No, no, no … Thank you

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Since last Saturday’s (Oct. 3) Socorro Electric Cooperative District 3 Board of Trustees elections — during which a trio of reform candidates scored what would appropriately be called “shocking” upsets — we at El Defensor Chieftain have heard a lot of compliments for our coverage of the Co-op, bringing to light some of the antics the board employed to retain its power over the member-owners. Things like circumventing last year’s annual meeting, closing regular board of trustees meetings by claiming executive session for no good reason and hiding portions of the annual audit they don’t want you to see.

 

 

“It wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for what you guys did,” one Co-op member told me following last Saturday’s vote.

“Without the Chieftain’s reporting of the news, our news and the trustees’ messages would not have reached the community,” one of the winners said.

“Thank you,” was all one appreciative woman said after the adjournment of the business meeting, during which proposed amendments to the bylaws that would put a cap on the benefits trustees receive annually and “force” the board to adopt the New Mexico Open Meetings Act were overwhelmingly approved. Those amendments will now be put up to vote at next year’s annual members meeting.

It was a shocking victory for reformists, and a stunning defeat for the three incumbents who have served a combined 60 years on the board.

It’s nice to hear “thank you,” but if there’s any thanks to be given it should go to the member-owners who gave up part of their Saturday to come out to Finley Gym and cast a vote. They paid attention to what was happening and mobilized to do something about it.

Power to the people! That’s something the Co-op provides to homes and businesses all over Socorro and Catron counties, but something the board of trustees seemed to go to great lengths to keep from its member-owners when it came to having a say in determining how their Co-op was run.

The annual meeting last April was a good example. That’s when the board president announced at the outset of the business meeting that there was a quorum for the first time in four years, only to have the board’s vice president call a point of order to claim that many people had left after voting and there was no longer a quorum.

It was a neat trick. That way, they didn’t have to hear from member-owners who planned to introduce reform-related motions that would interfere with them conducting business as usual.

But the problem was it appeared orchestrated and there were too many witnesses to the event. It was so blatant and so arrogant, it was obvious to many members still present that these trustees could not be trusted.

By all accounts, the road to this revelation began with an article by Thomas J. Cole that first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal, and was reprinted in El Defensor Chieftain on April 2, 2008. Cole reported that the SEC board of trustees incurred the highest expenses — by far — than any of the other 16 electric cooperatives in the state. Using data from 2006 tax returns, Cole reported that SEC’s 11-member board received $275,178 in compensation that year – about $118,000 more than any other Co-op in the state. Average compensation amounted to a little more than $25,000 per trustee for non-salaried positions.

We picked up the story from there, started regularly attending trustees meetings, started asking questions and started bringing some of these issues to light. Because that’s the role of a newspaper in a community — to objectively report facts, and that’s what we did.

To be fair, I should present the other side of the story. We do have our detractors. There are people who have called us biased — that we misrepresented the story and manipulated our readers into believing that there was something unsavory going on behind those closed board meeting doors. Those people are entitled to their opinion.

Did our coverage of the SEC cost us money? It sure did. But we’re not going to let the loss of advertising revenue get in the way of doing the people’s business — that being serving as the eyes and ears of the community. We may have lost a little off the bottom line but it’s worth the cost if we can affect positive change and put money back in people’s pockets, especially during these hard economic times.

So you don’t have to thank us — we were just doing our job. Thank you for reading.

Last is general manager of El Defensor Chieftain.