CEO’s Annual Meeting Message

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on gatherings of large groups of people, Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative’s 73rd Annual Members’ Meeting was shifted from an in-person celebration to a virtual business meeting May 1.

Members voted electronically or mailed in their ballots, and were invited to submit questions and make motions in advance. CEO John Bartley’s message to the members follows.

CEO John Bartley’s Message to the Members

CEO John Bartley delivers his message to members during the virtual meeting.

Welcome. Thank you for joining us today for Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative’s 73rd Annual Members’ Meeting. I’m your cooperative’s CEO and general manager, John Bartley. Thank you for taking the time this beautiful Saturday morning to engage with your co-op.

Last year, the COVID-19 virus forced us to hold our meeting virtually for the first time. All of us at your electric co-op were certainly hoping that conditions would allow for us to have our in-person meeting in Wewahitchka this year with good food, good people, and good music, but 2021 continues to be an unusual year.

In order to comply with the recommendations of the Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, we had to make the decision early in 2021 to have another virtual meeting in order to keep our members and employees safe. We greatly appreciate everyone’s flexibility and patience and are grateful for you taking the time to join us this morning.

I would like to start by thanking each of you, our member-owners, for your participation in our election. We had 3,834 members, roughly 23% of our membership, take the time to mail in their ballots or to cast their votes online.

Stay tuned! Later, we will announce the winners of the gift cards, electric bill credits, and the Chevrolet Trailblazer. We are proud to offer these prizes to our membership in appreciation of you taking the time to participate in the democracy of your cooperative. And remember: Every member who voted will receive a $5 bill credit!

We also later will announce our scholarship winners. We had 33 high school seniors from 12 high schools apply to win one of 10 $1,000 awards. We are delighted to assist these students as they continue their education at a college, university, or technical school.

While we are on the subject of our younger generation, as you know, due to COVID-19, last year was the first time in more than 50 years that there was not an electric cooperative Youth Tour, and sadly, NRECA had to make the difficult decision to cancel this year’s tour as well. This decision was made to protect the students, the chaperones, and their families. However, plans are being made for a 2022 tour, and we look forward to continuing the tradition of recognizing our great students.

During a typical summer, our local educators would be headed to the Empower Energy Education Workshop. But, as you know, this year has been anything but typical. Due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, this workshop was canceled. Plans are being made to resume the workshop in summer 2022. But in the meantime, we are proud to provide our teachers with a variety of learning materials to utilize related to cooperatives and utilities.

I want to thank the management and employees for doing their part in this pandemic response. We are lucky to have such incredible people working behind the scenes and around the clock to power our homes, businesses, and communities. Through storms, pandemics, and whatever else comes our way, your cooperative’s employees and board are here to keep the power on and serve you, our members.

Not only are these men and women keeping the lights on here at home, they are also assisting other electric cooperative member-owners. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season set a record for U.S named storm landfalls. In September, we responded to an SOS from a sister cooperative in Alabama, Baldwin EMC. We sent 15 employees to assist in power restoration efforts following Hurricane Sally.

A little more than a month later, 11 more employees were headed back to Baldwin’s service territory to restore power following Hurricane Zeta. After completing work there, our employees moved north to Clarke-Washington EMC’s service territory to help them restore their power.

I am extremely proud of these employees for sacrificing time away from their families to travel to another state and work long hours, answering the call for help.

Linework is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Keeping our employees safe is our top priority. Our employees participate in safety training, from first aid and CPR to lineworker safety training. I am proud of our employees for currently working 151 days with no lost-time accidents.

We continue to be 100% compliant with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. We go to great lengths to ensure all employees receive safety training required by OSHA and that all of our offices and equipment adhere to OSHA standards.

In 2020, we trimmed the rights-of-way on Crooked Lane, Highway 77 near the Crystal Lake Substation, Wewahitchka area, and the Overstreet area. Throughout the next couple of months, we will be in the Fountain area trimming, cutting, and removing vegetation from the cooperative rights-of-way. We ask that you please mark anything buried underground that can be harmed by our trucks and heavy equipment. We will need access to fenced-in areas.

