The Petit Jean Electric Cooperative Story
Petit Jean Electric Cooperative has an exciting and rich history now spanning over 80 years, a history paralleling significant national and state level political and economic developments. Unfortunately, for many of today's newer generations, the critical battle for rural electrification goes unknown. Perhaps even more frustrating is the fact that many people confuse Petit Jean Electric Cooperative with Investor-Owned Utilities (or IOUs), like Entergy and SWEPCO. Yet, the difference between Petit Jean Electric Cooperative and an IOU is as different as night and day. Obviously, this difference would go unknown if the story of rural electrification, and specifically the story of Petit Jean Electric Cooperative, were not communicated to each succeeding generation. Hence, the purpose of this web page. At Petit Jean Electric we are quite proud of our heritage and our story. It is a story of courage, community, commitment and cooperation that continues to this day.
Perhaps the Petit Jean Electric Cooperative story can be communicated best within the rubric of three basic concepts: member ownership, member control, and member benefits. First, Petit Jean Electric Cooperative is literally the members' business. In other words, Petit Jean Electric Cooperative is owned by the members it serves. In fact, the cooperative consists in and literally is its members. Therefore, a cooperative is only as strong and healthy as its community base, and any cooperative at its best is necessarily a service-oriented and community-building entity. When a cooperative fails to be service-oriented and community-building, it only undermines and inflicts damage upon itself. When the community thrives so does the cooperative, and vice versa. In short, Petit Jean Electric Cooperative is a member-owned, service-oriented and community-building organization.
In contrast, IOUs are directed by nonresident stockholders who have little or no necessary interest in the community, other than making a profit for the company and themselves, unfortunately often at the expense of community. Consequently, IOUs are inherently profit-oriented and company-building entities. Hence, by nature and design, IOUs are ultimately interested only in their return for their investment, not the product or service that should be provided, or the benefit a community might derive from its activities.
The stark difference between the IOU profit-oriented/company-building approach and the rural cooperative service-oriented/community-building approach is clearly reflected in the history of America's rural electric cooperatives. As difficult as it may be to imagine today, prior to 1935 just ten percent of America's countryside had electricity in the home. Companies providing electricity were for the most part profit-oriented, company-building IOUs. Making a profit was the fundamental and topmost imperative. Therefore, because of the low population base and low density of rural areas, IOUs deemed rural America unprofitable, and therefore rural America was abandoned. Consequently, rural America remained in the dark until 1935, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt established by executive order the Rural Electrification Administration (renamed the Rural Utility Service in October 1994). In 1936 this executive order was next signed into law. With this new means of financing, rural communities throughout America were now enabled to come together in cooperation, organization and hard work, making rural electrification a reality. The result of this hard work, sacrifice, and cooperation within many rural communities was a local cooperative, hence Petit Jean Electric Cooperative. If it were not for our members today and of course the previous members' shoulders upon which we stand, Petit Jean Electric simply would not exist today. Thus, Petit Jean Electric is "owned by" and "belongs to" its members.
Second, Petit Jean Electric is member controlled. Members control the cooperative by electing a board of directors to act on their behalf. As a member, one's vote is one's voice. There is always member representation and control of the cooperative because their duly elected board of directors shapes the policy for the cooperative. The manager of a cooperative is in charge of the day-to-day operation of the co-op; however, the manager always serves at the direction of the member-elected, member-directed board.
At this point it is important to add that member control brings with it responsibility. Ownership, control, and responsibility are all inextricably bound together. It is the responsibility of every member to work toward making the cooperative successful through a number of important ways - for example, participating in the election of the board of directors, making oneself wise regarding the cooperative philosophy, minimizing operational costs by timely payment of electric bills, practicing electrical safety precautions at home and at work, and so forth. When the cooperative's members exercise responsible control, its members can be assured that the community will enjoy increasing success and benefits.
Third, since Petit Jean Electric is member-owned and member-controlled; it is in business solely to serve its members in a way that will benefit them. These benefits are manifested in a number of ways: low costs, reliable power, efficient service, community involvement and support, and so on. Since the cooperative operates on an "at cost basis," members get the best possible service with the greatest possible reliability at the lowest possible price. Beyond the product or service itself, one of the most apparent benefits is the return of "margins" to members. Since Petit Jean Electric is a "non-profit" organization, the balance of monies remaining after actual and projected expenses is returned to the membership. Once a year, a formal accounting determines the cooperative's income and expenses. After deducting all expenses and projecting all future maintenance and growth needs for sustained reliability and stability, income remaining is then distributed in proportion to usage. At Petit Jean Electric Cooperative these refunds to our members are called "capital credits."
Petit Jean Electric is also in a unique position to bring other benefits to its service areas through community involvement and support. Petit Jean Electric makes significant contributions to their communities in an everyday, business-as-usual kind of way. These contributions to the community can take many shapes and forms. For example, it may be a matter of providing leadership in economic development projects, supporting an Arkansas Game and Fish Hunter's Education Safety Course, organizing a Morgan Nick Amber Alert Photo ID Day, making meeting space available for community groups, participating in career days at high schools, or teaching youngsters about electric safety.
