by Tom Purkey, Executive Vice President and General Manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association
I have really enjoyed this year’s “annual meeting tour.” Culminating in October, that’s what I call my statewide journey, which I wrote about in my August column, to attend as many of the 21 autumn cooperative annual meetings (two were held in May) as I can. It’s impossible to get to all the meetings since some are scheduled on the same day. Maybe it’s because this is my last tour (I’ll give details in a later issue of The Tennessee Magazine) that I’m spending more time enjoying and appreciating this year’s across-the-state jaunt so much.
As I write this column, I’m still reliving the annual meeting I attended last night. Typical of the events I see throughout Tennessee, it reminded me of why these meetings are so interesting and important.
The meeting started with the members (also the co-op’s owners, of course) registering and then enjoying a hot dog or two, drinks, chips and a Moon Pie. As members and their families sat at the tables, I could tell they were having fun visiting with their friends and neighbors who were also in attendance.
Lucky youngsters who came with their parents laughed and played in an inflatable playground wonderland. Tennessee Valley Authority personnel and a number of co-op employees were available to answer members’ questions and give advice. And I had an opportunity to chat with several members who were very familiar because I have visited this cooperative’s annual meeting year after year for the past two decades. After the nice meal, we were treated to some excellent entertainment from a local gospel-singing group.
During the business session, the results of the board election were announced, and all the board members were introduced to the membership. The democratic process was on display when the co-op’s attorney asked if there was any “new business.” One member raised his hand and asked for an explanation about the cooperative’s decision to purchase a plot of land. The general manager gave a thorough explanation about how that might eventually be the location of the headquarters office for the cooperative. He stressed that the downturn of the economy had affected the timetable of that future decision.
I was impressed by the openness and frankness of the general manager as he discussed the history and purpose of that decision. The man deserved and received a thorough explanation, and the open discussion showed that the folks at the cooperative take seriously the responsibilities given to them by their bosses — the members.
Cooperative annual meetings are great examples of the people exercising their ownership. Co-op employees and directors mingle with and report to the member-owners. Members elect a board to represent their interests and ensure that the cooperative is run for the benefit of the membership as a whole. And to say “thank you” for being a member, the co-op will feed and entertain you while you catch up with your neighbors.
Witnessing democracy in action: It’s the reason I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed traveling this great state to experience the cooperative difference.