Transparency Begins at Cobb EMC; Or Does It?

In another triumph for transparency, reform, and sound fiscal judgment, the Cobb EMC board of directors cut funding to the controversial coal-fired Plant Washington and enacted a series of transparency measures at its board meeting last week. Led by the four new board members, seven of the nine voted to cut ties with the plan, bringing an end to the EMC’s relationship with the troubled project. The Board also voted to enact a series of transparency measures that include quarterly town hall meetings for members and access to board meeting minutes online.

Plant Washington’s estimated price tag is $2.1 billion and Cobb EMC has already sunk $13 million into planning and development costs. In December, power generator LS Power canceled its plans for another coal-fired plant in Early County, GA, citing economic concerns. When power generation companies like LS Power decide it’s no longer good business to invest in a coal-fired power plant in Georgia, it makes you wonder whether our investment in Plant Washington was ever worth it. Fortunately, the new board took care of business. The Plant Washington decision is a big step forward in bringing accountability and fiscal sanity back to Cobb EMC.

As part of their ongoing transparency efforts, board members also voted on other measures aimed at opening the EMC’s doors to members. One month after each board meeting, the approved minutes will be posted on Cobb EMC’s website, along with a link for members to comment and submit questions directly to the board members. Additionally, Cobb EMC will start scheduling quarterly town hall meetings for EMC members to meet with the board and senior staff – finally allowing regular contact between the Board and the EMC members who elected it.

The measures announced last week are solid steps forward for transparency at Cobb EMC, but in the long run we’re concerned that they don’t go far enough to ensure members cannot be taken advantage of again. We hope the board put in place after the March 31st election will take further steps.

For example, we don’t see why Cobb EMC couldn’t follow the models of other EMCs and hold a brief public comment period prior to the monthly board meetings. EMC members and the media should be able to observe the rest of the meeting – not wait a month to get the minutes. If proprietary matters need to be discussed in private, nothing would prevent the Board from holding a closed-door executive session. We feel truly open meetings are the best way to have regular interactions with EMC members.

Additionally, as part of the meeting minutes, the Board should report the votes each director casts, so members can see how their directors are representing them. If openness and integrity is truly the cornerstone of the new board, then directors should have no problem disclosing their votes publicly.

The new board members are laying the groundwork for transparency, but we know can, should, and will be done after March 31st. The actions at last week’s meeting further proves just how crucial it is for members to stay involved and active with their EMC. We spoke loudly last year and the Board is listening but we want more transparency. Let’s make sure our voices continue to resonate by demanding truly open meetings and continued improvements in communications between the board and EMC members.

We can celebrate another series of small victories in the Cobb EMC saga, but we still have more work to do. The final round of elections is scheduled for March 31st, so let’s use this great news to recharge our batteries and finish the job!

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