He succeeds embattled chief Dwight Brown, who retired Feb. 28 and was re-indicted on 35 felony charges late last week.
In announcing Nelson, 62, as the new permanent chief, board chairman Larry Chadwick said in a prepared statement: “By serving very capably in the interim capacity, Chip allowed us all the time we needed to evaluate potential successors to Mr. Brown. It is not a decision which a corporation should make hastily, and with Chip at the helm, we had solid, consistent leadership. His steady hand throughout a time of transition ultimately led us to the conclusion that we needed to look no further — we had our man.”
Nelson, a resident of northeast Cobb who previously spent seven years as the electric co-op’s chief operations officer, has been the interim head of Cobb EMC since Brown retired.
“We have the greatest employees in the world at Cobb EMC,” Nelson said in the statement announcing his promotion. “It will be an honor to work with them in fulfilling our mission of providing a reliable supply of electricity at the best possible price for our members.”
Nelson, who has worked for Cobb EMC for 37 years, thanked the board of directors for their confidence.
“I will do my very best to uphold the trust they have placed in me,” he said.
Sam Kelly, the EMC’s vice president of public relations, said all 10 directors attended the meeting, nine of them in person and one by conference call, though he did not know whether the vote was unanimous. It’s also unclear what Nelson’s salary is, though the promotion is effective immediately.
Pitts Carr, the lead attorney for the members who sued Cobb EMC in 2007, said Nelson’s selection is “a very sound idea.”
“He’s an honorable man,” Carr said. “He’s spent his whole working career with Cobb EMC, and he knows the ins and outs of the EMC. He has wide support among the employees.”
But, added Carr, “that presumes that Mr. Brown and the board will allow (Nelson) to do his job in a respectable and honorable fashion to which he is able and inclined.”
Brown remains working at the co-op as a consultant. His retirement was part of an agreement that settled the 2007 lawsuit.
Three weeks ago, Cobb Superior Court Judge Stephen Schuster rejected attempts by the EMC directors to re-hire Brown, ruling that Brown’s tenure “at Cobb EMC and its subsidiaries ended February 28, 2011” and “cannot be renewed, revived or repackaged.”
The directors had previously insisted that no one was as qualified as Brown to lead the co-op, which provides power to about 190,000 members in five counties.
At a May 18 court hearing on the directors’ bid to rehire Brown, Steven E. Fox, a partner at the Atlanta law firm of Rogers & Hardin who advises the EMC board’s governance committee, testified that the committee had interviewed four external candidates brought by executive search firm Russell Reynolds, as well as four internal candidates. The board paid Russell Reynolds $250,000 for its help in the search.
“But after much discussion, the committee concluded that Dwight Brown — who was not a candidate — was the person best suited to lead EMC,” Fox testified in May. “I told them no one was off-limits. Some were very able candidates, but in the board’s view, they were not as well-suited as Dwight Brown.”
Chadwick, the board chairman, said in Monday’s statement that, “We completed a thorough review of candidates over the course of six-plus months, and Chip was always in a small group at the top of the list.”
Monday afternoon’s announcement also came hours after rumored front-runner Stan Wise, one of Georgia’s elected Public Service Commissioners, said he was not a candidate for the job.
Wise lives in east Cobb and has been friends with Dwight Brown for two decades, and some insiders had told the Journal that Wise was Brown’s “hand-picked successor.”
In a statement emailed to reporters Monday morning, Wise said, “In recent days there has been much speculation over my possible candidacy for chief executive officer of Cobb EMC. I am not a candidate for CEO of Cobb EMC. The next CEO faces tremendous challenges, but I am convinced the organization’s leadership and dedicated employees are capable of restoring public confidence.”
Cobb’s criminal and civil courts have taken up issues and people related to Cobb EMC in recent days, and that will continue next month.
Last Thursday, a unanimous Cobb County grand jury indicted Dwight T. Brown on 35 felony criminal counts. Ironically, the indictments were read in court before Superior Court Judge Robert Flournoy III, who in March threw out a previous criminal indictment against Brown on a technicality.
Brown is free on a signature bond on the charges.
The 89-page indictment accuses Brown of a pattern of racketeering activity dating to 1997, when he, “together with directors of Cobb EMC … devised and intended to devise a scheme to acquire and maintain interests in Cobb Energy, consisting of preferred and common stock, control of Cobb EMC and Cobb Energy, and personal property, including United States currency.”
Brown is also now facing charges he threatened and intimidated witnesses by participating in filing a civil suit in February, following his Jan. 6 indictment, against people “who allegedly cooperated with the prosecution with regard to the prosecution of Dwight T. Brown and the investigation of Cobb EMC directors.” Brown and the other plaintiffs quickly dropped that lawsuit.
Most, if not all, of the charges accuse Brown of acting “in concert with directors of Cobb EMC,” though none of the 10 directors have been charged.
But the 10 directors of Cobb EMC are still heading to court for a status hearing regarding the settlement agreement in the 2007 lawsuit filed by Carr on behalf of a handful of members.
Cobb Superior Court Judge Stephen Schuster ordered all 10 Cobb EMC directors to appear in his courtroom at 9 a.m. Aug. 12.