Co-op trustees settle on proposal

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A new plan for realigning districts within Socorro Electric Cooperative’s service area will be brought before members for their approval at next month’s annual meeting. After considerable debate, the co-op’s board of trustees selected one of two proposed plans during its meeting on Feb. 29.

District realignment, something that hasn’t taken place in more than 20 years, was one of a series of reform measures passed by members at the annual meeting in 2010. Though a plan was presented at last year’s annual meeting, a quorum wasn’t present so no changes were approved.

District 3 Trustee Donald Wolberg of Socorro, who served as chairman of the re-districting committee, introduced the plans. He said it was a tremendous challenge dividing up the service area into five districts of approximately equal populations, as members directed them to do. That, he said, wasn’t in accordance with National Rural Electric Cooperative Association guidelines, which state that such things as geographic boundaries and common interests should be taken into consideration.

“It’s not perfect. It doesn’t meet the standards of the national organization, but we’re caught between that and what members ordered us to do,” he said, adding that members didn’t understand the complexities when they passed the resolution two years ago. “We were ordered to devise five districts with as equal populations as possible. We have no choice.”

Another problem, he said, was that there are 9,943 members but about 13,000 accounts, because some members had multiple meters. And those numbers were always fluctuating.

“This is a moving target, because we gain membership and we lose membership,” he said, recommending that redistricting should take place every four years. “Nothing is perfect. These are good tries.”

Wolberg noted that the plans were devised by staff with assistance from Research & Polling, a firm that has worked on realigning legislative and Congressional districts within the state.

Both plans came up with similar populations within districts. Plan A, however, was more uniform geographically, with boundaries less contorted. Plan B, similar to the one presented last year, had two geographically smaller districts centered around Socorro, and split the city down the middle.

Wolberg said there was no getting around the fact that Socorro had a more dense population than any other part of the service area.

The first matter addressed by the board was whether to present both plans to the membership or only one. It was first suggested that the board choose between the two.

“Why does the board have to narrow it down?” asked District 5 Trustee Charlie Wagner. “Why not let the members choose?”

“I have no horse in this race,” Wolberg said. “It’s up to the board to decide.”

Wagner wanted more time to review each plan and made a motion to table the item. But President Paul Bustamante said there was no time to postpone a decision. Mail-in ballots needed to be prepared ahead of the April 14 annual meeting.

“We have to do it tonight,” he said.

After a motion was made to present both plans, the vote was split, 4-4, so the decision ultimately came down to Bustamante to break the tie.

“This is going to be tough,” he said, pausing to ponder his vote. “To be honest, I’d rather go with one option.”

So then the board had to decide which plan to advance to the membership.

District 3 Trustee Leroy Anaya didn’t like either option.

“I’m still not happy with the alignment,” he said. “I just think Polvedera and Lemitar should be together.”

Both options placed Polvedera and Lemitar in different districts, the boundary between districts 1 and 4 running to the south of Midway Road.

One difference was that Alamo and Magdalena were grouped together in District 2 under Option A. Option B placed Alamo in District 4 with rural community to the south and east.

Wolberg said Research & Polling suggested it was best to keep districts as consolidated as possible, and made the motion, seconded by Wagner, to choose Option A.

“We relied on the consultant, who said we want to try to avoid contortions, and Option A does that,” Wolberg said.

“It pretty much keeps communities together,” Bustamante observed.

District 4 Trustee Dave Wade agreed with Anaya, saying he didn’t like the alignments either.

“If it’s unworkable, which I believe it is, why do we have to split them?” he asked.

Because that’s what members directed them to do, said Trustee Luis Aguilar.

“This board didn’t split anything,” he said. “The members voted and it will be their wishes that we carry out.”

When it came time to vote, Option A was approved 5-3. District 1 Trustee Leo Cordova, who gains a little territory in the northern part of the county along the I-25 corridor, District 3 trustees Wolberg and Prescilla Mauldin and Wade and Wagner voted in favor, while District 3 trustees Aguilar, Anaya and Milton Ulibarri were opposed.

District 5 Trustee Jack Bruton was absent.

In Other Business

  • The board approved an upgrade to the co-op’s phone system.

General Manager Joseph Herrera said when he came on board a year ago the phone system had just four available lines. The new system will be automated and integrated with the co-op’s billing software, allowing customers to inquire about account balances without the assistance of office personnel.

  • During his manager’s report, Herrera informed the board that a payment of $17,500 was made to Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange to pay the deductible on four pending lawsuits against the co-op.
  • An executive session lasting nearly 50 minutes was held to discuss a separate lawsuit filed against co-op officials. Attorney Darin Foster of the Kennedy & Han law firm of Albuquerque was on hand to discuss a countersuit that was brought after the co-op sued its members in 2010. Trustee Charlie Wagner, who was originally named as representative of the class of member-owners in the countersuit calling for class action certification, was not allowed in the executive session.
  • Herrera reported that a software error caused the co-op to under-pay Gross Receipt Taxes during the third quarter of last year. As a result, an $1,800 payment was made to the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department.
  • Herrera addressed another accounting glitch he had brought up at the previous meeting regarding a miscalculation of the debt and fuel cost adjustment during the third quarter of last year. He said the error caused Tri-State Transmission and Generation, Inc, from which Socorro Electric purchases power, to undercharge the co-op by approximately $196,000, which is in the process of being paid back.
  • Herrera reported that an outage that occurred on Valentine’s Day in the northern part of the county was apparently caused by a rabbit carcass jammed into a transformer. Herrera speculated that the rabbit was stashed there by a hawk.

The outage led to the discovery that more copper wire had been ripped and stolen from transformers kept in storage, Herrera said.

  • The board approved new policies that require trustees to inform the board president or secretary if they are unable to attend a meeting and policies that address sexual harassment and whistle blowers that apply to co-op staff.

 


-- Email the author at tslast@dchieftain.com.