WINCHESTER — Two people, on behalf of a group of dissatisfied Rappahannock Electric Cooperative owner-members, have sent a letter to REC CEO Kent D. Farmer asking REC to “immediately” stop the practice of handing out and collecting proxy-ballot forms at regional offices when customers come in to pay their bills, arguing it damages the integrity of the upcoming board of directors election in August.
“Last week we learned from a fellow co-op member that REC employees are apparently handing out and then collecting proxy-ballot forms from REC members who visit REC offices to pay their bills,” Seth Heald and Mike Murphy wrote in a letter dated July 8.
Heald said he met the fellow co-op member, who is not named in the letter, while knocking on doors in Culpeper County to talk with other owner-members about the election. That’s when the woman apparently told him she’d already turned in a ballot at the urging of employees in REC’s Culpeper office.
Heald lives in Culpeper County and heads a group called Repower REC, which wants to want to reduce the pay of board members, make regular meetings available to the public, and beef up the co-op’s renewable energy portfolio.
“The REC member had gone to the office solely to pay her bill... The REC employee brought the proxy form up on her own initiative,” the letter states. “It takes some time for co-op members to read through the information about each candidate and watch the seven candidate videos online. REC employees should not be discouraging or preventing co-op members from doing so before they vote.”
The letter to Farmer states that “soliciting and collecting on-the-spot proxies from co-op members” who haven’t had a chance to review candidate information helps “explain why thousands of blank proxies are submitted each year, allowing incumbent board members to control election outcomes” by using the blank ballots to vote for themselves.
The letter calls on REC to disclose how many signed proxy-ballots it has collected at REC offices since July 1, note how many of them are left blank (no candidate selected) and explain what the co-op does with the proxies it collects.
REC is one of the largest electric co-ops in Virginia, serving 22 counties and 11 towns, including about 27,500 members in Frederick and Clarke counties. It is governed by a nine-member board representing nine regions in the co-op’s coverage area.
REC customers are member-owners of the co-op.
Repower REC, formed last year by owner-members dissatisfied with the co-op’s leadership, says current board members have entrenched themselves through unfair election practices. The group — which is partnered with the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors of Virginia that’s connected to commercial solar power interests — is endorsing three candidates to challenge three incumbent board members in regions one, six and seven whose seats are up for election.
Matt Faulconer, REC manager of external affairs, said there is “nothing nefarious” going on at REC regional offices, which have offered ballots to member-owners who come in to pay their bills for years.
“Unfortunately, certain members continue to make untrue allegations about the governance processes of the cooperative at an extensive cost to our membership... REC is simply reminding members who visit our offices of the upcoming annual meeting, which assists in meeting the quorum requirements under REC bylaws,” Faulconer wrote in an email. “Thus, if a member wishes to submit his or her proxy designation card at our local offices, REC is offering a convenient means of doing so. Again, there is no encouragement provided as to whom the proxy should be assigned or for which candidates the member should direct their proxy vote be cast.”
Faulconer said in his email that members who are offered ballots in REC offices are not allowed to leave with them. “If a member does not wish to complete the proxy at the time of his or her visit, the member can complete and mail the original proxy that was sent with the magazine, complete the proxy online, or return to the office at a later date and complete a proxy card at that time.”
The election will be held at the REC annual conference, which is open to all members, on Aug. 22 at the Fredericksburg Conference Center, 2371 Carl D. Silver Parkway, beginning at 6 p.m. Members received ballots June 1 in their issue of Cooperative Living magazine. They can mail in their vote (it must be received by 5 p.m. on Aug. 19 to be valid), vote online if they have a payment portal set up through the REC website, or vote in person at the annual meeting.
Information about the candidates, including videos introducing them, can be viewed at myrec.coop.