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Grassroots org alleges PVEC ‘abuse of power’

The defeat of a proposal to amend the Powell Valley Electric Cooperative (PVEC) bylaws has been met with criticism by some of its member owners who say the vote was incorrectly handled.

The proposal, brought to the floor during the Cooperative’s annual membership meeting on Sept. 21, was struck down by a 10 to one margin.

The grassroots organization Appalachian Voices claims that the PVEC board of directors “abused its power” during the meeting.

“The leadership mischaracterized their proposed amendment to the co-op’s bylaws in order to influence members to vote against the proposal. The PVEC board also abruptly changed its policy for submitting amendments, blocking member-owners from their right to vote in 2020 on the amendment proposal,” reads a press release from Appalachian Voices/PVEC Member Voices.

The proposal, if adopted, would have made it part of the bylaws to permit public access to all meetings, including those held in committee, and would have permitted an open forum for public concerns. The proposal would also have mandated that notices of meeting dates and times be posted within 72 hours prior to the session and would have allowed live streaming and audio/video recording.

What appears to have been of most concern to the board is the requirement that meeting minutes be posted no more than 5 days following each meeting. This would require that the 9 member board meet a second time each month so that the minutes could be approved and posted to the Cooperative’s website.

Attorney David Stanifer, who is general counsel for PVEC, spoke during the annual membership meeting, which was recorded and is currently posted to YouTube. In the video, Stanifer says the cost of holding these extra meetings would affect the bottom line, causing the cost of electricity to rise.

“Nobody operates like this. You have church meetings – you vote every 30 days – county commission, city council. Somehow, for Powell Valley Electric, they want you to vote ‘yes’ for this board to have to meet in five days to approve these minutes. It’s not necessary.

“And, this is not a full-time position. These guys (the board of directors), they work, farm and do other things. They meet once a month or whenever they need to,” said Stanifer.

He said it would effectively double the cost of meetings, which would then be passed on to the Cooperative’s members.

Each director receives $75 per meeting. Doing the math, the proposal would have cost $675 per month, or $8,100 annually, to approve the minutes each month in special session.

The board currently approves the minutes during the opening moments of the next monthly meeting.

Stanifer then spoke of the advertisement alerting readers to the proposal.

“They never mention this five days (proposal to approve the meeting minutes and post) in one single advertisement. I don’t blame them for not reading it (the proposal) here, today. If you read it, that’s what you’re voting on,” said Stanifer.

Bill Kornrich, with PVEC Member Voices, says in the press release that he was prepared to clarify the amendment language, but was not allowed due to board chairman Roger Ball quelling further discussion.

“The objection to the motion based on additional costs involved in added board meetings to approve minutes was a non-issue and contrary to the intent of the motion….The chair used its power to control member involvement in an arbitrary manner by refusing to allow discussion and clarification,” said Kornrich, in the release.

Directly following the failed vote, Kornrich resubmitted the proposal that would have been voted on during the next annual meeting in September 2020. That proposal also failed, by a similar margin.

In the YouTube video, it appears that a motion and a second to vote preempts any discussion of the new proposal.

“Ball instead called for a vote on the spot. When challenged on this unexpected procedure, Ball responded ‘If it’s wrong, we’ll redo it,’” states the press release.

Stanifer allegedly assured PVEC Member Voices that “a parliamentarian” would be present during the meeting – effectively barring Ball from using what is characterized in the press release as the “Roger Ball Procedure.”

There is no apparent parliamentarian present in the YouTube video.

If the proposal had been allowed to be presented during the 2020 annual meeting, it would have needed a two-thirds majority, or some 22,000 member votes, for passage.

The press release touches upon the ongoing controversy surrounding the use of allegedly toxic herbicide sprays around power line rights-of-way.

Ball said in an interview on Sept. 26 that PVEC has switched to herbicides that do not contain chemicals and additives that have been recently shown to cause cancer.

The grassroots group PVEC Member Voices was first formed to address concerns about the Cooperative’s governance, transparency and alleged financial misdeeds.

Lynn Tobey, a group member, spoke of the reason for proposing the changes to the bylaws.

“Right now, open board meetings are an unwritten policy made by the board and the board can change that at any time. This amendment would have ensured that board meetings would remain open for future member-owners of the cooperative,” said Toby, as quoted in the press release.

In the video recording, Sharps Chapel resident Pat Hurley referred to the proposal as “insurance” against changes to current casual policy.

To view the Youtube video, type into the search bar: 20190921 125922 or type PVEC Member Voices.