Protest filed in Fairfield Co-op board election

BLYTHEWOOD – A candidate recently seeking election to a seat on the board of trustees of Fairfield Electric Cooperative has filed a protest with the Cooperative claiming, among other things, that Cooperative employees interfered with the five-day election process in violation of the board’s bylaws in an effort to unfairly benefit three of the candidates: Joe Sharpe, Johnny Roberts and Gen Palmer.

The protest was filed on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, by candidate Ronald Friday.

Incumbents Sharpe (District 2) and Roberts (District 1), both longtime board members, won their seats over challengers Ronald Friday and Eddie Branham, respectively. Palmer was defeated in District 3 by Mike Good whose late father had held the seat for almost 70 years.

Friday filed the protest within the specified three-day period following the annual meeting and the announcement of the new board members.

Friday stated that all six candidates were given documents outlining the policies and procedures for the election prior to campaigning, including a map of where candidates were to set up tents along the path of the drive-thru voters.

The designated area for candidates was outside a gated fence, at least 200 feet from the polling place.

In one of four separate incidents that Friday said were interferences by employees, he described how, upon his arrival at the campaign area at the Cooperative’s Winnsboro office, at a 5:45 on the morning of May 20, the gate to the voting/registration area was unlocked and open, and the campaign tents and posted signs of both incumbents, Sharpe and Roberts, as well as that of Palmer, were already set up inside the fence, far ahead of the other three candidates. Friday, Branham and Good were set up in the areas designated for candidates. Friday said Sharpe, Roberts and Palmer were set up within 200-feet of the entrance to the voting area.

Friday said he learned later that morning that the gate was unlocked sometime in the night prior to his arrival by a high level employee of the Cooperative to allow the three candidates, Sharpe, Roberts and Palmer to set up their tents and post campaign signs inside the gate – all in violation of the Cooperative’s Policy Bulletin No. 31 for board campaigns, Friday said.

Policy 31-2-D states: “A candidate for the board may not distribute any type of campaign literature or place any political posters within 200 feet of any entrance used by the voters to enter the polling place on a Cooperative election date.

Policy 31-2-I states: “In the conduct of the annual election of trustees, any member or district information provided to an incumbent trustee for use in campaigning for the board of trustees must be provided to all candidates for the board of trustees on the same terms and conditions.”

Friday told The Voice that did not happen, that all candidates were not afforded the same advantages and privileges as the incumbents and Palmer.

“The Co-op officials clearly intended to and did give preferential treatment to Mr. Sharpe, Mr. Roberts and Mr. Palmer in this and in other ways, and in clear violation of the Cooperative’s election rules, bylaws and instructions given in writing to the candidates,” Friday said.

A spokesperson for the Cooperative did not return a phone call from The Voice; however, he did provide The Voice with certain requested documents: the bylaws, information about the Cooperative’s Credentials and Election Committee (who oversaw the election and will conduct the hearing) and provided copies of policies and procedures for filing a protest.

According to those documents, when an election protest is filed, the Cooperative’s Credentials and Election Committee must, within seven days, set a date for a public hearing on the matter.

That public hearing has been set for Friday, June 18, 2021, at 1 p.m., in the community room of the Blythewood office of Fairfield Electric Cooperative located at 701 Blythewood Road.

Friday will be represented at the hearing by Charleston Attorney Thomas S. Tisdale.  The Cooperative has also retained outside council to represent them at the hearing. The meeting will be open to the public.

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