Members re-elect Pioneer board

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 26, 2004

Pioneer Electric Cooperative employees clearly outnumbered members at Saturday’s annual meeting held at Selma’s School of Discovery that ended with the entire incumbent board of trustees being reelected.

Only 53 of the 11,000 members participated in the utility’s annual meeting, however almost 41 percent of Pioneer Electric’s membership voted in the co-op's board elections.

Officials with the MRI, an independent tabulation company, said 4,438 members voted by mail ballot, while only 30 chose to vote in person Saturday morning.

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When the voting was complete all nine of the board members retained their seat.

Jimmy Gardner kept his seat in District 1 by a 2,675 to 1,689 margin over Lewis Crenshaw.

In District 2, Thelma Mixon held onto her seat as well gathering 2,497 votes to top Jerry Don Middleton (1,438) and Ben Tetter (408).

Harold Powell held on to District 3 with 2,608 votes edging challenger Barry Wood, who had 1,740 votes.

In District 4 Ted Tindal gathered 2,628 votes to hold off challenger Chris Sells, who had 1,694.

Wood Till Jr. took the District 6 slot again with a 2,641 to 1,695 margin over Michael Ward.

Hugh Strickland took the final opposed spot in District 7 with a 2,781 to 1,556 victory over Sawyer Chiles.

Dave Lyon Jr., Herbert Blackmon and Melvia Carter were all unopposed.

The candidates were nominated by 25 or more co-op members and voted on by the membership at large. Under the co-op’s amended 2004 bylaws trustees from District 1, 4 and 7 are elected for a two-year term. Trustees elected for districts 2, 5 and 8 will serve three-year terms. Those representing 3,6 and 9 are elected to four-year terms. At the end of those terms, each trustee’s term will be three years in length.

The one- percent of the members making their way to the meeting had lots of questions. Many expressed their concerns over high power bills, contributions to charitable causes and the affiliate companies that provide propane, gas and water.

Members were invited to express any idea or opinion to the cooperatives leadership. Many were quick to jump at this opportunity.

Pioneer member Helen Boggan encouraged members with questions to voice their opinions.

&uot;I’m here as a member of Pioneer to tell people whatever you do come out,&uot; said Boggan. &uot;Know what’s going on and vote for your candidate. Don’t sit and complain about it. Get involved.&uot;

Another concerned member said they should be asking their board members for assistance.

&uot;We should be asking the board members to help us,&uot; said Beth Teller. &uot;Pioneer Electric has an obligation to their community to help them, not put them down and keep them in poverty.&uot;

Unfortunately, they were often unable to get the answers they desired. The cooperative’s response was limited by its legal counsel due to the fact that a group of members filing suit against the cooperative.

Pioneer Electric general manager Malloy Chandler, who did not give interviews at the meeting, said the pending legal action by three co-op members limited what they could or couldn’t say to those present.

&uot;We welcome the opportunity to answer all of our members questions in full when we’re not impeded by litigation,&uot; said Chandler. &uot;Pioneer has over 11,000 owners. We appreciate each member that took part in our annual meeting process and we are especially grateful for those who took the time to vote.&uot;

Chandler released a statement through his spokesman, Terry Wilhite, Saturday afternoon, about the meeting.

He stated that he hoped some day to solve the problems that have upset the members.

&uot;We all agree that we should work toward lower rates, lower debt and as one member said today, continue to fulfill the reason we exist: to improve the quality of life for the people we serve,&uot; the released stated.

It stated that he was very encouraged by the number of people attending the annual meeting, which appeared to include the majority of the co-op’s employees.

&uot;For years, Pioneer was unable to attract a quorum at its annual meetings,&uot; stated Chandler. &uot;Through mail voting, every member can participate, especially our senior adult members, handicapped and business owners who can’t get off to attend a meeting. No matter how they voted, Pioneer serves all members. We appreciate everyone’s input and we’ll use that to continue to carry out and fine tune our corporate mission, which is to improve the quality of life for the people we serve.&uot;

Pioneer retained the independence services of Market Research Insight from Pensacola to conduct both the mail and on-site voting. A nine-person credentials committee, comprised of Pioneer members, oversaw the election and verified the results.

Pioneer electric was founded in 1937 and serves members in four primary counties: Butler, Dallas, Lowndes and Wilcox. Some members also live in Conecuh, Covington, Monroe and Crenshaw. The company is headquartered in Greenville.

Margaret Pierce, president of the Rural Electric Membership Action Committee said after the meeting that their work goes on and the board returning to power was expected.

She said the rumor mill that REMAC members would spread trouble was never more evident than when she saw the police force on hand.

&uot;This meeting was just more of the ‘same old same old,’&uot; she said.

&uot;The difference that I noticed in this meeting and in past annual meetings was the presence of constantly manned surveillance cameras and multiple armed police officers, both inside and outside the building.

Mr. Chandler himself had his own-armed police officer shadowing him during the entire morning.

There was even an armed police officer standing guard beside the table and ballot box where members were voting onsite.&uot;

Pierce said she took issue with the number of police on site and even mentioned it to Cleveland Poole, in house counsel for Pioneer, prior to the meeting.

&uot;I asked Pioneer’s in-house counsel if he truly believed that Pioneer’s members — and specifically REMAC’s members — were a bunch of heathen renegades who were there for the purpose of creating a riot,&uot; she said.

&uot;When he didn’t respond, I went on to state that we were all good, hardworking people who trying to get some answers and who were working to try to get to the bottom of Pioneer’s real problems-and the fact that they saw fit to call out what appeared to be Selma’s entire police force was an insult to honest peace-loving people.&uot;

Pierce said again that her organization was not surprised by the results of the election.

&uot;When we learned that the same marketing firm or ad agency that had conducted the bylaws election was conducting the trustee election, we knew there wasn’t any chance that even one of our member-nominated trustee candidates would prevail,&uot; she said.

Pierce said she believed from a conversation one of the REMAC-backed candidates had with Poole was that the election would be conducted along the guidelines of the Alabama Election Laws.

&uot;Opening and counting ballots as they were received, as was the case in this trustee election, falls far short of compliance with the Alabama Election law guidelines,&uot; Pierce said.

She said of the approximately 11,000 Pioneer members, it’s interesting to note that only 40 percent of the membership bothered to vote in this trustee election.

&uot;Of the members who did vote, 40 percent voted against the incumbent trustees,&uot; she said. &uot;I don’t believe the re-elected trustees can say that they have a genuine vote of confidence by the membership.&uot;

She said she hoped the board took to heart the words of those who spoke during the meeting and that they realize there are a growing number of members who aren’t happy with the co-op.

&uot;Every member who chose to speak before the meeting took the opportunity to criticize the board and management and to express concern over the present condition of Pioneer Electric,&uot; she said.

&uot;There was not a single member present who rose to speak in defense of Pioneer’s board and management.

At the end of the day, it turned out to be more of a meeting in support of REMAC and its goals and purposes, with Pioneer’s officials and employees present as silent attendees.&uot;