This year, I have been losing track of days. Have you noticed how every day is starting to feel like a repeat, with the repetitive nature of the news reporting about the coronavirus? I have heard similar comments from several of my friends.
One of the most difficult challenges this year is the uncertainty. In the electric business, uncertainty is inherent with the job. Weather changes from hot to cold, from drought to floods, or from ice storms to tornadoes.
Electric cooperatives are also impacted by the energy used by homes and businesses. Most times, there is a pattern to how electricity is used, but this year that usage is uncertain. This same uncertainty extends to you at home as well as to the businesses and attractions that make up our Best in Kentucky award winners.
Kentucky Living’s Best in Kentucky awards celebrate the great things about our state. I was lucky enough to visit one of our winners, the Dale Hollow Lake Golf Course, shown above, during the pandemic. I want to thank each of you for voting for our winners and continuing the legacy of celebrating the businesses, people and places that are the Best in Kentucky.
However, I want to ask you to do something more for Kentucky. The businesses that are highlighted in this issue continue to face uncertainty. As we move into fall, I am going to visit and do all I can (pandemic restrictions permitting) to help out these places.
We are fortunate that Kentucky has so many great opportunities and scenic spots just a short drive away, which make for excellent day trips that can calm the soul.
Take a drive and spend some time at a state park. Play golf at one of the beautiful courses around the state. Order something good to eat and pick it up before going to a park for a picnic.
I know that every day right now feels like Groundhog Day. I understand that it is hard to stay safe and feel comfortable when visiting places around the state, but it is important that we continue to support the Best in Kentucky.
With social distancing the order of the day, the generations-old annual meeting traditions of electric cooperatives in Kentucky have adopted pandemic safety protocols in 2020.
“Like schools, churches and businesses, each co-op has had to assess how best to operate and engage with its membership at this extraordinary time,” says Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “Many co-ops have had no choice but to cancel their annual meeting.”
Members always come first, says Ted Hampton, president/CEO of Cumberland Valley Electric, Gray. “As things became more restrictive across the Commonwealth, we soon realized we could not ensure everybody’s safety at an annual meeting,” he says.
The Warren RECC board, Bowling Green, reached the same decision, “and felt rescheduling for 2021 was the best way to ensure the health and safety of both our members and our employees,” says co-op communicator Kim Phelps, of the 62,000 member co-op, which updated its membership via an annual report published in Kentucky Living.
For some co-ops, the dates and circumstances of their annual meetings have enabled them to safely squeeze in the events between health advisories and state restrictions.
“It was unlike any other annual meeting in our 82-year history,” says Joni Hazelrigg, president and CEO of Fleming-Mason Energy. “In times like these, we must all be flexible and innovative.” The Flemingsburg co-op conducted drive-thru registration, with members staying in their vehicles and listening to the business meeting on the radio.
“Members voted on measures by honking their horns—certainly a unique way of holding a meeting. But in unique times, it worked wonderfully!” Hazelrigg says.
Employees of Grayson RECC, Grayson, braved heavy rain to register members for the co-op’s business meeting, which was presented live on its Facebook page. “I spoke to a couple of members who said they hoped that we would be back to normal next year,” says Grayson RECC Executive Assistant Kim Bush.
As for West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative, Maysville, “We researched our options with help from Kentucky Electric Cooperatives and elected to hold a virtual business meeting accessible through our website in conjunction with drive-thru registration events in each of the four counties we serve,” explains co-op President & CEO David Smart. “The feedback from members was positive and they seemed to appreciate our effort to engage safely in spite of the restrictions.”
“Our members were happy to drive through and pick up their buckets and bulbs as usual,” says John May, manager of administrative services at Licking Valley RECC, West Liberty. “Everyone seemed to understand why the annual event was modified.”
Todd Blackburn, marketing and external affairs manager at Meade County RECC, Brandenberg, says its drive-thru meeting turnout was similar to 2019. “Obviously, we all would have preferred a traditional annual meeting, but due to the circumstances, the event was well received.”
Nolin RECC’s social distancing efforts in Elizabethtown included spreading out the length of registration, with 2,600 members registering over a three-day period, followed by a live-streamed business session.
“Overall, both members and employees were very happy with how the new format allowed for an annual meeting that followed current public health guidelines,” says Sarah Fellows, communications manager at Nolin RECC.
Shelby Energy, Shelbyville, lengthened drive-thru registration hours and printed signs requesting members to wear masks and leave their window cracked, with ID ready.
“We wore our masks, too, took shifts and had plenty of hand sanitizer,” says Melanie Crossfield, communications and staff assistant. “We hosted a virtual business meeting on Facebook, over the radio, our website and via Zoom.”
Co-ops that needed to conduct voting implemented online tools that have become commonplace in the pandemic workplace.
“We wanted to ensure our members had access to our meeting and could participate with motions, votes and other business, while also ensuring the safety of everyone involved” says Mike Stafford, vice president of member services at Owen Electric, Owenton. “WebEx Events provided a platform that achieved every goal we had to meet with our annual meeting.”
Throughout the pandemic, co-op managers and staff participated in conference calls with other Kentucky co-ops to share ideas and learn from one another’s experiences.
If restrictions allow, Jackson Purchase Energy, Paducah, plans to apply the lessons learned from other co-ops during its rescheduled annual meeting online September 15.
“For the safety of our employees and members, registration will be held in a drive-thru fashion with members remaining in their vehicles and employees maintaining proper social distancing guidelines,” says Executive Assistant Amy Vick.
“Though Kentucky co-ops share a common purpose and are dedicated to improving the quality of life of the members they serve, each co-op is unique and has had to make a tough call in the best interests of its own members,” Perry said.
Kentucky Electric Cooperatives expresses deep sympathy to the family and colleagues of David Kimbell, our beloved board member and former statewide association chairman who passed away on Friday at his home in Clinton. He was 75.
Among his many civic and business contributions, David served on the Gibson Electric (formerly Hickman-Fulton Counties RECC) board for 24 years, helping to guide the successful merger of the cooperatives in 2016.
David is survived by his wife of 51 years, Lilly Brown Kimbell of Clinton; Son, Bart (Christy) Kimbell of Clinton; Daughter, Jennifer (David) Lusk of Fulton; 3 Granddaughters, Gracie Lusk and Shiloh Lusk both of Fulton and Lilly Kimbell of Clinton and Brother, Freddie Kimbell of Clinton.