Brad Leach, left, goes over information with Monroe County Electric Power Association General Manager Barry Rowland. Leach was appointed to fill the vacant seat on the Monroe County Electric Power Association Board of Directors Dec. 3.

AMORY – During its Dec. 3 meeting, the Monroe County Electric Power Association Board of Directors appointed a new board member and dealt with matters regarding the broadband initiative.

Brad Leach, who moved to Monroe County from Arkansas in 2012, was selected after an executive session to fill the District 2 vacancy created by Rickey Camp’s resignation in August. Both the board appointment and the broadband initiative attracted an overflow audience to the meeting.

Before the board seat vacancy was addressed, cooperative member Janice Peters voiced her complaint about members being handpicked to fill vacancies and urged the members decide who would fill the place on the board of directors.

“There is still some mistrust between the members and the board,” she said.

She suggested that one way to remedy what she termed as mistrust would be for the members to elect a candidate as part of the regular elections held, and that the vacated seat remains empty until that time to spare the expense of a special election.

“Election sends a clear message that you trust your members,” Peters said, furthermore complaining that the meeting time during a weekday morning is inconvenient. “Moving this to a better time would be part of the healing process. My vision for our cooperative is to be healthy, progressive and concerned – to be a role model of a shining example in the state.”

Board counsel Scott Hendrix provided nonpartisan support.

“Changes are possible. Increased transparency is mandated as part of the new broadband law,” he said.

The board met in executive session to consider Peters’ appeal but chose to appoint Leach to the board after coming back into open session.

“My goal with the board of directors is to give back to the community that has provided my family with so much. I would also like to be a part of a successful EPA,” Leach said.

Professionally, he was a district manager for one of the largest farmer-owned rice cooperatives in the industry.

Applicants for the board seat unable to attend the meeting submitted written statements that were read by MCEPA General Manager Barry Rowland.

In other business, Rowland gave an update on the MCEPA’s financial status and addressed continuing questions about the process of bringing broadband service to the membership.

“It feels like we’re behind, but we’re in the top 20 percent statewide moving forward,” Hendrix said of the broadband initiative.

Rowland said Monroe County EPA was the fifth of 25 cooperatives in Mississippi to undertake the broadband initiative since legislation was passed authorizing them to expand their authority to include providing broadband internet service.

Rowland reminded members to watch their mail for the next step in the process.

“We will be mailing out a broadband ballot. On Nov. 12, the board of directors voted to proceed with providing broadband to its members. However, it will not be legal for the association to do so until the charter and articles of incorporation are amended,” he said.

The ballot consists of voting “yes” or “no,” signing it and returning the ballot in the postage-paid envelope by Jan. 15, 2020. Members who have not received a ballot by Jan. 2 are asked stop by one of Monroe County EPA’s two locations in Amory or Caledonia to pick up a replacement.

Cooperative member Gerald Weathers reminded the group that $500 to $700 million in grant money is expected to be available in Mississippi by mid-2020.

“We might qualify for $2 to $5 million,” Rowland said.

“We’re all for it; it’s just going to take time,” said board president Lem Holman of the broadband initiative.

Board member-at-large Tom Crook contrasted Monroe County EPA’s role with current commercial broadband providers.

“Our goal is not profit. We don’t answer to stockholders,” he said.

Hendrix a note of clarity.

“It just needs to pay for itself,” he said.

Rowland was asked again about if an occupancy date for the new headquarters in Becker was on the calendar.

“The opening date is yet to be determined. Interior finish work is still underway, as well as paving and landscaping. We expect to move in after the first of the year,” he said.

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