WINCHESTER — Three incumbent Rappahannock Electric Cooperative board members have been re-elected, with nearly half of the votes being decided by the electric utility’s nine-member board.
REC officials say the results demonstrate member confidence in the current board, while critics say it demonstrates a corrupt election process meant to protect existing board members.
The elections were held at REC’s annual meeting in Fredericksburg on Thursday. REC customers are member-owners of the cooperative and vote in board elections.
Region One representative and Frederick County resident Michael W. Lindsay, Region Six representative Linda Gray and Region Seven representative resident J. Mark Wood won re-election. They respectively defeated Mike Biniek, Andrea Miller and Jack Manzari, all of whom belong to the grassroots group Repower REC, which wants to reform the cooperative.
Lindsay received 2,070 “member designated” votes, 2,807 “non-designated” votes and 48 votes from people who voted in person at the meeting, according to REC materials. Biniek, Lindsay’s opponent, received 1,699 designated votes and two non-designated votes, with 26 people voting for him in person.
REC spokesman Matt Faulconer said in an email on Friday that a member designated vote is a ballot that an REC member mailed containing the name of the person they voted for. A non-designated vote is a ballot that was mailed in without a candidate’s name, which is then “assigned to the board” to determine.
“Undesignated proxies assigned to the board are cast based on the majority vote of the board,” Faulconer said.
Gray received 1,810 designated votes and 2,777 non-designated votes, with 54 people voting for him in person. Miller, his opponent, received 1,152 designated votes and two non-designated votes, with 22 people voting for her in person. David A. Rababy, who also ran in Region Six, received 880 designated votes, no non-designated votes and four in-person votes.
Wood — the only incumbent who would have lost without the help of non-designated votes — received 1,893 designated votes and 2,769 non-designated votes, with 46 people voting for him in person. Manzari received 1,919 designated votes, three non-designated votes and 31 in-person votes.
REC board chairman and Clarke County resident Christopher Shipe said in an email following the election that he was “grateful to report that REC’s members didn’t buy into all the hyperbole, took time to understand the issues and overwhelming demonstrated their confidence in the REC incumbent board of directors by handily re-electing them.”
Mike Murphy, former superintendent of Clarke County Public Schools who now lives in Culpeper County, said the annual meeting is conducted like “a communist election” with those in power having “total control of the outcome.”
“We believe they’re stuffing the ballot box at the REC office,” Murphy, a co-founder of Repower REC, said on Friday. “It’s like a secret process.”
Faulconer said REC members “who allow the board to determine how to cast their votes are entrusting the board to vote in the manner it believes to be in the best interest of the membership.” He said non-designated votes are “not an automatic vote for the incumbent,” citing the 2017 election in which the Region Four incumbent was knocked off by a newcomer.
REC is one of the largest electric cooperatives in Virginia, providing electric service to 22 counties and 11 towns, with about 27,500 member-owners in Frederick and Clarke counties.
Repower REC wants the cooperative’s proxy-vote system eliminated. Its members say practices like offering a prize drawing for mailed-in ballots are in essence a solicitation for the blank proxy votes the board can use, under its own rules, to vote itself back into office.
Repower REC also wants greater commitment to solar power from REC and reform of board member compensation.
“Nobody has ever run a campaign close to this hard,” Heald said, noting that reform candidates knocked on doors and conducted social media campaigns. “We knew coming in that we would have to overcome a nearly 3,000-vote deficit.”
Reformists have started to “move the mountain” in making REC a transparent and member-accountable organization, Murphy said. “Much more needs to be done.”
REC board members receive a $2,000 per month retainer, plus a $500 per diem fee for every day they spend working on cooperative business. Board members regularly make upwards of more than $40,000 per year for their part-time positions, as shown by annual tax filings.