Online, mail-in voting set for board of directors
eaders of a Northland electrical cooperative agree that even the Great Depression perhaps did not create the same level of challenges as those posed by the current pandemic.
Historical documents of the Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative, formed in response to President Franklin Roosevelt’s rural electric cooperatives, which were part of his New Deal, do not mention the nation’s financial crisis, still taking place when the cooperative was formed in 1938. Many historians say the period of the Great Depression in the United States ran from 1929 to 1941.
Formation of the cooperative was important because, for the first time, electricity was available to rural farms and homes, filling the gap created by larger city investor-owned electric companies that refused to build lines in rural areas.
The cooperative also created jobs for many who laid the electrical grid system.
Even so, the country’s current crisis looms larger.
“It’s fair to say it’s the most challenging time in the coop’s history,” said Garrett Poorman, communications director for Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative, about COVID-19’s impact.
Cooperative leaders, facing the same logistical challenges as other private and public businesses during the pandemic, have taken an unprecedented step. For the first time in its more than 80-year history, officials have canceled the group’s annual meeting. The gathering, which normally draws between 2,500 and 3,000 members, will instead include only one portion of the multi-layered event-its election to choose the board of directors.
The cancellation was due to area health department social distancing guidelines, designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“Every day it seemed to be something different,” Poorman said of the emerging health predicament and how cooperative leaders were trying to decide the meeting’s fate. “Instead of risking putting something on the calendar and then perhaps needing to cancel,” the usual event was scratched.
However, members still will be able to choose the nine-member board of directors which will lead the cooperative through the next three years. Voting will take place throughout August among Platte- Clay Electric’s 24,000 member accounts, who come from a seven-county region, including Buchanan, Caldwell, Clay, Clinton, DeKalb, Platte, and Ray.
Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative members are served by about 3,000 miles of electrical lines. Members choose to join the cooperative, which has 76 employees, and pay for its electrical services to operate their homes, businesses, churches, and schools, Poorman said.
But unlike its early days, those living in the cooperative’s region also can choose investor or municipally owned electrical providers.
Cooperative members can vote on the website beginning Aug. 1 and ending Aug. 31, said Jennifer Grossl, manager of communications and marketing. Those who request a paper ballot need to do so by Aug. 21 and their ballots must be postmarked by Aug. 31, she said, adding that the election normally is managed by the cooperative’s attorney and takes place in voting booths like those used for governmental elections.
This time, a neutral third party will manage the election in the new format.
Mail-in ballots must be requested by Aug. 21 through the website, www.PCEC.coop/vote where members also can cast online ballots. Mail-in ballots also are available calling 816-490-6614.
Staff also are preparing for a break with tradition when it comes to other aspects of the meeting. During the business component, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dave Diehl and the sitting board president usually deliver oral presentations updating key aspects of the organization’s functions, which also are laid out in a written annual report. This year, the annual report will take the place of the oral presentation, Poorman said.
The cooperative’s website indicates it is one of the most progressive member-owned utilities in Missouri and officials point to several examples, including an electric car charging station, located in the YMCA parking lot in Platte City. In addition, the coop also established Missouri’s first electrical solar-powered system, located at the coop’s Kearney office, Poorman said. Members can choose subscriptions to the solar program, he said.
Cooperative officials usually return extra dividends at the end of each year, which members use as credits to their electric bills. This year’s total was higher at about $2.7 million compared with the $2 million to $2.2 million returned last year, Diehl said, explaining that the credits are like a dividend check but in the form of deductions to electric bills. Several members acknowledged the additional amount by including notes in their payments.
Diehl said, “It’s just a little more this year to stimulate the economy.”