One year ago, three longtime REC members submitted proposed bylaw changes to the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) with the goal of restoring member-control and financial transparency to our cooperative. The three simple changes were intended to improve REC governance and ensure fair board elections by:
- Allowing co-op members to observe REC board meetings where important decisions are made regarding member utility rates, capital credit retirements, and customer options;
- Requiring REC to publish each board member’s total annual pay once a year in Cooperative Living magazine, the publication that goes to every co-op member; and
- Clarifying the proxy ballot form in REC board elections to reform the current practice where the board uses blank “member-undesignated” proxy forms to effectively control election outcomes. For an example of how this abusive practice works, look at the 2017 board election tally form, which shows how thousands of the blank “member-undesignated” proxy forms were used to change the outcome of a board election in which General John Levasseur (US Army, Retired) won by a wide margin among those who voted for a specific candidate.
REC’s bylaws and Virginia law give electric co-op members the right to propose bylaw changes for members to vote on at the co-op’s annual meeting. But before a proposal can be voted on by the full co-op membership, the proposing member must obtain 500 signatures on a petition form issued and approved by REC’s board. For over a year now REC’s board has refused to provide the petition form needed to collect the signatures.
Last July, the three REC members, after first trying unsuccessfully to engage in dialogue with REC’s board about the issue, asked Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (SCC) to require REC to provide the petition form. Earlier this year, the SCC ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to hear such a case, and said it should instead be brought in a state court.
Last week the three REC members re-filed their action in the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court for Spotsylvania County, asking the court to order REC to provide the petition form. We’ll keep you updated as the lawsuit proceeds in court.
In the meantime, as our campaign grows, and with your support, we’ll continue to seek to hold REC accountable to the standards of transparency that cooperative members deserve. We’ve already been successful in getting small democracy and transparency reforms. We won’t stop until REC members can exercise our right to propose common-sense bylaw amendments, observe board meetings, and participate in fair elections.
It’s unfortunate that this matter has to be resolved by litigation. REC’s own magazine, Cooperative Living, has published editorials in recent years describing how a co-op member’s right to propose bylaw changes for a vote at the annual meeting is at the heart of the democratic process that makes a cooperative a cooperative. REC talks a lot about the supposed “cooperative difference,” but the talk is often empty.