving some members yellow ballots, others got green ballots and some received white ballots,&uot; she said. &uot;They were put in separate boxes, and I would like to know the purpose of the color coded ballots.&uot;

Wilhite said there were no yellow ballots and the green and white ballots served a purpose in distinguishing members.

&uot;There were no on-site yellow ballots, only white and green,&uot; he said. &uot;White ballots were provided to those who were members on the day of record, as well as those that had not previously voted. Green (or challenge) ballots were given to those who were not members on the day of record, or had previously voted. Should the final margin have been less than the green ballots cast, the credentials committee would have individually examined each challenge ballot and determined their validity.&uot;

As for her part on the credentials committee, Pierce said she was very disappointed in the whole experience.

&uot;Yes, I did sit on that credentials committee and I have sat on prior credential committees in the past for other things,&uot; she said.

&uot;As a member of the credentials committee, I asked for a list of the eligible membership.

That was refused.

I asked for a list of those who mailed their ballots in following the first mail-out and the second mail-out and that request was refused.

There is no way that we were adequately prepared to act as a true credentials committee.&uot;

Pierce said she has spoken with many others who complained to her that when they arrived they asked if MRI had record of their ballots and were told their ballots were not there, so they had to vote again.

&uot;I kept hearing people say that the Pioneer people said the ballot must have been lost in the mail, but this goes beyond that,&uot; she said. &uot;I can blame a lot on the U.S. Postal System but we can’t blame all these glitches associated with these ballots on the postal system.&uot;

Wilhite said he did not recall anyone voicing a complaint at the event on Saturday.

&uot;Not that I personally recall, but if that was the case, they were certainly welcome to cast their ballot during the on-site voting session,&uot; he said. &uot;We believe all members were provided ample time to return their ballots. I recall hearing that members began receiving them around March 12th. This gave them three weeks before the mail balloting was closed.&uot;

Pierce also said she wanted to take issue with a female Pioneer Electric employee who she quoted as saying that &uot;REMAC members are a bunch of (expletive) out to get our jobs.&uot;

Pierce said that is not the group’s purpose at all, that, in fact, they are trying to save their jobs.

&uot;The purpose of REMAC is not to try to taken anyone’s job,&uot; she said.

&uot;Pioneer’s employees are fine people and they are doing a good job.

We are in no way trying to take away from the people who are working hard to keep us with good service.&uot;

She offered some advice to those inside the company criticizing REMAC.

&uot;What I would suggest is that they start thinking for themselves and start looking into the information and stop taking everything they are told at face value,&uot; she said.

Three REMAC members recently filed suit against the cooperative, and want a receiver to take over management of the cooperative so a complete audit can be completed of its books.

Wendell Phelps of Butler County, Hoffman Rhyne of Lowndes County and Kenneth Stallworth of Wilcox County are the plaintiffs in the case, alleging Pioneer’s management and trustees mismanaged funds.

Lawyers for Pioneer’s board of trustees and Chandler have filed motions that the suit be dismissed.

No date has been set for the case.

Pioneer serves approximately 11,000 members in the rural portions of Butler, Dallas, Lowndes and Wilcox counties.