Petit Jean's members have every reason to be pleased with their heritage and history - the developments, accomplishments and advances - over the past 80 plus years. A thumbnail sketch of Petit Jean's specific history is very revealing, not to mention gratifying:
- The Rural Electrification Administration was created by Executive Order 7037 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed on May 11, 1935.
- On May 21, 1936, Roosevelt signed into law the Rural Electrification Act making the Rural Electric Association (REA) (now RUS) a permanent agency.
- Under this enabling legislation and the "Electric Cooperative Corporation Act" of the state of Arkansas, Petit Jean Electric Cooperative was organized on October 5, 1940 in Morrilton, Arkansas. The papers were filed with the Secretary of State on October 7, 1940.
- The Articles of Incorporation were signed by:
M. Hawkins Hattieville
A. O. Hoyt Adona
Elmer E. Parette Morrilton
A. W. Thomas Plumerville
Mrs. Charles W. Davis Morrilton
E. C. Davis Plumerville
V. H. Merrick Lanty
Homer Harrison Morrilton
Harry Wolverton Formosa
- Between October 1940 and March 1942 these and others went throughout the countryside soliciting the $5.00 membership fee to join the cooperative and agreeing to take electric service when (and if) the lines were built.
- Pearl Harbor attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941. America declares a state of war against the nation of Japan. America soon joins the Allies against the Axis powers. No lines were built during this time.
- Petit Jean was incorporated January 12, 1942.
- In March 1942, the REA approved Petit Jean Electric's first loan. Most of the proceeds from the loan would go toward purchasing the Clinton Light & Ice Company facilities later that year in September. The first lines Petit Jean Electric had were those purchased from the Clinton Light and Ice Company in September 1942.
- On March 13, 1942, a meeting of the Board of Directors (Incorporators) met and made the decision to locate the general office of the Cooperative in Morrilton. At this meeting Mr. J. A. Mobley was hired as Superintendent and authority was given him to purchase the equipment needed to set up a temporary office.
- At a special meeting on June 12, 1942 the board:
a. Agreed to buy the Clinton Light and Ice Company from Clarence H. Tingley, Sr.; Accepted the membership applications of the incorporators (being same as directors) and elected the first officers as follows:
President M. Hawkins
Vice-President V. H. Merrick
Secretary-Treasurer Elmer E. Parette
b. Adopted the official seal of the Petit Jean Electric Cooperative.
c. Agreed to purchase insurance for the cooperative and to pay the first year's premium from the first advance of any loan funds from REA.
d. Elected Edgar Gordon as Project Survey Coordinator to solicit members. Each director also had the charge of soliciting members in their communities.
- At a September 22, 1942 meeting:
a. A committee was appointed to examine applications for a manager of the Clinton acquisition.
b. Customers of the Clinton Light and Ice Company were accepted as members of Petit Jean Electric Cooperative and the current bills of the company were bought.
c. The cooperative took over all assets & contracts of Clinton Light and Ice Company at 4:00 P.M.
1) The Company was serving approximately 780 accounts in Clinton, Shirley, Damascus, Bee Branch, Formosa and Choctaw in Van Buren County; Quitman in Cleburne County; and Guy in Faulkner County over 61 miles of line.
2) The Company generated a part of its power with a diesel generator located at their Clinton facility and purchased the remainder of their power needs from Arkansas Power & Light (AP&L) Company under an August 22, 1935 agreement. The Cooperative continued purchasing all of its wholesale power needs from AP&L under this agreement through 1965.
3) In 1966, Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC), a Generation and Transmission Cooperative, formed years earlier, began to generate electricity and Petit Jean Electric bought a part of its wholesale power from them.
4) In 1967, AECC started providing all of Petit Jean's wholesale power needs.
d. Petit Jean Electric Cooperative moved its office from Morrilton to Clinton.
- At an October 22, 1942 meeting, the Petit Jean Board of Directors:
a. Adopted the existing rates of the Clinton Light and Ice Company as Petit Jean Electric's rates as follows:
Residential 15 kWh $1.50 (minimum)
Next 15 kWh $1.58
Next 30 kWh $1.57
Next 90 kWh $1.55
Over 150 kWh $1.53
Commercial 20 kWh $2.00 (minimum)
Next 40 kWh $2.08
Next 90 kWh $2.06
Next 150 kWh $2.04
Over 300 kWh $2.03
- The January 1943 financial report showed a total of 783 accounts billed:
Number and Class Average Usage Average Amount
153 Farm 22 kWh $2.04
455 Non-farm Residential 31 kWh $2.51
175 Commercial 63 kWh $5.16
783 Total Accounts 34 kWh $3.03
- At a special board meeting on February 23, 1943, Clarence H. Tingley was hired as Superintendent (subject to REA approval) to replace J. A. Mobley who resigned.
