Question about Cobb EMC’s New CEO: Why Him?

In March 2018, the Cobb EMC Board of Directors announced the selection of a new president and CEO, Peter Heintzelman. Over the next few months, Patrick Thompson, a long-time monitor of Cobb EMC, wrote critical assessments of Heintzelman’s selection and sent them to members of the Board vie emails and to the media.

Patrick Thompson is Vice President of Sales & Alliances at CloudBank | Technology & Energy, a business focusing on technology, energy and sustainability. A Woodstock resident, he ran for the District 11 U.S. House seat in 2012, losing to incumbent Republican Phil Gingrey, and was a candidate for the District 21 Georgia Senate post two years earlier, falling to incumbent Republican Chip Rogers. He is also activist in local community affairs.

Thompson’s criticism focused on the Board’s lack of transparency and failure to involve CEMC members in the selection process. He also made critical remarks about Heintzelman’s previous career, mainly in the financial sector of oil and gas industries.

A separate Cobb EMC watchdog group, the Cobb EMC Forum (cobbemcforum.com), founded by CEMC members, expressed the same conclusion about the lack of transparency in an article: Cobb EMC Lacks Transparency in Hiring of New Top Executives. The Forum noted the lack in appointing a new Chief Financial Officer as well as a new CEO.

In an assessment written about two years ago, the Forum had criticized the Board’s trampling on transparency by imposing rigid requirements on members wishing to attend Board meetings: Members Blocked from Open Board Meetings. The conclusion:

“It seems that our Board of Directors has lost track of the idea of transparency and accommodation of Members whose interest they are required to represent. It appears that if there is a way the Board can prevent a Member from attending an ‘open’ Board meeting, they will.”

Cobb EMC CEO Threatens Legal Action against Critic

On September 6, an attorney for Heintzelman sent a letter to Thompson stating Heintzelman had claims against him for defamation and invasion of privacy for statements made in an email to members of the Cobb EMC Board of Directors and in a letter to the editor of the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger. The lawyer said that Thompson’s statements were wholly misleading and inaccurate and made with a clearly malicious intent.

The lawyer cited various Georgia laws allegedly establishing that the statements constituted libel per se. The letter demanded that Thompson refrain from publishing any more “defamatory remarks” concerning Heintzelman or face legal actions.

IndieDems hopes the conflict between Thompson and Heintzelman can be resolved short of a lawsuit. Two rights are always involved in disputes between a public figure and a layman critic. The critic is acting on the basis of his understanding of his right to freedom of expression. The public official has a right not to be libeled or slandered. In general, American courts give the advantage of the doubt to the critic. Whatever—IndieDems hopes a solution satisfactory to both parties is reached in this dispute.

IndieDems Shares Concerns about CEMC Lack of Transparency

Our first problem with Heintzelman’s selection as CEO was the lack of transparency with which it was done. The Board of Directors acted “behind closed doors,” without involving members in the process. The BOD repeated the pattern in its selection of a new Chief Financial Officer. Cobb EMC Forum expressed it well in its article: “Cobb EMC Lacks Transparency in Hiring of New Top Executives.”

IndieDems also shares Mr. Thompson’s puzzlement about Heintzelman’s credentials to be CEO of Cobb EMC. His career was primarily in the financial side of the energy-related companies he worked for. We are not so much concerned about Heintzelman’s specific acts in his previous employments. The central question for us is: What in heaven’s name was the CEMC Board thinking when it appointed him?

Heintzelman’s last job was as Chief Financial Officer for Alevo USA Inc. when it filed for bankruptcy in August 2017. The company, based in Concord NC, was a U.S. subsidiary of the Swiss company The Alevo Group, in which Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev was the chief investor. Alevo was attempting to produce utility-scale batteries for use on the grid.

Heintzelman was appointed interim CEO of Alevo USA during the restructuring following the bankruptcy. He left the company in February 2018.

The Charlotte (NC) Business Journal reported that the Alevo bankruptcy focused renewed attention on Alevo’s investors. The Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliva( Today’s Business) reported that investors include Russian Oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev and a Norwegian named Gjermund Cappelen, who had been charged in one of that country’s largest drug smuggling cases. (See our post New Cobb EMC CEO & Mueller’s Russia Investigation)

Prior to Alevo, Heintzelman had served as Chief Financial Officer for three other energy-related companies. Heintzelman lived abroad for most of his career, in places like Dubai and London, and traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Heintzelman’s LinkedIn profile summary says:

“Chief Executive Officer and Board Director experienced in energy, services and manufacturing sectors, focused on transforming and growing compelling businesses including acquisitions and divestitures. Experienced operating executive with combined investment banking and corporate operations and finance background.”

The Marietta Daily Journal reported this in its coverage of Heintzelman’s appointment:

  • “Heintzelman…has a background in corporate operations, business strategy and finance in the energy, services and manufacturing sectors…(and) experience guiding companies through transitional and growth periods.”
  • “Heintzelman has worked in operations, investment banking, trading and business development roles at companies across the globe…”
What, Exactly, Does Heintzelman Bring to Cobb EMC?

Those are, indeed, impressive credentials—for someone involved in private sector companies focused on using financial actions to increase shareholders’ stock prices. But what has “investments” and “acquisitions and divestitures” got to do with running a not-for-profit Electric Membership Corporation whose shareholders are its members, concerned about the price of their electricity and the methods by which it is produced—not about the value of their “stocks?”

Georgia, after all, has about 40 EMCs which employ more than 5,900 workers and operate by far the largest distribution network in the state, with 189,473 miles of electric power lines. You would think that out of all that manpower and experience, Cobb EMC could have found someone with the experience in managing an EMC to be the CEO of Cobb EMC—without having to turn to someone who never lived in Georgia, never worked for an EMC, and spent his career abroad in the exotic world of managing financial transactions of multinational oil companies.

Or—is the appointment of Heintzelman, in fact, a harbinger of a totally new orientation of Cobb EMC? Is “investment banking and trading” going to be crucial to CEMC’s future? Is CEMC going through some unique “transitional and growth period” that requires someone with Heintzelman’s experience, instead of someone who knows the nuts and bolts of running an Electric Membership Corporation?

Are we going to see Cobb EMC repeat the mistakes of former CEO Dwight Brown and his Board of Directors and take the corporation into alien wheeling and dealing territory? Let’s hope not. Cobb EMC already owns the for-profit Gas South.

Remember, a good part of the corruption that inflicted Brown’s regime stemmed from the non-profit CEMC getting involved in setting up another for-profit company, Cobb Energy.

  • Remember: It took a lawsuit lasting years and a court ruling to get Cobb EMC officers to undo the palpably wrongful act they had taken.

The corruption eventually led to a lawsuit, the indictment of Brown on over 30 charges of racketeering and theft, and an election that swept the entire Board of Directors out of office. A spirited defense by Brown’s attorneys, led by former Governor Roy Barnes, ultimately succeeded in getting all the charges against him dropped. Click here for the full Marietta Daily Journal article (subscription required)

We members simply want an EMC producing electricity at the lowest rates possible, produced by as environmentally friendly means as possible.

Looking to the Future

The first litmus test of Heintzelman’s leadership will be: what does Cobb EMC do about the transparency issue? The coming to power of new leaders means CEMC members, more than ever, need maximum transparency and involvement in determining the corporations’ future. Board meetings are the primary venue for that transparency and involvement. We await Heintzelman’s decisions.

Because, right now, you members wanting to attend a Board meeting, remember: the CEMC hall monitors—oops, Board members—will be making a list and checking it twice to see if you have a right to be there!

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