ATLANTA - Thousands of people in two north Georgia counties are fuming about a scandal inside their local electric power co-op.
The bad feelings have built since Channel 2 Action News broke the story that the longtime chairman of the board had run up a nearly $50,000 unpaid power bill.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher discovered EMC officials knew about it for years.
Internal documents obtained by Belcher reveal the board was briefed on the long overdue bills in April.
The current general manager of Blue Ridge EMC was reprimanded and a report by an outside lawyer now reveals that the special treatment for the Blue Ridge chairman had gone on for years.
Blue Ridge Mountain EMC serves tens of thousands of customers in north Georgia.
Many struggle to pay their power bills and know they'll probably be cut off if they don't.
So people were shocked when we broke the story about longtime Blue Ridge chairman Terry Taylor, whose company ran up an unpaid bill of nearly $50,000.
And the chairman's link to the company was clearly noted on the bill. Word moved very quickly through places like Blairsville and Hiawassee.
“People (are) very upset. I mean they're mad about that. There ain't no doubt about it. That's all you ever hear everywhere you go,” radio show host Steven Phillips said.
“People are just saying how
disgusted they are with the way our EMC has operated,” said Charles Jenkins, a former state legislator.
Both Phillips and Jenkins know what happens when you don't pay your Blue Ridge bill.
"They give you so many days and they turn your power off, and that's it,” Jenkins said.
Phillips and Jenkins are both running for election to the EMC board, hoping to change an organization that allowed its own chairman to run up a huge unpaid bill.
Plenty of others are also furious.
Bob Short worked for several governors and for Zell Miller when he was a U.S. senator. He says the board clearly dropped the ball.
“I think they should admit that if they didn't know about all this as it happened, that they're just telling us that they have not been good public servants,” Short said.
Records obtained by Channel 2 Action News reveal the Blue Ridge board reprimanded the EMC's current general manager, Matthew Akins, in April.
The board was told the account in question had been handled in this manner for quite some period of time under the preceding general manager.
Belcher paid a visit to the EMC's new multimillion-dollar headquarters in Hiawassee to see if he could question Akins.
Belcher was told Akins was not in. Akins never called Belcher back after he left his business card.
Belcher also never got a response from now
-retired EMC Chairman Terry Taylor, despite twice leaving his card at his home.
“If it turns out that, that this was perfectly honest and legitimate, then I have no complaint,” Short said. “But I want the money back that that fellow has that belongs to us.”
But it was not legitimate.
The outside attorney hired to investigate the scandal documented that Taylor got special treatment as far back as 2008 and even paid off a $52,000 overdue bill in 2011, only to run up another big bill.
Taylor retired from the board last spring and the board later apologized.
Jeff Langley, the District Attorney for the two counties in question, told Channel 2 Action News the GBI interviewed one person about the billing controversy, but the agency says it has not opened a criminal investigation. Both Langley and the State Attorney General’s Office say they, too, have not opened a criminal investigation.