If vegetation comes into contact with power lines, it can interfere with your and your neighbors’ electric service and cause a potentially dangerous situation. It is vital the vegetation be cleared from power lines to provide reliable electric service and prevent hazardous conditions. We realize most property owners regard trees as an asset, and federal law states it is our responsibility to keep everyone safe and eliminate hazardous conditions in the rights-of-way. We certainly work with each of you to preserve landscaping when maintaining rights-of-way. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work to bring you quality, reliable service.

GCEC continues to recover from Hurricane Michael. The Category 5 storm inflicted more than $84 million in damage to our distribution system. To cover these hurricane-related expenses, the cooperative had to acquire an emergency line of credit in the amount of $75 million from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation. The interest charges on this line of credit cost us more than $100,000 a month currently and have cost us $4 million to date.

In 2019, we made the difficult decision to adjust rates to recover a portion of the Hurricane Michael restoration costs. Our rates had not been adjusted since 2012, but the tremendous expense associated with the storm made this unavoidable.

In June 2019, our members began seeing this “storm cost recovery” line item on their bills. Revenue collected through this rider is used only for storm restoration costs and will be in effect for a maximum of five years, or no later than 2024. The Federal Emergency Management Agency typically pays 75% or less of hurricane restoration costs, and the applicant covers the remainder. This rider will cover that difference.

In the meantime, we are continuing to negotiate with FEMA and the Florida Department of Emergency Management for reimbursement of large portions of our recovery costs, and the goal of this is to reduce the impact of these costs being passed on to you, our members. These are reimbursements we need and deserve. So far, we have secured reimbursement for close to one-third of our Hurricane Michael repair expenses. We will continue these negotiations so we may keep the cooperative financially sound while at the same time impacting your power bills as little as possible.

In that same line, we greatly appreciate Congressman Neal Dunn and Congressman Darren Soto introducing the FEMA Loan Interest Payment Relief Act requiring FEMA to reimburse not only storm damage but local governments and electric cooperatives for interest incurred on loans while we’re awaiting their FEMA payments to us. Unfortunately, the interest paid on emergency loans is a cost passed on to taxpayers and ratepayers, and this legislation will bring much-needed relief to our consumer-members continuing to rebuild from Hurricane Michael. If this bill is passed into law, this will save GCEC and each of you, our members, millions in interest as we wait and fight for FEMA reimbursement.

The bright side is we can see how much progress we have made—not only as a co-op but as a community. In July 2020, we rebuilt a 1-mile span of line downed by Hurricane Michael in the Howards Creek area, Brothers River. The area had to be accessed by boat. Unable to use bucket trucks, linemen had to climb poles and work using their hooks.

A major focus this past year was the election. Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative is a Five-Star Co-op. That means we encourage our consumer-members to learn about federal, state, and local elections and help make sure they are registered to vote; empower consumer-members to make independent, educated decisions about voting for the future of their cooperative and community; to engage with elected officials by inviting them to visit the cooperative and meet with the co-op’s consumer-members; and develop a political game plan to advance and advocate for issues on behalf of their cooperative.

GCEC has 100% ACRE participation on behalf of its employees and trustees. ACRE is the Action Committee for Rural Electrification. The NRECA’s federal political action committee and supports candidates for the U.S. House and Senate—those in office now and running for office—who will speak for and protect the interests of electric cooperatives and their consumer-owners.

GCEC member-owners have the opportunity to be politically active through ACRE Co-op Owners for Political Action program. If you are interested, please contact our office.

One of the most important endeavors that every single employee at our co-op has been focused diligently on for the past two years is GCEC’s 50-year contract to own and maintain the electric and water distribution systems at Tyndall Air Force Base. We have completed many water and electric projects, including replacing aging infrastructure. Today, our primary duty is helping Tyndall AFB fulfill its mission to help recover and rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Michael. We are proud to be a part of Team Tyndall, actively helping build the base of the future, for Tyndall, our community, and our country.

