SEC brings clouds to Sunshine Week

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It didn’t take long for a dark cloud to be cast over my Sunshine Week.

 

 

If you read this column last week you endured my rant about March 14-20 being Sunshine Week, a time to recognize — and even celebrate — open government and the public’s right to access records and information.

The week started off well enough, but by Monday afternoon the clouds rolled in. By then, the Socorro Electric Cooperative had posted alternative resolutions to those passed by member-owners at district meetings last October. These alternative resolutions were drafted and approved by the SEC’s board of trustees.

I did not like what I saw.

The first few were OK. Then I got down to the resolution that would determine the number of trustees.

The member-sponsored resolution called for the number to be reduced from 11 to five. This, presumably, was introduced as a proposal to reduce costs. The SEC board of trustees has been under scrutiny over the amount of expenses it incurs and a board of five trustees would, presumably, spend about half as much as a board of 11.

But the board offers three other alternatives, suggesting seven, nine and keeping it at 11.

My problem with that is in providing three board-sponsored alternatives clouds the issue. It may not be clear that more options actually gives keeping the status quo a decided advantage.

Either you want to reduce the number or you don’t. But it’s not a 50-50 proposition. It’s mathematically possible that 74 percent of the votes could be in favor of reducing the number, but 26 percent in favor of keeping it at 11 could win the day.

It got gloomier — down right ominous — as I scrolled down to proposals dealing with the board’s regular meetings. Two member-sponsored resolutions promoted transparency by stating that all members are welcome to attend board meetings.

But the board-sponsored resolution draws the curtains on sunshine and slams the door on member-owners and the press. It reads: “First item of business at meetings of the board shall allow members and the press to be present and address the board, after which members and the press must leave while the board conducts its business.”

So there you have it straight from the board. They want to conduct all their business in secret.

This resolution didn’t have to be introduced. An option to keep the status quo wasn’t even offered. The message seems clear: Their business is none of our business.

“However, transparency and openness of action are major goals of the SEC.”

The board says so itself at the end of another resolution it prefers to the member-sponsored proposal that “the SEC voluntarily agrees to abide by the Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Act.”

The board’s version flatly states OMA and IPRA — two things I wrote about last week — don’t apply to them, which is true. But there’s nothing stopping them from agreeing to establish some general guidelines for openness. If transparency is truly a major goal, shouldn’t there be a commitment?

I scrolled deeper into the gloaming to find asterisks next to the last two member-sponsored resolutions regarding assurance of fair elections and opening SEC books, records and audits for inspection. Even with restrictions, the board wants you to know “These changes may result in disclosure of confidential member information.”

I’m against disclosing confidential member information, but safeguards to prevent it could be put in place.

These board-sponsored resolutions will appear on the ballot alongside the member-sponsored proposals at the annual meeting April 17. They will be discussed in more detail next Saturday at an informational meeting at Finley Gym.

Maybe then some light can be shed on the resolutions the board has introduced. But what they’ve done for Sunshine Week is introduce overcast skies.

 


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