Cobb EMC to cut 10 to 20 percent of workforce

Cobb Electric Membership Corp. announced Wednesday it will shed 10 percent to 20 percent of its workforce to address overstaffing.

The utility plans to cut 55 to 110 jobs, first through voluntary buyouts and then layoffs if necessary. The cuts come after months of an operational review, which found certain areas of the Marietta co-op bloated compared with similar companies.

The review also found the company could improve some of its technology systems to better meet the co-op’s needs.

“We’ve identified opportunities to operate more efficiently and effectively where both our technology systems and staffing levels are concerned,” Chip Nelson, the company’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Employees were briefed Wednesday on the voluntary buyouts and will have 60 days to decide whether to accept the offers. Nelson said he expects 75 to 100 will accept.

The company, which employs about 550 and has more than 177,000 residential and commercial customers, has undergone several changes in the past few years.

In 2011, former Cobb EMC CEO Dwight Brown retired from the co-op after a group of customers sued the utility for allegedly operating a for-profit company that unjustly benefited its leaders. Brown was indicted on numerous charges, including theft, false swearing, conspiracy to defraud the state and racketeering related to the customer lawsuit. His prosecution is on hold while an appeal to the state Supreme Court is pending. The justices are expected to rule on the case soon.

After Brown’s exit, customers elected 10 new members to the co-op’s board. Since then, Chairman Edward Crowell said, the board has been trying to turn the company back into a co-op, not the “mini-conglomerate” that he said previous leadership created.

“There was a lot of purchasing of outside businesses not related to energy distribution. Previous leadership had staffed up dramatically. They had visions of building a software development company and selling to other utilities,” he said. “We’ve been in the process of deconstructing the creature they created.”

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Staff writer Andria Simmons contributed to this article.