Carroll Electric denies nomination, turns Brewster away

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

BERRYVILLE -- After Carroll Electric announced Thursday it had disqualified Marcie Brewster as a board candidate in the upcoming election next month, Brewster's efforts to meet with cooperative officials Friday were unsuccessful.

The petition drive failed by eight votes in Brewster's district, Carroll Electric said, and 224 of the 1,300 signatures collected were disqualified.

Although the number of total member signatures well exceeded the required amount of 693 (1 percent of the total membership of 69,393 as of December 2010) of those, 250 had to be from members in District 6, and there were only 242, officials said.

In its press release, Carroll Electric said that attorney John Burrow of Fayetteville oversaw the petition count process, which took three days last week, from Tuesday through Thursday.

Petition team member Gordon Watkins said in an email that Carroll Electric had called some members personally to ask if they really had signed the petition.

"Carroll Electric took this process very seriously," Burrow said. "Every effort was made to protect Ms. Brewster's interest. Even if members had multiple accounts in different districts, those signatures were credited to District 6. This process was methodical and I am confident in the results."

Members of the petition team reacted with disappointment and frustration.

"Since 1983, Carroll Electric has steadily, and with careful calculation, raised the requirements to make it increasingly difficult to challenge incumbents," wrote Watkins.

"Thirty signatures were required for ballot petitions in 1993. Now one percent of the membership [693] must sign petitions and, of those, two hundred and fifty must be from the district with a vacancy. In this case that's almost ten percent of District 6 members. It is ridiculous for Carroll Electric to deny Marcie a slot on the ballot when there clearly is a solid base of members who support her candidacy."

"We were just astounded that they chose to ignore 242 votes and focus on those eight," Brewster said Monday. "I would like to have seen that list (of disqualified signatures). We could have taken an extra 24 hours to validate those signatures, but it was not allowed."

In its press release, Carroll Electric commented about its 1-percent requirement: "The one percent ratio is common within the industry and is geared to protect members from the threat of a hostile takeover. These concerns have resurfaced for electric cooperatives within the last four years."

Friday Brewster and several supporters went to the Carroll Electric offices in Berryville to ask that her nomination be validated, as "the eight-signature shortfall is insignificant, falling well within the normal 12 to 13 vote margin of error for the 250 required."

In a letter to Carroll Electric CEO Rob Boaz, the petition team asked on what basis the 224 signatures were invalidated; of those, how many were from District 6; and how is it determined in which district a member resides, if their property falls on a line between districts.

"Because we were repeatedly denied access to the membership list for canvassing purposes, it was difficult to focus our efforts on District 6," the letter said.

Still, Brewster said she was "heartened" by all the people who signed petitions, even in her district, which has as its biggest cities Kingston and Osage.

"I felt like I was a really good candidate because I've lived here a long time, and I'm a farmer -- just one of the folks," Brewster said Monday. "I feel I would have made a good board member because I'm not a hothead. But I do think we should look at the facts and make careful decisions for the electric cooperative."

If Brewster's validation request is denied, the petition team is asking for a recount, with at least one of its members present.

"A recount would be automatically triggered in any legitimate election process when the vote or signature count is within the normal margin of error," the petition team added in their letter.

In a March 29 phone call with Nancy Plagge, director of corporate communications, Plagge told the newspaper a list of the member signatures that were not verified would be released to Brewster.

This has not happened, however. Brewster said Plagge told her when she turned in the petitions that Brewster would be given a "summary report."

"And that's just what we got," said Brewster.

She and supporters waited for an hour in the Carroll Electric lobby Friday, after which they were told by the receptionist, "No one will be speaking with you today."

As of Monday, Carroll Electric staff said Boaz and Plagge were in meetings. Messages left for them had not been returned as of press time.

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