Obstruction of Democratic Election Process
French Broad Electric Membership Corporation refuses access to Membership List to Member-nominated candidates seeking election to Board of Directors on May 3:
French Broad Electric Membership Corporation headquartered in Marshall NC is a Nonprofit Member-owned Cooperative formed by rural residents in 1939 to provide electricity for communities considered unprofitable to serve by investor-owned companies. Members own the assets and equity of French Broad EMC and have the right to participate in governance and operation of their Cooperative. Members are residents, businesses, and other local organizations who paid a security deposit to French Broad EMC and buy electric service. Members have the right to elect the Directors of French Broad EMC in a democratic election. Directors are expected to represent the best interests of the Members through their governance of the Cooperative and oversight of the Company's Executive Manager. In the 2013 election and again this year, the Nominating Committee of French Broad EMC, whose members are appointed by the incumbent Directors, refused to nominate Members seeking election to fill an incumbent's seat upon expiration of the Director's term of office. Members who wish to run for office when an incumbent Director's term expires must be nominated by 50 Members via petition.In the 2014 annual election of Directors to be held on May 3, there are three Member-nominated candidates: Barron Brown of Yancey County, and Gerald Davis and George Lehto of Madison County.
The candidates contacted the management of French Broad EMC to request a list of Members and contact information in order to announce their candidacy to the Members, describe their qualifications, and tell the Members why they decided to run. French Broad's Executive Manager responded that "The Cooperative is not allowed to give out any member information without the prior consent of the member, including contact information." French Broad EMC's refusal to allow Member-nominated candidates to have access to their fellow Members' contact information restricts voters' access to important information and fails to comply with democratic principles of elections. For example, a candidate for the Town Council or County Commission may readily obtain a voter registration list and voter contact information from the local Board of Elections office. The Executive Manager's refusal to provide a Member list and contact information constitutes an unfair advantage for incumbent Directors, who need only rely on existing networks in place for decades to gather proxy votes, and the recommendation of the Executive Manager of French Broad EMC whose compensation is set by the incumbent Directors. French Broad EMC's 2014 Member Information Packet misleads its Members by stating that the Cooperative is a "tax paying corporation". In fact, French Broad EMC does not pay federal or state income taxes. The Cooperative is a tax-exempt organization under section 501(c)12 of the Internal Revenue Service code . To maintain its tax exemption status, French Broad EMC is required by the IRS to hold democratic elections of Directors by the Members. Democratic principles require that Members have unrestricted access to information about governance, elections, and candidates running for office, including their qualifications. The North Carolina Nonprofit Corporation Act (N. C. General Statute 55A) requires nonprofit companies to allow their Members to inspect and obtain membership lists when a request is made in good faith and for a proper purpose. The law specifies that a proper purpose is to solicit Member votes in an election held by the organization. The nomination and election management practices of French Broad EMC have resulted in tightly held control of the organization by an entrenched Board of Directors, some of whom have served for twenty to forty years, and by Executive Managers whom they appoint. The Member-nominated Candidates support election management reform in line with reforms made by other electric membership cooperatives in NC and across the U.S. to allow Member voting by mail and online, and neutral third-party management of balloting and elections to ensure strict compliance with democratic principles. Cooperatives instituting these reforms have reported cost savings and increased participation by Members. For more information please visit www.memberscoop.wordpress.com .Volunteers supporting the Member-nominated candidates may be reached by email at FBMember@gmail.com or by phone at 828-675-8870.