Group claims lawsuit intends to dissolve coop

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Friends of Pioneer charged those suing Pioneer Electric Cooperative in misleading members in a release issued Tuesday.

Lamar Giddens, treasurer of Friends of Pioneer, stated plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against Pioneer revised the document to include a request that the court issue an order to dissolve the cooperative.

&uot;This was not part of the original lawsuit paraded around by the plaintiffs,&uot; Giddens said in the release. &uot;It was silently added at a later date. And, they’ve never said anything publicly about it. Not even to their own supporters.&uot;

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Giddens’ release stated an amendment to the lawsuit asks the judge to take action in &uot;dissolving the Cooperative and/or any such other and further relief that the Court deems just and proper in the premises.&uot;

Susan Copeland, an attorney with the law offices of J. Doyle Fuller, who represents the plaintiffs in the suit, said the request for dissolution was made as an alternative remedy.

Phil Butler, who is one of Pioneer’s defense attorneys, said the amendment was added to the initial suit and agreed that it is an alternative remedy.

He said it has not been mentioned in any subsequent motions, but that is has been requested.

Copeland said the request was made in order to get a receiver appointed to run the company, but it is not necessary to do so.

&uot;The court doesn’t have to dissolve the Coop if the receiver can rehabilitate it,&uot; she said. &uot;That is what we are hoping happens.

However, the Coop might be in such deep financial trouble that even David Bronner couldn’t save it!&uot;

Giddens group believes the intent for the dissolution is to sell it off.

&uot;Apparently, their intent is to sell our cooperative to someone else,&uot; Giddens said. &uot;Perhaps, to some big, out-of-state utility company. If they succeed, the members have lost Pioneer.&uot;

Giddens said selling the cooperative would spur big problems in the future. &uot;If Hurricane Opal showed us anything, back in 1995, it was what a fine system we now own. Our lights were restored while many surrounding utilities remained in the dark. Pioneer’s board, through their leadership, and Pioneer’s employees, through their dedication, proved our cooperative was in very good hands,&uot; he said. &uot;This remains true today.&uot;

&uot;Now, a small group of people want to take that all away,&uot; Giddens said. &uot;They want to seize control of the board and sell our cooperative. Pioneers don’t sell out. We don’t run. Friends of Pioneer have organized to remind them of that.&uot;

Giddens said he fears, if the opposing group’s efforts succeed, one day Pioneer customers will rely on service trucks driving from a far off location to repair their power, or calling about a bill inquiry and having to talk to a computer.

&uot;Today, if I have an electrical problem, I can call Pioneer and talk to a live person and a friend,&uot; Giddens said. &uot;I don’t want to talk to a machine at some long distance telephone number.&uot;

Giddens said his organization supports the current board members. &uot;They’ve done an excellent job in meeting the needs of the members under some very tough circumstances. They need our support now,&uot; he said.

&uot;Friends of Pioneer want the cooperative to continue providing our electric service,&uot; he added. &uot;We want them to continue bringing new jobs and contributing to our communities. You can’t do that with out-of-state ownership. They simply probably won’t talk our language.&uot;

Copeland said this wasn’t the case at all.

&uot;’Dissolution’ in the legal field includes such other things as rehabilitation if that can be done and that is what our goal is,&uot; said Copeland in an email to the Advocate. &uot;If we succeed, a receiver would be put in place to manage the affairs of the Coop until it is back on sound financial ground.

The attorneys for the Coop have already admitted in court that the Coop is a &uot;coop in distress.&uot;

"Dissolution is not our goal and would only be done in the event the receiver; the Court and we conclude that it cannot be rehabilitated.

A coop up in North Alabama was placed in receivership for the very same kind of thing (except not as bad) and it is finally emerging from the receivership after three years of rehabilitation by the receiver and it is now financially sound.&uot;

Giddens also took exception to statements made by Margaret Pierce of REMAC in Saturday’s Greenville Advocate.

&uot;Pioneer is audited annually by an independent, highly-respected accounting firm and the co-op’s operations are watched closely by several agencies,&uot; he said. &uot;In all my time of knowing Pioneer, no one has ever found a trace of missing funds or any hint of mismanagement. I tend to trust the professionals more than a few ‘wannabe’ investigators.&uot;

Butler said there has not been much change since they argued to dismiss the case in late April.

&uot;There has not been a lot of change since we argued and briefed the motions to dismiss,&uot; he said. &uot;Those are still before the court awaiting the court’s ruling.&uot;

He added each side filed supplemental briefs following the arguments, and that in matters such as this, time is needed.

&uot;I wouldn’t say it (time) is abnormal,&uot; he said. &uot;If you look at cases that are more simplistic than this one, judges don’t usually take so long.

However, this is a complex case advanced by the plaintiffs in a shotgun approach. You have several legal theories and the defense has to address each one of the theories.&uot;

As for the time it has taken, Butler would not say if it is unusual or not.

&uot;It is hard to say if this is an unusual length of time because of the different types of cases,&uot; he said.

&uot;I’ve had cases to go as long as 18 months before a ruling to dismiss was issued.

Under the circumstances of this case with this degree of complexity, the judge will be thorough."

Butler said it is understood that Judge Edward McFerrin is a circuit judge with responsibilities in three counties.

&uot;He has a very busy caseload,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve argued a case in his circuit before and I know that he is going to be a very thorough and careful judge.&uot;

Butler said this leaves little chance for error, and that is a good thing for all involved.

&uot;It doesn’t serve anyone’s interest for a judge to make a mistake,&uot; he said. &uot;Mistakes mean you have to do the whole thing over again.&uot;