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State of the Cooperative
By: Chris Reese, President & CEO
2020 has not gone the way any of us expected. Our July issue of Currents would usually spotlight our Annual Meeting of Members and recap the 2020 Youth Tour, where we take some of our area’s brightest students on an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C.
Due to the coronavirus and everything surrounding it, neither of these events were able to happen this year. We understand that no one is untouched by the current state of the world - our members’ plans for 2020 have been impacted just as radically as our own. I’ll try to recap here some of what you would have heard if we were able to hold our Annual Meeting on June 8th.
Although we were not able to hold our Annual Meeting this year due to state guidelines, our Director election was held by mail as usual. 2020 is the sixth year conducting our vote by mail elections and, in-line with previous years, we received 1,092 votes. The Directors re-elected this year are: District One – Jack S. Haggerty, Jr. with 1,029 votes, District Two – William J. Kovach with 1,025 votes, and District Three – Raymond W. Cordts with 1,015 votes. Thank you to all of our members who voted by mail in this year’s election.
The SREC Board decided to use mail in voting in 2014 so members unable to attend the Annual Meeting can exercise their voting privilege. Holding votes at the Annual Meeting would result in only the approximately 450 members present having the ability to vote. By mailing each member in advance of the meeting with a return envelope, we were able to double the amount of members participating in the election, about 10% of our total membership. Holding an election by mail is a little more costly than voting in person, but in the interest of fairness and democracy, we feel it worthwhile to give everyone equal opportunity to vote. The ballots are mailed to an independent company who tabulate the results and deliver them to the Cooperative.
The main purpose of the Annual Meeting is to remain transparent to those who own us, our members. We reserve some time among the guest speakers, announcements, and prize drawings to review the financial state of the Cooperative with those attending. Obviously, this year we will not be able to present this in person. However, the Co-op’s financials, along with a report from our Board Chairman and company’s CEO, were included in our Annual Report in May’s issue of Currents. You can view this online at https://www.sussexrec.com/2020-report.
2020’s National Youth Tour students would have been introduced at the Annual Meeting. For the first time ever since Youth Tour’s inception in the 1950s, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association deemed it necessary to cancel the trip. Youth Tour is an institution in the world of electric co-ops, and I have enjoyed throughout my career at SREC witnessing the bright young people from our community embark on that trip and return enthused about their experience. Just last year, my daughter Caroline had the honor of participating in Youth Tour.
When news came that Youth Tour was cancelled, I couldn’t help but feel saddened. But with the concerns about travel between states, uncertainty about how long COVID-19 will be a factor, and general unrest in our capital and throughout the country, I would have to agree that this decision was for the best. We are deliberating on the best way we can make things up to New Jersey’s 2020 Youth Tour students that missed out on the trip this year. We are also hopeful that in 2021, Youth Tour will be able to make a return.
Sussex Rural Electric awarded two scholarships in 2020 which would have also been given at our Annual Meeting. The James Goodwin Scholarship was awarded to Sussex Vo-Tech student Alexandria French and the SREC Trade School/Certification Scholarship was awarded to High Point Regional High School student Alexander Foster. I extend my virtual and socially distant congratulations to our scholarship winners!
We spend a majority of the first half of each year preparing for the Annual Meeting. It is an event that requires a lot of coordination between SREC employees, our local partners, the venue, and others. While all of this work had to be undone, cancelling the meeting and all the arrangements we had made was easy enough, especially because it was for a good reason. However, it is hard to grasp the true loss of this situation – missing out on the interaction with our members.
I have attended 26 Sussex Rural Annual Meetings. There are members that I now feel like I know well, simply from seeing them at this one single event each year. I enjoy catching up with you all as you stand in line for registration or visiting with you while you, your family, and your friends have a sandwich and ice cream (or two!). My absolute favorite moment each year is always reading off members’ names for prizes.
Our Annual Meeting is truly something special. I feel like it’s a throwback to what seems like simpler times, when the community would come together and discuss the state of the Cooperative. While we regret not holding it this year, we can put our energy and focus toward ensuring our members and employees remain safe and healthy during these strange and very different days. For now, the office will remain closed to the public. We are all still working to keep your power on, some in the office some from home. We hope you are all well, safe, and healthy, and that when the time comes for 2021’s Annual Meeting of Members, we will once again get to connect and make memories with you all.