- March 12, 1943, Mr. Tingley was put on payroll as Superintendent, pending REA confirmation.
- At a July 13, 1943 meeting, a letter from Mr. M. Hawkins was presented in which he had asked to be released as a board member because a shortage of gasoline and tires were preventing him from attending board meetings regularly.
- During World War II, at a meeting on August 10, 1943, a general discussion was held on the possibility of solving the nation's food shortage by obtaining energy connections for all farmers who were eligible.
- On July 12, 1944, Mr. Tingley resigned and Mr. G. D. Davenport was named as Acting Manager.
- On July 18, 1944, Mr. E. D. Chapin was employed as Manager.
- On December 15, 1944, Petit Jean received a loan from the REA for $150,000.
- On April 19, 1945, Mr. K. B. Hartin is employed as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) General Manager.
- On October 9, 1945, Petit Jean purchased 22.2 miles of 6,900 volt single phase line from AP&L, starting at Wonderview School and extending to and through Scotland at a cost of $17,686. This almost tripled the area being served by Petit Jean.
- Through the last half of the 1940's, the co-op continued to sign on more and more members and extend lines as they could. The January 1950 financial report reveals growth to a total of 3,255 accounts billed with 671 miles of line:
Number and Class Average Usage Average Amount
1,867 Farms 56 kWh $2.70
1,000 Non-farm Residential 78 kWh $3.28
388 Commercial 205 kWh $6.04
3,255 Total Accounts 81 kWh $3.29
- In the 1950s, what is now the Marshall Branch office was purchased, along with its service area power lines, from Carol Electric.
- The January 1960 financial report indicates growth to a total of 1,517 miles of line and 5,272 accounts billed. Now nearly double the number of farms in the Petit Jean Electric service area were receiving electricity.
Number and Class Average Usage Average Amount
3,392 Farms 169 kWh $5.23
1,416 Non-farm Residential 215 kWh $5.95
464 Commercial/Public Bldgs. 205 kWh $6.04
5,272 Total Accounts 204 kWh $6.08
- In 1963 a new Marshall Branch office building is constructed on highway 65.
- On July 12, 1966, Mr. K.B. Hartin retires as CEO and General Manager.
- Mr. Ralph Bittle is hired as CEO and General Manager on August 1, 1966.
- The January 1970 financial report indicates growth to a total of 1,755 miles of line and 7,131 accounts.
Number and Class Average Usage Average Amount
6,460 Residential 466 kWh $9.82
671 Commercial/Public Bldgs. 1,963 kWh $35.57
7,131 Total Accounts 607 kWh $12.24
- On March 6, 1975, Mr. Ralph Bittle retires as CEO and General Manager.
- Between March 6, 1975 and July 1, 1975, Mr. J.D. Todd serves as Interim CEO and General Manager.
- Mr. Victor McCoy is hired as CEO and General Manager on July 1, 1975.
- On December 2, 1982, Petit Jean Electric's main office and plant were completely flooded out during the Great Clinton Flood. In spite of the severe and extensive flooding of all of Petit Jean's offices and the entire pole yard, operations continued unabated, thanks to the commitment of Petit Jean's committed and faithful work force. A number of months were spent cleaning offices, including file recovery and drying, and equipment. However, because all of Petit Jean's records were backed up, accurate accounting and service to our members was without interruption.
- On March 1, 1987, Mr. Victor McCoy retires as CEO and General Manager.
- Mr. J.D. Todd, already employed since August 13, 1973, is hired as CEO and General Manager on March 1, 1987.
- The January 2000 financial report shows 17,600 total accounts with 3,092 miles of electric distribution line, five times as many accounts and three times the miles of line 50 years before. After much growth over the years and several expansion projects to accommodate this growth at the old Clinton Light and Ice Co. building and surrounding yard in downtown Clinton, the Board of Directors decide that the number and size of modern trucks and equipment, the number of current personnel, the increased needs for greater administration spaces, not to mention preparing for future growth concerns, requires a different location and a new office and plant.
- Construction of the new Petit Jean Main Office located at 270 Quality Drive begins in June 2000.
- Under the leadership of CEO and General Manager J.D. Todd, Petit Jean Electric moves to its present location in the Clinton Industrial Park in September 2001. This move is memorable to many since it was the same month of the terrorist attacks upon America.
- Mr. J.D. Todd retires as CEO and General Manager on January 2, 2004.
- On November 11, 2003, Mr. David Fugitt is hired as CEO and General Manager.
- Mr. David Fugitt retires as CEO and General Manager on January 5, 2010.
- Mr. Bill Conine is hired as CEO and General Manager on September 1, 2009.
- Mr. Bill Conine retires as CEO and General Manager on March 29, 2019.
- Mr. Michael Kirkland is hired as CEO and General Manager on March 25, 2019.