Seven nominated to run for Fairfield Electric Coop Board

BLYTHEWOOD – A new day is dawning at Fairfield Electric Cooperative with regard to how it conducts the nomination and election of its board of directors.

What has historically been a secretive nominating process for board candidates, was open to the press on Monday, perhaps for the first time ever. While there were several weeks of road blocks to The Voice receiving permission to observe and report on the nominating committee meeting, the board of directors stepped in at the last minute to make it happen.

There were, also for the first time, fewer wonky traditions to the nominating process, such as the person nominated first for a district being first on the ballot for that district, with no regard for alphabetical order. Until last year that practice was still in force, frequently ensuring that incumbents names would be first on the ballot.

During the last four years, new directors have been elected who have changed the balance of power on the board. The board has initiated new policies that have curtailed what many considered questionable practices.

Still, there were moments during the almost two-hour meeting on Monday that were still ‘iffy’ when it came to squaring with the Coop’s bylaws regarding the nomination of candidates, such as when Dan Ruff, who is challenging Cynthia Able’s District 2 seat on the board, was asked if any Coop employee had asked him to run for the office – a no-no, according to the Coop’s by-laws, but a no-no that has not always been adhered to, according to some board members.

 ‘No, sir,” Ruff answered.

The nominating committee member rephrased his question.

“Have you talked with any Coop employee about running for a seat on the board of directors?”

The board’s attorney, Ken DuBois, spoke up, answering the question for Ruff.

“Mr. Ruff called me,” DuBois said and then repeated, “Mr. Ruff called me, called me on the telephone, but he was asking me whether or not he could be on the board of Fairfield Electric Coop and still run for Fairfield County Council. That was his question to me,” DuBois said, and continued to repeat what he said Ruff had asked him. “His question to me was, ‘if I’m on Fairfield Electric Coop, can I still run for Fairfield County Council?’”

DuBois said he told Ruff, yes, that in his (DuBois’) opinion, Ruff could be on both boards at the same time, since the Coop is a private corporation and Fairfield County Council is a government entity, but that Ruff should check with the State Ethics Commission about it.

Ruff never answered the question about whether he had spoken with an employee about his candidacy.

There were other instances of mixed messages in the nominating interview process.

Some committee members asked why there was not a SLED check in Ruff’s packet, as there was in the other candidates’ packets.

“He completed the paperwork,” DuBois said. “He volunteered the information. The problem was that it [the paperwork] came back to the Coop and they said it couldn’t be completed online. DuBois said the background check is just not back yet.”

Asked by the nominating committee if Ruff was disqualified because a background check had not been completed, DuBois said that while the paperwork sent to prospective candidates asks for them to submit to a background check, it is not actually required, so Ruff is not disqualified, he said.

Ruff was approved 8-1.

Other candidates approved included incumbent Keith Lewis, unopposed in District 1 (9-0); incumbent Cynthia Able, District 2 (approved 9-0); current board chair Mitch Rabon, District 3 (approved 9-0); incumbent Tim Hopkins, at-large candidate (approved (9-0); Larry Sharpe, Jr., also an at-large candidate (approved 7-2) and Bruce Honeycutt, District 9 (approved 9-0)

Gen Palmer, who sought nomination to run against Rabon for District 3, was asked if any Coop employee had asked him to run. Palmer said that last year, he ran after several people had asked him to run, but that this year, no one had asked him to run.

Palmer failed to receive the committee’s nod. No member on the nominating committee made a motion to nominate him.

A ninth prospective nominee, Calvin Smith of Blythewood, did not attend the committee meeting and, therefore, was not nominated.

While several members of the nominating committee made a point to ask the candidates whether they had been asked by employees to run, Rabon told members of the committee that there have been several complaints in the last three years that employees had tampered with the election of directors, and that it should not be tolerated.

Last year, the issue was so serious, he said, that a candidate asked for a public hearing to resolve his complaint that two candidates had received more favorable parking as members arrived to vote for directors at the annual meeting. The hearing was conducted by the Coop’s elections and credentials committee who concluded unanimously that there had been no irregularities in the election. 

Among other changes to the Coop’s nominating and election process is that each candidate will no longer have to campaign over the entire Coop territory.

In 2019, the S. C. General Assembly passed governance reform legislation for the state’s electric cooperatives. The law required that each electric cooperative’s membership consider single member voting districts.

During the 2020 annual meeting, the Coop’s membership voted to approve bylaw changes to move to single member voting districts. During the 2021 annual meeting, members approved additional bylaw changes to make the change to single member voting districts.

The 2022 annual membership meeting and election of directors is scheduled for May 20. Polling places will be located in Winnsboro, Blythewood, Chester and Lugoff. More information about the meetings will be sent to members at a later date.

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