Cobb EMC rejects candidate night, delivering jolt to voting group

A Cobb County League of Women Voters chapter thought it had a good idea when it proposed one of the organization’s trademark candidate night forums last month.

It got the door slammed in its face.

The organization had proposed a forum for board candidates of the region’s cooperatively owned electric company, Cobb EMC, which might hold its first board election in three years later this year.

The co-op said no.

Then the co-op’s public relations firm went after the League of Women Voters, publicly questioning its interest in a corporate board election and accusing it of having a hidden agenda.

“The directors just did not feel that was a forum in which they wished to participate,” said Chip Stewart of Cookerly Public Relations, adding that the league’s perceived anti-Cobb EMC agenda “was the primary reason the directors declined the invitation.”

The firm says a member of the voting organization's board is involved in a group that opposes a Cobb EMC-led coal development project. Opponents of that project had tried to run a board candidate before.

Now the League of Women Voters is seeing red.

Member Elizabeth Melville sent out an e-mail blast last week saying that the league was getting negative publicity about its proposal from “a very high-priced public relations firm hired by the Cobb EMC.”

She said the league’s decision to get involved in a corporate election was atypical but not unprecedented, and that the company’s cooperative ownership made its elections of local public interest.

Cobb EMC’s board elections have been tangled in controversy for nearly three years.

As co-op members, Cobb’s customers are supposed to vote in board elections. A 2007  lawsuit, in which customers said Cobb had diverted co-op assets to a for-profit company, put the nonprofit co-op's elections on hold.

A December 2008 settlement changed Cobb EMC's practices and spelled out how elections would resume early last year. But a dispute over the co-op's handling of the elections landed the two sides back in court. An appellate ruling is expected soon.

The league’s Melville said the prospect of the first co-op board election in three years was the reason the organization wanted to be involved. She said its board member's environmental ties had nothing to do with it.

The league is still holding a Cobb EMC event, now recast as an informational meeting.

The forum is set for 7 p.m. Monday at the Marietta Firehouse Museum.