As of today, our office lobbies remain temporarily closed to protect our members and employees from the potential spread of COVID-19. However, our employees are still working to deliver safe, affordable, and reliable power. Our drive-thrus are open, and we are answering our phones during regular business hours. And don’t forget, our drop boxes, automated phone system, and website are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for payments or for reporting power outages.

We are excited to announce another way to pay your GCEC bill: through the checkout lane at participating retailers such as CVS Pharmacy, Dollar General, and Family Dollar.

Visit the GCEC SEDC Checkout website. After you input your GCEC account number and verify your address, you will receive a barcode unique to you. You can email the barcode to yourself, print it, or save it as a picture on your phone. Then, find participating retailers on a map. The map indicates if the retailer accepts digital or printed barcodes.

When you are ready to check out, ask the cashier to scan your barcode, then tell the cashier the dollar amount to apply to your bill. Once you make your payment, it is applied to your account within minutes. This is an advantage for our members who can pay their bills closer to home or while they are shopping. It is all about convenience for you, our members.

GCEC is looking to roll out more online tools for your account and other marketing programs to assist members. Some examples of this are GenerLink and meter poles.

The GenerLink is a UL-listed, meter-mounted portable generator transfer switch that allows the homeowner to properly connect to a portable generator without the risk of backfeeding onto our energized power lines. GenerLink detects when a generator is operating and automatically disconnects from the utility grid, eliminating the potential for dangerous backfeed, which can electrocute utility workers and anyone who gets near the lines.

GenerLink is installed in 20 minutes or less by utility personnel and does not require the homeowner’s presence. Once installed, you have the flexibility to run virtually any appliance—up to the capacity of your generator—by simply energizing appliances from the breaker panel.

We offer both 30- and 40-amp models. GCEC can provide a list of portable generators that are compatible. Please call our office for more information.

We also began selling both underground and overhead meter poles to anyone, not just GCEC members. If you are interested, please call our office.

We continually evaluate ourselves, and your feedback is sought each day. Co-ops are owned by each of you, the members we serve. We are a nonprofit governed by our board of directors to support you, our members. Our employees live and work right where you do, and our ultimate goal is to provide you with safe, reliable, and cost-effective energy services. Thank you for being a member of our cooperative. I appreciate the opportunity to serve you, and we are grateful for your patronage and support. I encourage you to follow us on Facebook and keep an eye on our newly renovated and user-friendly website and monthly Florida Currents magazine for updates.

In closing, I encourage all of you to help each other and take care of one another. We can look out for our neighbors, friends, and family. We can help those most impacted by closures and cancellations due to COVID, and we can bring groceries to an elderly neighbor who is too vulnerable to go to the store. We are all in this together, and we are moving through a fluid situation, and we’re doing all we can to make sure that not only our members are safe, but the employees at the cooperative are also safe and healthy. The decisions we make are not taken lightly, and I hope all of you can remain patient with us as we get through the coming weeks and months.

Thank you again for your time and attention this morning. If you know of a member who missed this broadcast live, we will post a recording online at our website, on our Annual Members' Meeting page. Thank you very much.

Board of Directors

  • Rupert Brown, Jimmy Black, and Robert Byrd ran uncontested and were reelected to the Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative Board of Directors.

Congratulations, Prize Winners!

  • Sharon Calhoun of Southport won the grand prize: a 2005 Chevy Trailblazer.
  • All members who submitted ballots for Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative directors and bylaw amendments received $5 bill credits and were entered in a drawing for all prizes: the Trailblazer, 10 $100 bill credits, and 80 $25 gift cards.
  • Winners for 10 $1,000 scholarships were also drawn.

