Candidates battle for 3 PVEC board seats

Powell Valley Electric Cooperative is holding its election on Sept. 15, and the battle promises to be a lively race for three of the nine seats on the board of directors.

The cooperative has nominated Roger Ball who, if successful in his run, will serve an 11th term. A ninth term is being sought by David Kindle. Michael Shockley is seeking reelection for a sixth term on the board.

Three challengers will be facing off for those seats. Claiborne county resident Jeffrey Lewis is battling Ball for the 2nd district seat, while Kirsty Zahnke and Bill Kornrich are challenging Kindle and Shockley.

Lewis, Zahnke and Kornrich have been endorsed by PVEC Member Voices, a grassroots group opposing many of the policies and practices currently being upheld by PVEC.

“I’m grateful for that support, but that group is not my motivation to serve our electric cooperative,” said Lewis. “I was made aware of practices, accusations and lawsuits that brought PVEC management decisions into question through newspaper reports last year and through a study done by U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper concerning our nation’s rural electric cooperatives.

“These and other articles made me realize the unregulated nature of our nation’s cooperatives in general and sparked in me some soul-searching as to whether I could be of meaningful service to our cooperative and its member/owners,” said Lewis.

His decision to run, he said, was prompted by news of alleged mismanagement ranging from personal gains to the detriment of the cooperative members, contracting for projects without seeking bids and indiscriminate spraying without regard to the harm it may cause.

He says his focus as a director will include opening board meetings to the public and the press.

“When I had inquired about when and where meetings were held I was told that our member owned coop did not allow its member/owners to attend.

“Decisions made by the cooperative should be made in the light of day,” said Lewis.

Number two on his focus list is working to reduce electric rates through better decision-making at the board level.

The third focus point will be better stewardship of our environment, especially the halting of indiscriminant spraying of herbicides.

Attending to capital credits is the fourth focus point Lewis says he will tackle, if elected.

“Capital credits are the ownership stake members have in the cooperative. Upon moving or dying, shouldn’t this ownership stake be returned to the individual or estate,” said Lewis.

Lewis has been a PVEC member-owner for 37 years. He believes he can be a vital influence for the better due to his lifetime in banking, his work with the Claiborne Chamber of Commerce and its offshoot – Leadership Claiborne. His membership with the Claiborne County Healthcare Foundation, his position as alderman of the city of New Tazewell and his stint as past director of the TNT Fire Department, he says, will also increase his ability to better the cooperative.

“As director of Leadership Claiborne, I educate 15 or so local residents each year in matters concerning government, education, business, agriculture, tourism and more,” said Lewis.

He is a deacon chairman of the First Baptist Church, where he grew up.

Lewis says he strongly believes that many good and valuable people function very well to provide for our electrical needs. But, with any organization, large or small, there needs to be proper checks and balances to maintain integrity.

Kirsty Zahnke is a nearly lifelong valley resident of southwest Virginia and a PVEC member/owner since 2003. A wife, mother of two and an organic farmer/beekeeper and entrepreneur, Zahnke says she produces nearly all her family’s food and, historically, a good portion of the food used by local residents and restaurants.

“I am shifting the farm focus to ecotourism endeavors and farm to table meals,” said Zahnke.

She has served on the board of the Clinch Coalition for six years, and was the ecotourism director for the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority. She worked as a realtor several years after returning from an Indonesia research project.

Zahnke holds double bachelor’s degrees in biology and animal science.

“I am running for the 8th district seat because I see a need for change. In the past, member involvement with the cooperative was high and it was an inclusive, member driven company. But, over the past 30 years, it has become more insular with just a few people involved in the running of the company and decision-making. Oversight and input by member/owners is discouraged and even board meetings are closed. I feel strongly that transparency is needed,” said Zahnke.

If elected, she says she would work for open meetings and would encourage member/owners to attend. Board meeting minutes would be made available. She would also explore ways in which to keep power bills low, especially for low-income individuals.

Zahnke says she would like to develop a vegetation management plan for right-of-way maintenance of electrical lines. She says she would like to see PVEC explore the cutting edge, non-hydro renewable energy movement, particularly in the expansion of solar power with in our region.

Bill Kornrich, a resident of Hancock County and member/owner of PVEC for 36 years, worked for 20 years as the director of the Rose Center in Morristown. Kornrich was the founding member of the Honeybee Group that meets in Treadway. He implemented the Heifer International grant that provided the funds to start the group. The approval of this grant marked the first time Heifer International agreed to give funds to support beekeepers.

“I am running for the district 7 seat of PVEC because I believe that member involvement is key to improving the cooperative. Since the annual meeting in Sept. 2017, a group of we members have met with PVEC staff, on a number of issues, on a volunteer basis. Although staff and board are responsible for making decisions for the cooperative, members must participate in a meaningful way.

“I believe that our time spent working together has made a difference for the better,” said Kornrich.

Since working with PVEC on a volunteer basis, he says the cooperative staff seem to better- understand herbicide spraying concerns. Beginning earlier this year, PVEC policies changed to incorporate advance notification of right-of-way spraying, with specific notification for beekeepers. Under this new policy, the cooperative allows property owners to opt-out of spraying.

If elected, Kornrich says he wants to continue involving and educating PVEC members. He would like to see monthly board meetings open and all meeting minutes made available to members. He says he would like to have written notice of each meeting advertised in the Tennessee Magazine.

“I would like to see town hall meetings set up in all nine board districts at least twice a year so that members can meet with key staff. I would like to see the development of a vegetation management plan that will take a long view of right-of-way management, while exploring options and costs.

“I want power rates kept low. I would like to assist, wherever possible, in bringing high-speed fiber optic service to all residences in the PVEC service area,” said Kornrich.

He has served on the board of the Sneedville Hancock Chamber and Community Partners. While on the board, Kornrich served two years as the volunteer tourism director, during which time he spearheaded production of the county road map and a county tourism brochure with statewide distribution.

He also served on the advisory board of the Hancock County Vocational-Technical Program.

Since 2003, Kornrich has been involved in the organization and development of the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. He is a member of the organization’s board of directors.

While working with the Music Trail, Kornrich helped incorporate the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood and the Blue Ridge Traditional Arts in Galax.

The election will be held at Hancock County High School in Sneedville. While there, voters may partake in health screenings, face painting and bucket truck rides. Hot dogs will be available during the very ‘festive’ atmosphere.