Carroll Electric releases results of customer survey on its procedures

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

BERRYVILLE -- At its annual meeting Thursday, held at the Carroll County Fairgrounds, Carroll Electric Cooperative Corporation officials showed tallies from its recent member survey that indicated an overall positive response to Carroll Electric's polices and procedures.

CEO Rob Boaz said that, compared to last year, when around 5,000 surveys were returned, this year, more than 10,000 came back.

In the areas listed on the survey, members voted on a scale of 1 to 9.

Results were as follows, Boaz said: low cost: 7; reliability of service, 8; disaster response, 8; energy efficiency, 7; public safety, 8; and environmental policy, 8.

He said there were 1,757 member comments, and read them in order of highest concern.

Topping the list was Carroll Electrict's vegetation management program.

"Seventy-nine members had concerns about herbicides," he said, "and 101 were concerned about mechanical clearing. Ninety percent of the $27 million we spend on vegetation management is mechanical clearing."

But overall, he said, there were 278 positive comments about the vegetation management program.

On reliability of service, while 93 had higher expectations, 262 appreciated the degree of service reliability.

On customer service, 42 had concerns, and 152 appreciated having local offices that provide customer service and also the free energy audits.

On affordability of service, 60 would like better value, and 71 appreciate "the great value."

On governance, Boaz turned to the board and said, "I'll address the board on this one. I appreciate as a member and an employee your willingness to lower petitioning requirements (for a member-nominated candidate."

Turning back to the attendees, he said, "They've also made the petitioning committee more accessible to those wanting to run for the board."

He said there were 36 comments expressing concern about the petition process; 20 with concerns about board governance; and 49 positive about board governance.

There were 62 other general comments, Boaz said.

In all, the portion of the meeting members were allowed to attend lasted about 25 minutes.

Members had to register before the meeting, as did media. Carroll Electric did not allow media to bring cameras in; their bags were searched before they were allowed in.

Five sheriff's department vehicles and numerous deputies were on the scene, as were personnel from a private security firm, Centurion Secuity.

Members were not allowed to speak at the meeting. In its mailed meeting notice to members, Carroll Electric had stated that only comments received back with surveys would be heard, out of fairness to the members who couldn't attend the meeting.

Several members put duct tape over their mouths during the meeting in protest of the policy. Many were also wearing a button with the word "Herbicides" inside a circle with a slash through it. They also wore "Democracy now" lapel stickers.

Nan Johnson, a member who is in the process of moving from Newton to Carroll County, said they had those printed up.

"We thought, it worked in Egypt, it might work with Carroll Electric," she said.

Marcie Brewster, who tried to garner enough signatures on a petition to be a candidate for the board in District 6 but was told she had failed to reach the required number, said she was "a little stunned" by the ballot figures given by Boaz.

She didn't go, but members of her nomination team had gone to Everett's offices three days before the meeting to see the petitions and the invalidated signatures.

"We thought there were 300 signatures for District 6," she said. "Since we looked at them, we're pretty sure there were more."

Brewster said the way the petition drive and annual meeting were handled have, if anything, made her "more resolved."

As for the meeting itself, nomination team member Dane Schumacher said she had commented at last year's annual meeting that she would hold the Carroll Electric board accountable for its actions, and that has not changed.

She said the team's attorneys were asked to be present at the meeting, but Everett told her the board would not allow them in.

"'You can't bring your priest or accountant to a meeting, so you can't bring your attorney,'" Everett quoted them.

"I thought it was a dog and pony show," said nomination team member Gordon Watkins. "It was surreal to have bars between us and the board, and I was a little disturbed by the numbers of security. I'm wondering what initiated that because last year there was very little security. I'm curious to know how much member money was spent on security."

Carroll Electric spokesperson Nancy Plagge refused to comment by phone later on the security.

"All the information I want you to have will be in a press release," she said.

Ironically, Carroll Electric's press release ended with Boaz stating, "The one issue in which all members resoundingly agree upon was that the Cooperative should be operated democratically. Based on the survey results, as well as the open comments received, I congratulate the Board for their leadership in acting in the best interest of all 69,000 members."

But the lack of a cooperative, democratically run institution is the activists' biggest complaint and the issue that prompted Brewster's run for the board.

Speaking on that issue with regard to how the annual meetng was conducted, Schumacher said, "This demonstrates to me they're tightening the ring around accessibility."

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