New motion filed on Pioneer; new group forms

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 17, 2004

Lawyers for three Pioneer Electric Cooperative members who filed suit against the Cooperative’s management and board filed another motion on Thursday relating to the case.

According to Susan Copeland, an attorney with J.Doyle Fuller’s office in Montgomery, the motion was made that Judge Edward McFerrin issue an order regarding the upcoming annual meeting of the Cooperative membership.

&uot;We filed a motion asking the Court to strike the amendments to the bylaws and to stay the annual meeting until the trial of this case and renewed our request for him to appoint a conservator,&uot; she said.

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The annual membership meeting is slated for August and will take place in Selma.

The suit was filed in February in Butler County Circuit Court.

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

Defendants include cooperative manager J. Malloy Chandler, trustees of the cooperative and the Acme Propane Gas Company’s board of directors including Hugh Strickland, Harold Powell, Thelma Mixon, Wood Till Jr., David Lyon Jr., Herbert Blackmon and Melvia Carter; Lynn Powell, an Acme officer and James H. Strickland, an officer of Pioneer Services.

Both sides have waited for a few months for McFerrin to either rule to move forward with discovery or to dismiss the case completely.

The defendants allege in their suit that Cooperative officials are in breach of contract, negligence and willful and wanton conduct.

They contend that the Cooperative’s indebtness exceeds $65 million and that it will be impossible to pay off the debt and remain a viable business.

As of now, the case’s longevity rests with McFerrin.

The Rural Electric Members Electric Action Committee (REMAC) is supporting the suit.

On Friday, it was announced that a group has now formed in opposition to REMAC and it is called Friends of Pioneer.

Members of the new group say they have heard and seen enough and they believe REMAC is trying to destroy the Cooperative.

&uot;This other group has made a lot of noise and spread a lot of false rumors about Pioneer Electric,&uot; said Lamar Giddens, treasurer of Friends of Pioneer. &uot;A bunch of us got together and said it was high time somebody told the other side. Then, we concluded, why not us?&uot;

Giddens is joined by Karl Jones as chairman, and Milton Luckie as vice chairman.

They said Pioneer has implemented several positive steps in giving each member a voice in their cooperative. Among those cited include allowing members to vote by mail, placing all board seats up for election at one time and holding an annual meeting in Selma.

&uot;First, this opposing group advocated mail balloting,&uot; noted Giddens. &uot;Once the co-op agreed and began the process, the group opposed it. Then, the group wanted the entire board put up for election. Once again, Pioneer agreed and has done so. Now, the group is against that, as well. And finally, the opposing group wanted an annual meeting. As soon as the co-op set a date, the group supposedly filed a legal motion to stop it.&uot;

&uot;We think it’s clear they only want to disrupt Pioneer’s operations, take the voice away from its members and get themselves elected to the board,&uot; he said.

Giddens said Friends of Pioneer has been very successful in acquiring donations to conduct an upcoming communications campaign.

&uot;When we’ve asked for money, people have immediately reached in their pockets. The silent majority of Pioneer members are very willing to help,&uot; he said.

He noted no funds have been offered or will be accepted from Pioneer Electric Cooperative.

&uot;Ours is a grassroots effort, funded, supported and led by Pioneer members,&uot; Giddens said.

He also said no officers of Friends of Pioneer are running for any Pioneer trustee seats.

&uot;Our simple goals are to return the Pioneer board in full, keep the cooperative intact and allow it to continue doing the good work it has done for the past 67 years,&uot; he said. &uot;We are going to accomplish this through advertising and knocking on as many doors as we can between now and the August 21st annual meeting.&uot;

&uot;Pioneer has brought new jobs to our area, it’s supported numerous charities, and it has one of the best, most reliable power systems in the country,&uot; Giddens said. &uot;That didn’t happen by accident. This board has supported the communities Pioneer serves and we think it’s time the members returned the favor.&uot;

While not knowing the specifics of a current lawsuit filed by the opposing group, Giddens said its intentions are obvious to him.

&uot;They want to create negative publicity, but one day their allegations will be proven false in a court of law,&uot; he said. &uot;They charge Pioneer with mismanagement of funds. Instead, I charge the opposing group with disrupting Pioneer Electric and its objective to serve its communities.&uot;

&uot;People who have been Pioneer members for some time know their cooperative. They know it serves them well. They know it’s comprised of honest, hard working folks,&uot; he said. &uot;They just need someone to remind them. That’s why we’ve formed Friends of Pioneer.&uot;

Margaret Pierce, REMAC’s president, said Friday the group welcomes the Friends of Pioneer to the arena, but she refutes some of the things the group has stated.

&uot;They say we are against the entire board being up for election,&uot; she said. &uot;That is not true.

We’re not against the election of the entire board of trustees.

We are putting up a slate of candidates that are member nominated rather than the candidates selected and endorsed by Pioneer’s management.&uot;

She also said the information &uot;spread&uot; by REMAC is based on facts found in the group’s investigation and is a far cry from rumors.

Finally, as for the Friends of Pioneer being tired of REMAC, she said they should get used to opposition being in town.

&uot;We’re sorry that they’re tired of REMAC, but they might as well get used to REMAC being here,&uot; she said.

&uot;We are alive and well and we are growing stronger each and every day.&uot;

For more information on the Friends of Pioneer call Lamar Giddens at 382-3039.

For more information on REMAC, Pierce can be reached at 382-5754.