Reporter

Nancy Amons is an award-winning member of the News4 Investigates team. She has been breaking stories in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 years.

CLARKSVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Most people don’t think about our local electric company until the bill spikes or the power goes out.

If you’re a member of an electric co-op, and one of every three Tennesseans is, you own and manage your co-op.

The News4 I-Team found that members are virtually powerless.

“We don’t have anything to hide,” said Tommy Whittaker, President of the Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation’s Board of Directors.

But ask some of the members and you’ll get a different opinion.

“We have no say,” said Glenda Jernigan.

“We are outside the loop here,” said Bill Prettyman.

Prettyman, a customer of CEMC, asked to attend his co-op’s monthly board meeting. So did Tim Jernigan, a former lineman for Cumberland Electric.

The electric co-ops are owned and controlled by its members, the people who use their electricity. Cumberland Electric says that on its website.

The co-op boards make decisions that affect your bill and your service, like rate increases, how much executives get paid and whether the co-op will offer broadband service.

Prettyman got a letter back from CEMC saying, “The Board of Directors meetings are not open, nor are they required to be.”

“I said, ‘Well, end of statement! We have no idea what’s going on,” said Prettyman.

Prettyman had questions after Cumberland Electric raised its monthly customer service charge 65%. He couldn’t even find out when the board meets.

“You look on their website, you can’t find it. It’s not there,” said Prettyman.

Tim Jernigan asked to attend a board meeting. The agency required him to fill out a “Director Meeting Attendance Request Form” 30 days in advance, then said no.

“The way the bylaws are set up now, the board has complete control,” said Glenda Jernigan. “Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members. Really?”

News4 asked Whittaker why the board meetings were closed to the public.

“Well, we’ve just always handled them that way,” said Whittaker. “I don’t know that we’d be opposed to people coming, quite honestly. We’ve never had people wanting to come.”

But remember that Prettyman and Tim Jernigan were told they couldn’t attend.

“We’re certainly not trying to create any barriers,” said Chris Davis, Cumberland Electric’s General Manager.

Davis agreed to an interview and defended the 30-day advance notice rule.

“Shouldn’t people just be allowed to come in, sit down and listen? They own the co-op,” News4’s Nancy Amons asked Davis.

“I think it’s important for us as management and board to know why they want to do that,” Davis replied.

After the News4 I-Team started asking questions, the policy seemed to lossen up.

Prettyman came to a meeting and they let him in, waiving the 30-day rule, at least on the day News4 was there.

You may not realize just how much of Tennessee is served by electric cooperatives.

Here’s a map of the areas they cover:

The News4 I-Team polled several electric cooperatives to find out about its meetings. Some said the meetings are not open for members to attend unless they ask ahead of time to be on the agenda. Others said its meetings are open to all.

Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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