The Rift Within PMPA
Board Chairman survives “ouster”; Clinton votes “yes”.
On a motion by Rock Hill seconded by Greer, the Board of the Piedmont Municipal Power Agency on Thursday came within a whisper of voting on whether or not to remove the agency’s board chairman.
Representatives from Clinton and Laurens CPW, along with the eight other cities, would have cast votes in the matter.
It was tabled, pending legal advice.
Then, later, it was voted and the chairmanship position did not change
Joel Ledbetter, general manager of the Easley Combined Utilities, is board chairman of the PMPA, an agency founded in 1979 which now in 2019 is the the midst of a members-suing-members lawsuit. It would have taken six “yes” votes to dismiss him as chairman.
Filing the suit are Newberry, Laurens CPW, Gaffney Board of Public Works and Easley Combined Utilities.
Being sued are PMPA itself, Rock Hill, Greer, Greer Commission of Public Works, Clinton and Union.
The legal action was filed June 13. This month, all plaintiffs filed answers to the legal document charges.
Ledbetter filed an affidavit along with the Newberry-Laurens-Gaffney-Easley lawsuit.
By doing that, said board member Jimmy Bagley, deputy city manager of Rock Hill, Ledbetter disqualified himself from being PMPA board chairman. “The chairman sued the organization and its participants,” Bagley said. “The vice-chairman needs to take over, or a representative from Abbeville or Westminster, while there is a dispute.”
Last month, when Bagley first proposed acting to oust the chairman, Ledbetter said he read the PMPA By-laws and did not find a restriction against the board chairman filing an affidavit in a civil action.
Ledbetter’s contention was supported by legal counsel at the PMPA board’s July 25 meeting.
Bagley asked that a vote on the board chairmanship be placed as an “action item” on the Aug. 22 agenda. Ledbetter called for that “action item” to be discussed Thursday morning after the full board received financial, information technology, engineering, legislative, and Catawba Nuclear Project reports from PMPA staff.
With the motion on the floor, board member Newberry Mayor Foster Senn objected. He supported Ledbetter “blowing the whistle” on a plan allegedly by Rock Hill and Greer to buy excess electricity from Clinton and Union -- a move that Senn said would place an unfair burden on the other cities (Newberry, Laurens, Gaffney and Easley; Abbeville and Westminster also belong to PMPA but they are not directly involved in pending legal action related to these alleged “side agreements”).
Senn said, “If the president of Clemson or Carolina saw a plan that would raise tuition on one group of students and lower it for another group, I would expect him to say something.”
The matter came to a halt on a motion to table. That motion came after PMPA legal counsel was asked to research case law.
Later in the meeting, the motion to dismiss was un-tabled and voted on. Ledbetter kept his position on a 5-5 vote - the tie meant the "motion to dismiss" failed.
Clinton voted to dismiss.
If Ledbetter had been dismissed, the board chairmanship would have to remain vacant. The chairmanship can be filled only at a vote during a PMPA annual meeting, when an entire slate of officers would be offered to the full 10 city-members.
PMPA is looking to refinance its debt, and there was concern on the board about how removing the board chairman would look to banks and bond-buyers during the refinancing process.
The PMPA bonds will be paid in full in 2034, but can be refinanced until 2045 - locking in a much lower interest rate currently offered on today’s bond market. Debt is one of the factors that drives how much PMPA charges the city-members for electricity - generated by PMPA’s 25% share in the Catawba Nuclear Reactor. If the debt can be refinanced, electric rates could decrease 6% in 2021, the board was told.
That PMPA charge, in turn, is a driver in how much the city-members charge for electricity which is resold to residential, business and industrial customers.
Rock Hill and Greer allege that the current rates that PMPA charges for electricity are not fair to them as growing cities.
The 2020 rate structure - and a 2029 rate structure that changes when Rock Hill, Greer and Westminster have said they will leave PMPA - could be voted on by the full board, meeting in Greer, on Sept. 26. The board will meet again on Sept. 5 for a “work session” about the 2029 rate structure.
After the 2029 rate structure study was presented, Chairman Ledbetter announced the board would break for lunch, then reconvene in executive session for legal advice.
Presuming the legal advice would be about the chairman position, Senn questioned the action.
He said receiving legal advice about the board chairman was not a proper executive (closed) session topic - since it did not involve litigation, personnel, a contract, or a trade secret.
Ledbetter clarified - the closed session was to hear from the PMPA litigation counsel about the agency’s position in the pending lawsuit (not the agency’s regular legal counsel about the chairmanship). Senn said that was permissible; but he expressed concern that it was the afternoon and, he would not be able to hear the legal presentation, since he had another commitment.
In the later motion to dismiss the chairman, "yes" votes were cast by Clinton, Rock Hill, Greer, Union and Westminster.
"No" votes were cast by Laurens, Abbeville, Easley, Gaffney and Newberry. There is no "tie-breaker" vote on the 10-member board.