GRADY E.M.C. President & CEO John Long, seated, reviews plans for the upcoming co-op membership meeting with Marketing & Member Services Manager Adam Starr on Monday. Like many other local functions the event is going virtual this year.
Grady Electric Membership Corporation, like many other local businesses and organizations, has been working through difficult times related to COVID-19 while at the same time extending an extra effort to better serve its membership.
E.M.C. personnel are busying preparing for an unconventional annual meeting in October that will be designed to keep members safe, but at the same time conduct business as normally as possible.
Grady E.M.C. Marketing & Member services Manager Adam Starr says the annual meeting of the membership in October will be a hybrid annual meeting including an in-person and virtual component.
“Our hope is to maintain a sense of normalcy, but by offering a virtual component we can try to keep members safe, healthy and comfortable,” Starr said.
This year’s annual meeting will be held Oct. 16 and will once again be staged at Cairo’s Family Worship Center. However, members will not be allowed inside the church. According to Starr, members will drive-up to a designated registration area where they will register their attendance and members from Districts 3 and 6 will be provided a ballot for the election of directors if they have not already voted by absentee. The members will then be directed to drive forward to a drop box manned by members of the election committee where ballots will be deposited. The members can then either leave or park in the parking lot and tune to an FM signal, yet to be announced, where members can listen to the proceedings of the brief business meeting, which will take place inside the church.
Starr is also working with a vendor to offer a live stream broadcast of the meeting over the Internet.
“This is a good year to have a virtual meeting since there are no bylaws to be voted on this year. We will be pre-recording as much of the business meeting as possible,” Starr said.
The E.M.C. has once again contracted with Survey & Ballot Systems of Eden Prairie, MN to conduct the absentee voting for the election of directors.
Starr reminds E.M.C. members that this year’s election will be the first to be exclusively district voting, based on a bylaw change approved by the membership in 2019. Only members in District 6 will be allowed to vote for director candidates Dr. Ashley Register or incumbent director Jimmy Hammett. Prior to 2020, the entire membership was allowed to vote for the directors in the various districts.
The only other seat up for election this year is for District 3 and incumbent Lee Powell is unopposed.
Starr said that paper ballots will be mailed to E.M.C. members on Sept. 16 and the ballots must be returned to SBS and postmarked by Oct. 6 in order to be counted.
Members who take advantage of the absentee voting are automatically registered for the annual meeting.
In place of door prizes since the meeting is not an in-person affair, Grady E.M.C. will place the name of each registered member into a raffle for a number of bill credits up to $500, which can be applied to the member’s monthly utility bill.
“We see this as another way to help our members out in these challenging times. A bill credit will go a lot further than a bucket or a blanket,” Starr said.
Additional information concerning the Oct. 16 annual meeting will be made available in the coming weeks. Starr reminds members to watch for their absentee ballot to be mailed next month.
Grady E.M.C. personnel have been working in restricted “pods” since March with various departments being restricted to their particular work areas and limiting the physical interaction with other staff. According to Grady E.M.C. President & CEO John Long, the procedures in place have been successful so far. As of Monday, no E.M.C. employee has been tested positive with COVID-19.
The co-op began waiving late fees and suspended service cutoffs March through June and last month reinstituted fees for late payment.
“We have a big heart for people. This is our community and we wish we could pay all of folk’s bills and take care of everyone, but that’s not possible. We are working on helping members make arrangements to keep their power on, but its been a challenge for us,” President Long said.
Starr says that members who were unable or did not pay anything over the last several months now have a significant bill they owe E.M.C. The marketing and member services manager says the co-op is working with members to make arrangements to settle their accounts with a target date of Dec. 31, 2020 to bring each account up to date.
“We are working with all of our members to come with a manageable way to pay off overdue balances,” Staff said.
In addition, the E.M.C. has launched a new prepay option for members. According to Starr, a member’s deposit with the co-op, if applicable, can be applied toward an overdue balance or if a member’s account is current, the deposit can be applied to future energy costs. Members are also invited to pay over and above their monthly balance to build up a reserve the member can use in the future if they have difficulty paying their bill.
“It’s very similar to a prepay cell phone. You are able to pay for future energy ahead of time and manage your finances accordingly,” Staff said.
President Long noted, “It’s not a pleasant time in the world. It’s a tough situation for everyone. We’ve been blessed at Grady E.M.C. to be able to keep everyone working and keeping the power on. Now, we’ve got to help all of our members get caught up. That monthly bill for our purchase of powers never stops.”
Another new member service is free wi-fi, according to Starr. “Many of our members do not have access to high-speed Internet. With many parents wishing to keep their children in a virtual school setting there is an increased demand for wi-fi location in our three county service area. We are now offering free wi-fi to our members,” Staff said.
The marketing and member services director says that members can access the wifi from the E.M.C. headquarters parking lot or members are invited to come into the lobby of the headquarters and access the free wi-fi.
“Everything we can do to help our members during these times is what we want to do,” Starr said.