Co-op trustees still stonewalling on matters of transparency

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It appears Socorro Electric Cooperative’s board of trustees is intent on continuing its unfortunate policy of obstruction and stonewalling concerning the release of information the co-op’s owners have demanded and have a right to know.

By overwhelming margins, member-owners of the public, nonprofit corporation voted to adopt new bylaws at the annual meeting in April that call for the board to conduct business with greater transparency.
It was clear then, as it is now, that the will of the people is to hold the board to the same standard as other elected officials by requiring them to abide by the Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Act. And under the democratic principles this country and rural electric cooperatives were founded on, the trustees are obligated to carry out the wishes of the people they represent.
That’s not happening.
The trustees have made some concessions they can point to and say an effort is being made to implement the open meetings guidelines used by municipal and state entities. Board meetings are being advertised, recording devices are allowed at meeting, a public comment period is on the agenda for regular meetings, and agendas are made available upon request.
But those concessions are only veneer to what appears to be the trustee’s hard-core conviction that the business of the co-op is nobody’s business but their’s.
They’ve made their position clear repeatedly in the months since the sunshine measures were passed.
Most obvious is the ill-advised lawsuit the board chose to file against its approximately 10,000 member-owners to block three bylaws calling for increased transparency. Though they’ve since realized their mistake and took action to dismiss the lawsuit, they can’t take it back because there have been answers and counterclaims filed. By stubbornly hunkering down against the member-owners, it seems they’ve dug themselves a hole so deep they can’t climb out.
Then there’s the matter of a draft of the open meetings bylaw presented by Rev. Doug May, a member-owner who, in his kind way, offered the board a bylaw they can abide by. The board has had this document in their hands since June, but it hasn’t gotten past the bylaw committee. The last report on its status was that it was going to be reviewed by the co-op’s attorney — the same attorney who advised the board to challenge the same bylaw with a lawsuit.
More evidence of the board’s obstruction is that it has denied requests from member-owners for financial information to which they are entitled. A New Mexico Supreme Court ruling (Shein v. Northern Rio Arriba Electric Cooperative, 1997) has already made that determination. A new bylaw passed in April supports it. But the board has chosen to ignore the state’s highest court and the mandate of the people who literally own the co-op.
It has also recently come to light that the board has taken votes during executive session — a big no-no when it comes to conducting business with openness.
Co-op President Paul Bustamante claimed ignorance of the rule, but that’s a poor excuse. This board has had seven months to educate itself. It passed on an ideal opportunity when the Attorney General’s Office held its “road show” in Socorro, an event designed specifically to educate people about the Open Meetings and Inspection of Public Records acts.
Given the financial irregularities, the poor audit reports, the questionable dealings and the litigation in which the co-op is currently embroiled, member-owners have legitimate concerns. It’s way past time for the co-op’s board of trustees to stop its obstructive tactics and stonewalling of the people it was elected to represent.