Co-op trustee under attack

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District 5 trustee Charlie Wagner was on the defensive during Socorro Electric Cooperative’s last board of trustees meeting on Dec. 22, charged with some of the same transgressions he’s accused his colleagues of in the past.

Wagner is, in fact, named as representative of the class of member-owners in a proposed class action lawsuit against his fellow trustees and four other former co-op officials. The request for class action certification comes as part of a counterclaim in response to a lawsuit the co-op filed against its approximately 10,000 member-owners last summer. Among other things, the counterclaim alleges trustees engaged in “fraudulent behavior or acts or omissions done in bad faith.”
Several trustees spoke out against Wagner during last week’s meeting, saying he was guilty of that same kind of behavior.

In Defense of Wagner
At the outset of the meeting during the public comment period, Virginia Martin, a member-owner residing in District 1, admonished the board and trustee Donald Wolberg in particular for their treatment of Wagner.
“Mr. Wolberg’s attacks on Mr. Wagner are totally uncalled for and totally offensive,” she said, and referred to the November meeting when Wolberg turned to Wagner and told him, “senility is not an excuse for stupidity.”
“That was beyond the pale,” she said.
Martin went on to say that because the other trustees allowed Wolberg to be so rude, “that makes me think the rest of you are unprofessional.”
Martin returned to Wolberg, calling him “ignorant” for repeatedly making insinuations that Wagner was using co-op money to fund the countersuit and pay “his Texas attorneys.” She said the truth was that attorneys were being paid by members contributing to a fund set up for their legal defense.
But that didn’t stop Wolberg and others from making accusations against Wagner over the course of a meeting that lasted nearly 3 1/2 hours.

Mountain or Molehill?
During approval of expenditures, District 3 trustee Milton Ulibarri questioned two payments made to Wagner for attending New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperatives Association and Environmental Improvement Board meetings.
“The spreadsheet shows $1,200 was paid twice for attending meetings, and he hasn’t paid that back,” Ulibarri said.
Ulibarri made the point that when he was the co-op’s NMREC representative that he paid back $2,501 worth of expenses he incurred for attending three meetings last summer, then got up from the table and provided an El Defensor Chieftain reporter with a receipt to prove it.
Wagner said he fully intended to pay the money back. He told the others that he had written a letter to co-op attorney Dennis Francish inquiring where he stood in terms of the $10,000 expense limit trustees are allowed to incur in a year so he could pay back the balance. Wagner said he only got a written response from Francish that night and he hadn’t even opened the envelope.
Trustee Leo Cordova claimed what Wagner was doing was no different than what two former co-op managers fired in August did when they borrowed money from the co-op and didn’t pay it back in a timely manner.
To that, Wagner responded, “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” which drew laughter from several members of the board.

Out of Order
The matter came up again later in the meeting when co-op President Paul Bustamante said that Wagner was in violation of the bylaw covering spending limits by attending the NMRECA meeting.
Trustee Dave Wade added that Wagner violated it again when he went to the EIB meeting. Wade also claimed that Wagner had taken $900 for a trip to Biloxi, Miss., that he didn’t have coming and accused him of referring to a Hispanic trustee as a “Mexican Chihuahua.”
“Do we let this man do what he wants and tell us all what to do?” Wade asked.
Wade and Cordova both charged Wagner with trying to “steal” money from the co-op.
Ulibarri then made a motion, seconded by Wolberg, that Wagner pay back the money he owed and the motion easily passed.
That wasn’t the end of it, however. Wolberg made the claim that Wagner had accrued $210,000 in expenses over the course of four years.
“Add to that that I’m a serial killer,” Wagner responded in jest.
Tensions increased further a few minutes later when Bustamante called for an executive session just before Wagner was going to bring up a matter under the agenda item “subjects by trustees.”
When Bustamante failed to acknowledge him, Wagner whacked the table with papers he was holding and stood up.
“Mr. Chairman, you’re out of order. You didn’t give me a chance to make my motion,” Wagner said.
Ulibarri, who was seated to Wagner’s left, then stood up, turned to Wagner and said, “You’re out of order right now. You’re out of order right now,” repeating the phrase several times while Wagner continued his protest.

Getting His Chance
After the 35-minute executive session Wagner did have a chance to make his motion, which was to seek outside counsel to eliminate the risk of EEOC claims before hiring a new general manager.
The motion died for lack of a second.
Wagner made another motion that trustees not be allowed to “borrow” from their expense allowance from the upcoming year, which also failed to be seconded.
Yet another motion from Wagner did receive a second from Prescilla Mauldin. That motion called for trustees and employees to produce receipts for reimbursements when money was advanced to them. It was defeated 7-2, with Wagner and Mauldin voting in favor.
The board of trustees will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 11, at 5:30 p.m. to elect officers to 2011. The matter of a petition to recall Bustamante as trustee will also be addressed at that meeting.
The next regular meeting of the board is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 26, at 5:30 p.m.