Annual meeting offers glimmer of hope for broadband

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Sanford Reaves Jr.

In the lone contested race for the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative Board of Directors, incumbent Rev. Sanford Reaves emerged victorious. 

Reaves, a lifelong resident of Culpeper, has served on the REC Board as the Region IV representative for three years and after last night’s victory, is slated to serve at least another three. His defeated rival, Seth Heald, is co-founder of the grassroots Repower REC campaign, which advocates to improve transparency on the REC Board and also champions residential solar energy.

According to the REC election results, Heald earned 5,921 votes and Reaves finished with an astonishing 14,087. Notably, of the votes Reaves won, 6,633 were “member non-designated,” meaning they were cast by blank proxy — a quirk of the REC democratic election process whereby member-owners can leave their vote blank, allowing the Board to cast blank votes in favor of its preferred candidate. By contrast, Heald garnered only 3 non-designated votes. Excluding blank proxies, Reaves won by a much narrower  (but still significant) 1,530-vote margin.

“Almost 20,000 member-owners made their voices heard in this year’s annual meeting and director election,” said REC Board Chairman Christopher Shipe during the annual meeting. “This is the highest number of participants we’ve had since 1980.”

“I congratulate Rev. Reaves on his win,” Heald said in an emailed statement to the Rappahannock News.

“It appears the increased turnout this year (by a factor of three) is in significant part attributable to the increased prize money (nearly $10,000) REC offered for those who returned proxy forms, even if left blank.

“I got more votes this year than any winning candidate has received in a contested election in the previous 12 years,” Heald continued, “but by increasing the prize money by around five-fold this year REC created a moving target and also encouraged blank proxies. REC also added the word ‘optional’ to the part of the proxy form where voters select a candidate, further encouraging blank proxies.”

Indeed, between 2015 and 2019 most winning candidates earned no more than 5,000 votes. 

Reaves has not responded to the Rappahannock News’s request for a comment on the election results.

REC still on the fence about broadband

At the annual meeting on Wednesday night, new CEO John Hewa addressed the growing concern about broadband in REC’s coverage area. 

“A lot of you are asking what REC can do to expand broadband,” he said. “While broadband brings about great opportunity, it's also a very expensive undertaking and REC must proceed very carefully.”

The CEO assured member-owners, “we have a talented team of employees along with some national consultants that are currently evaluating opportunities for REC.”

Hewa also flagged the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund as a potential source of broadband assistance in the coming months. “Understand we’re very engaged in this topic and we’re very enthusiastic about the future,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Reaves had been a representative on REC's board for 26 years. He has been an REC member for 26 years but on the board for three years.


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