Gift Card Winners

  • Johnny Kennington, Chipley
  • John Johnson, Chipley
  • Charles Cottle, Panama City
  • Michael Britcher, Chipley
  • Kristen Smith, Kinard
  • William Stiefel, Blountstown
  • Carl Stadtmiller, Chipley
  • Frank Menge Jr., Panama City
  • Kevin Pettis, Wewahitchka
  • Andrea Nicole Nichols, Southport
  • Gene Salvage, Southport
  • Danny Farmer, Panama City
  • Karl Lorenzo Barbee, Southport
  • Marcheta Toman Sieg, Panama City
  • Jill Barr, Wewahitchka
  • Joseph Railey, Panama City
  • William Smiley, Fountain
  • Tom Stevens, Panama City
  • Walter Westbrook, Youngstown
  • William Thomas Jennings, Southport
  • Iris Wolfe, Youngstown
  • Donald Harcus, Wewahitchka
  • Donald Williams, Wewahitchka
  • Mary Smith, Panama City
  • Cherei Leary, Wewahitchka
  • Patricia Mauldin, Panama City
  • Pam Kay Foster, Wewahitchka
  • Tommy Earle Sizemore, Wewahitchka
  • Southeast Land & Livestock LLC, Panama City
  • Susan Gay, Wewahitchka
  • Betty Roberts, Youngstown
  • Martha Pattillo, Wewahitchka
  • William Landry Jr., Wewahitchka
  • Brenda Halckias, Panama City
  • Linda Hardy, Wewahitchka
  • John Wade Hurst, Wewahitchka
  • Dana Hamway, Chipley
  • Charles Miles, Kinard
  • Rudy Watts, Chipley
  • Flora Rowland, Wewahitchka
  • Debra White, Southport
  • Michael Frank Bush, Wewahitchka
  • Willie English, Southport
  • Jon Royston, Southport
  • John & Gayle Murphy, Wewahitchka
  • Shannon Barlow, Wewahitchka
  • Topeka Humphries, Southport
  • Jason McComas, Wewahitchka
  • Evelyn Grantham, Chipley
  • Frank Hundley, Southport
  • Eric Paul Weber, Southport
  • David Dorn, Southport
  • Tilman James Bryan Jr., Youngstown
  • Anne Morris, Panama City
  • Richard Brookins Jr., Fountain
  • William Todd Tindell, Southport
  • Kathy Buchanan, Wewahitchka
  • John Daniel, Southport
  • Kenneth Williams, Wewahitchka
  • Denise Clayton, Clarksville
  • Jo Light, Southport
  • David Martin, Panama City
  • Robert Johnson, Chipley
  • Saran Sasser, Chipley
  • Tina Richter, Wewahitchka
  • Angeli Fowler, Southport
  • Robert Wiley, Southport
  • Tania Philpot, Chipley
  • O.R. Voellinger, Wewahitchka
  • Bernadette Hackett, Wewahitchka
  • Kris Garrett, Panama City
  • Joyce Glaspell, Fountain
  • Jerrilyn & Richard Johnson, Chipley
  • James Dyess, Southport
  • Vince Taylor, Wewahitchka
  • Peter Sostheim, Southport
  • Wayman Wade Hanlon, Wewahitchka
  • Myrus Strickland, Southport
  • Peter Oliver, Fountain
  • Barbara McSpadden, Southport

Bill Credit Winners

  • Wanda Sue Rollins, Blountstown
  • Michael Barrentine, Altha
  • Michael Dooling, Youngstown
  • Jean Jordan, Southport
  • James Buchanan, Panama City
  • Charles Stringfellow, Wewahitchka
  • Julie Wood, Panama City
  • Chase May, Wewahitchka
  • James Amerson, Chipley
  • Carol Anthony, Panama City

Scholarship Winners

  • Spenser Bagwell: Deane Bozeman School
  • Rebecca Collins: Mountain View High School
  • Avery Fisher: Wewahitchka High School
  • Bristol Lovrekovic: Deane Bozeman School
  • Kobi Lucas: Deane Bozeman School
  • Courtney Newell: Victory Performing Arts Academy
  • Jared Pettis: Deane Bozeman School
  • Analisa Priscilla Treglown: Port St. Joe High School
  • Chloe Tutunick: Bay High Virtual School
  • Kelli Wolinski: Wewahitchka High School