Co-op board did the right thing
Over the past three years, El Defensor Chieftain has editorialized sharply against Socorro Electric Cooperative — or more specifically its board of trustees — in the conflict between them and member-owners of the private, non-profit corporation.
If you were to believe everything you read here, just about everything the trustees have done over that period of time has been exactly the wrong thing to do, exacerbating the situation even more.
So when they do something right, that should be acknowledged. And the co-op’s board of trustees did something right the other night when they voted to drop the preliminary injunction against Charlene West, a leader in the movement to reform the co-op.
Though trustees Leroy Anaya and Milton Ulibarri voted against it, the measure passed 7-2.
We don’t contest or condone what West did to earn the restraining order that kept her from attending board meetings. The infamous “sour grapes” incident she initiated against former trustee Juan Gonzales was uncalled for and crossed the line of civility.
Sure, West, chairwoman of the Socorro Electric Cooperative Reform Committee, had become exceedingly frustrated with a board that embraced secrecy and exhibited a disregard for democracy. She must have taken great joy in seeing Gonzales — a long-standing trustee who famously proclaimed that the co-op didn’t belong to the members, but to the board — ousted in district elections. But her symbolic gesture was more than just disrespectful to Gonzales; it was tantamount to rubbing his nose in it.
Nevertheless, West served her time. That was nearly two years ago. And a lot has changed since then.
Having come out the winner — she having the distinction of being the only individual named in the lawsuit the co-op filed against all of its approximately 10,000 member-owners — her side has been validated by the judge’s ruling. Democracy prevailed and it’s now a part of case law in New Mexico that electric cooperatives are subject to the Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Act, if that’s what the people who really own the co-op want.
West says she doesn’t feel vindicated; she still feels violated, having suffered humiliation, emotional stress and financial loss for having to hire a lawyer to defend the case against her. Hopefully, now that she’ll soon be allowed to attend board meetings again, she’ll show more restraint.
Right now, the relationship between the board and the co-op’s reform-minded members is still a volatile situation. Reform may have won one court battle, but the trustees remain in place and a counterclaim aims for a decisive victory that will have them all removed and literally make them pay for alleged transgressions.
What’s needed most now in this conflict between the co-op’s board of trustees and the member-owners is healing. With that comes restraint, civility and, to some extent at least, forgiveness — from both sides. The trustees action to dissolve the case against West may not have been an act of forgiveness, but it was at least a conciliatory gesture that is a step toward healing.
This time, the board did the right thing. Members are tired of lawsuits. They’ve grown weary of the bickering. They’re fed up with a board that has fought reform all the way. Pursuing further litigation against a leader in the reform movement would only appear spiteful, like a needless waste of money and more sour grapes.