By TRAVIS MORSE
MT. VERNON — —
Donnie Laird was elected the new Jefferson County director of the Tri-County Electric Cooperative during the co-op's annual meeting Saturday.
Laird defeated fellow director candidate Mark Kash by a sizable margin — 311 votes to 99 votes. Laird was first elected to the cooperative's Board of Directors in 2011.
“A person with the experience, a person that will put in 110 percent, is the type of person you need in serving as your director,” Laird said prior to the vote Saturday. “I believe that I am the type of person and I am ready to continue that position to serve as your director for the Tri-County Cooperative.”
Tri-County's annual meeting gives co-op members a chance to participate in agency business while also enjoying a free breakfast, a “live-line” electricity safety demonstration, children's activities and more.
The 76th annual membership meeting Saturday drew more than 1,500 people.
“It is an important day,” said Marcia Scott, the co-op's general manager. “It's the day that our members have a voice in the running of the cooperative. … We just try to make it fun for people.”
Three new co-op directors were named during the business meeting portion of Saturday's event. They included Laird for Jefferson County, Sam Phillips for Marion County and Rick Russell for Washington County.
Each of the three counties in the cooperative has three directors. These directors serve three-year terms on the organization's nine-member board.
The Jefferson County race was the only contested election this year. Laird was nominated by the Tri-County Nominating Committee and Kash filed a petition to be considered for the position.
Prior to the vote Saturday, Laird and Kash addressed the co-op membership in attendance.
“I'd love to be part of the Tri-County Electric and help serve the people of the community,” Kash said. “If elected, I'd try my best to help allocate the resources at the disposal of Tri-County to best efficiently and effectively serve all of its members.”
One of the highlights of Saturday's meeting was the live-line safety demonstration.
Co-op serviceman Dan Paschal led the demonstration, giving the audience vivid examples of why it's important to avoid power lines. At one point, he asked a volunteer from the audience, 7-year-old Daven Flota, to help out with the presentation.
“Just (be) aware that you can't see it, you can't smell it, you never know if it's live,” Paschal said of power lines. “You can have a cable TV, a power line, a telephone wire all laying side by side, you can't tell them apart. … Don't touch it. Call.”
Co-op member Stephen Kula of Ashley said the safety demonstrations can be very educational.
“That's really good because I don't think everybody understands and you learn a little bit,” Kula said.
Some co-op members, like Gerry Arnold of Mt. Vernon, also picked up patronage refund checks Saturday for the years of 1986 and 1987. Arnold retrieved a check on behalf of his father.
“It's a lot of fun,” Arnold said of the meeting. “Of course, we have to elect officers and that's important. And especially when there's a contested election like there is today.”
Co-op officials Saturday spent a great deal of time discussing new proposed federal mandates regulating carbon emissions from coal-fired plants.
These guidelines could result in higher utility rates and possibly decreased reliability, Scott said.
The membership was urged to express to the federal government their support for a “common sense energy strategy” not an “all-but-coal” strategy.
“To many of us here in Southern Illinois, coal is what keeps the lights on and pays the bills,” said Tom Beyers, president of the co-op's Board of Directors. “We hope that you, the members, will keep informed about these possible changes and that you will take an active interest in this process.”