Advocates urge a “NO” vote Black Warrior EMC sends out package of revised by-laws for a membership vote by May 1

Special to the Democrat by John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

BWEMC

Members of the Black Warrior Electric Membership Corporation, as of February 24, 2017 have received a package of materials, including a revised set of By-laws, a summary of the changes and a mail ballot to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on all of the changes in one vote.
Members have contacted the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which has been sponsoring “a co-op democracy project” focused on Black Warrior, to ask how they should vote on these by-law changes. Black Warrior members have also contacted the Greene County Democrat and other trusted community organizations to ask for advice on this by-law package.
If you receive your electric power from Black Warrior EMC you are a “member” of the cooperative. Black Warrior has 26,000 members in the rural parts of many of the western Alabama Black Belt counties including Greene, Sumter, Hale, Perry, Choctaw, Marengo, Tuscaloosa and others.
If you paid your deposit and have a Black Power Electric meter, you are a member of the “electric membership corporation” or cooperative and you have a vote on major issues facing the cooperative, like election of the board of directors, changing the by-laws and other important issues.
Rev. James Carter of Tishabee Community in Greene County said, “I was surprised to receive this 24 page set of new by-laws in the mail and a ballot to vote, without more explanations, without a meeting scheduled to explain these changes. I have an education but I feel you need to be a lawyer or other professional expert to fully understand this document and make an informed and intelligent vote on it.”

Carter, who is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to make Black Warrior’s Board and Management more transparent, accountable and democratic, also said, “ I am happy to see these by-laws because they answer many questions the members have been raising with Black Warrior, for a number of years, but they also raise new questions about additional discretionary powers granted to the co-op’s Board of Directors, which may adversely affect the members.
“We need more time and a series of meetings in the Black Warrior EMC service area to explain these changes and allow for the members to understand what they are voting on. We are also asked to vote up or down on the whole package in one vote even if we disagree with some of the specific changes or would like to add other changes to make the cooperative more democratic and responsive to its members.”
Adriauna Davis, a Community Outreach Worker with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, who has been meeting with BWEMC members to discuss and strategize ways to make the power provider more democratic and responsible to its members, said, “We plan to go to court, under our existing lawsuit, and stop this by-law mail ballot until a membership meeting or district membership meetings are held to explain these new by-laws and the changes.”
“In the meantime, we are urging BWEMC members to vote “NO” on the ballot and write in that, “ I do not understand all of these by-law changes and want a meeting to understand and discuss these changes,” said Davis.
Davis points out that the current BWEMC By-laws require a membership meeting to amend the by-laws. The Board and Management, who developed and sent out the new ballot revisions, say their effort is legal under new provisions of the Electric Cooperative Statute of Alabama, which allow for a mail ballot.
Marcus Bernard, Director of the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama said, “We received about 100 phone calls last week from BWEMC members who were mailed the by-laws package. They say that they do not understand what to do. Many do not fully understand that they are members and are entitled to vote on the by-laws and other matters. We are recommending a “NO” vote until there are educational meetings to explain the changes to members.”
Bernard pointed out that the BWEMC was founded in 1938 and has not revised its by-laws in 66 years since 1950. The co-op has not had an official Annual Meeting of Members to elect the co-op’s board of directors during this same period. Since their have not been official membership meetings, with the required quorum of 5% (1,300 members) the board has been allowed to perpetuate itself without meaningful input from the members.
The Democrat will be following this story closely in coming weeks and will have more articles and opinion pieces on these important issues.

Members file lawsuit to assert democratic rights Black Warrior Electric Membership Corporation holds ‘Annual Meeting’ in Choctaw County declares no quorum of members present

By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher, Special to the Democrat

Black Warrior meeting

BWEMC members attend Annual Meeting

The Black Warrior Electric Membership Corporation (BWEMC), which provides electricity to rural residents of Greene, Sumter, Pickens, Tuscaloosa, Choctaw, Marengo, Hale, Perry and other counties held its Annual Meeting in Butler, Alabama, on Friday, April 15, 2016, at 9:30 AM.
The BWEMC is a cooperative formed under Section 501c12 of the IRS code, in the 1940’s, to provide electricity and other services to rural areas not served by other public utilities. As a cooperative, the BWEMC is supposed to be democratically controlled by its users.
Each person with an electric meter is entitled to one vote in electing the co-op’s board and making other major decisions.
At the start of the Annual Meeting, after a welcome by Terry Barr, Board President of Nanafalia, Alabama, Woodrow Dinning, attorney for the BWEMC stated, “ This is not an official annual meeting because we do not have a quorum of the members present. We have 25,527 members and our bylaws require a quorum of 5% of the members or 1,276 members to be present to have an official meeting. This is an informal meeting of the members.”
Dinning announced that there were only 49 members present, based on registration of members by their actual membership number at the door. There were additional “guests” present for the meeting who were not members.
Research by the Democrat has shown that the BWEMC has not had a quorum at its meetings for decades, perhaps as far back as to the 1950’s. “The cooperative has used this lack of a quorum, to allow its board of directors to perpetuate itself, without any democratic input from the members. We have also determined that there are no African-American members of the BWEMC Board of Directors, which makes it unrepresentative of its membership in rural communities of the Alabama Black Belt,” said Rev. James Carter of Tishabee community in Greene County.
Carter said, “Because of Black Warrior’s undemocratic record, a group of members from Greene and Sumter counties have filed a lawsuit against BWEMC to compel them to act in accordance with their by-laws, vacate the existing board, and hold an Annual Meeting where the members can elect a new and more democratic and representative board.”
At the Annual Meeting in Butler, BWEMC’s general manager, Daryl Jones said, “Our cooperative has 6,717 miles of power lines and fewer member-users per mile (about 4 per mile) than any other rural electric co-op in the state. We have 64 employees many with years of experience maintaining our lines. Last year we sold 4.3 million kilowatt hours of power to our members at competitive rates.”
Mr. Lance of Stewart Engineering in Anniston, Alabama, a consultant to the cooperative, presented a chart showing that the average BWEMC residential customer uses 1,175 kWh annually of electricity at a rate of 11.4 cents per kWh. He said this compares with a TVA co-op, which has rates of 13.3 cents; a south Alabama co-op with 13.4 cent rates and Alabama Power Company, which has 12.4 cent rates. The consultant stated, “BWEMC has some of the best rates and reliability of any utility in the state.”
In the question and answer period of the meeting, members raised concerns about high power bills and increasing total power bills. Jones and Dinning responded by saying that members may not be using the most energy efficient appliances, heating equipment or have proper insulation in their houses. They said that BWEMC would provide staff to do an energy review of member’s homes and make recommendations to reduce energy usage. They offered no special programs from the cooperative to deal with improving member’s more efficient use of energy.
Members questioned the structure of the cooperative, nominating and election procedures for board members, clarity on district lines for the election of board members and other issues. The officials of BWEMC who responded to questions did not give specific or satisfactory answers according to Rev. Carter and other members in attendance at the meeting.
John Vester of Forkland made a motion to adjourn the meeting until such time as more adequate notice of a meeting, at a suitable time and place, could be provided. At first Attorney Dinning did not want to entertain the motion since it was not a formal meeting but after Rev. Carter seconded the motion, Dinning agreed that the members could adjourn and end the meeting. Vester, Carter and others are named plaintiffs in the lawsuit against BWEMC for its undemocratic actions.
For more information on the BWEMC lawsuit and democracy campaign, contact Adriauna Davis at 205/652-9676 or adriaunasdavis@gmail.com.