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.