Co-op reform has turned the corner
Despite the antagonism, the hostility, the ugliness that marred this year’s annual meeting of Socorro Electric Cooperative, there was some good that came out of it.
First and foremost, it is clear the members have taken back their co-op. Given the results, there can be no disputing who is in charge.
It is as it should be. Rural electric cooperatives were set up by federal law as democratically controlled corporations.
And democracy – as messy as it sometimes can be – was appreciably and openly on display on April 14.
Members have only themselves to blame for relinquishing control of their co-op.
Over the course of decades, they allowed it to happen through apathy, complacency and indifference.
Or perhaps they simply put too much trust in their trustees, never presuming their confidence would be shattered by those they elected to protect their best interests.
But what has come to light in the past few years captured the interest of the member-owners. It took a full four years, but I left the annual meeting feeling that reform has turned the corner. Change, for the good, is on the way.
Other good things that came out of the meeting were the resolutions that came from the floor, though it’ll take another good turnout from members at next year’s annual meeting to see them through.
One is the measure to allow mail-in votes to count toward the quorum. It won’t go into effect until it passes again when there’s a physical quorum.
But for those who live in the outer reaches of the co-op’s service area who have to make, in some cases, more than a 200-mile round trip, and those who are homebound or are otherwise handicapped or inconvenienced by having to physically attend, it’s the right thing to do. Accommodations should be made for those folks to assure their voices are heard.
Another proposal that was passed calls for district meetings to be held every year. One of the problems with the way things are set up now is that two out of every four years members have just one opportunity to present their own proposals – and then still have to wait another entire year to vote whether to implement them. Trustees propose resolutions every year and don’t have to wait for them to be placed on the ballot.
Should annual district meetings be approved, I suspect there will be years when quorums aren’t achieved – not for lack of interest, but for lack of need.
But I also suspect when members recognize changes are in order, they’ll come out. What’s important is that members have at least as much of an opportunity to raise resolutions as the trustees do. That’s currently not the case.
Two other great suggestions, both serving a similar purpose, came from the floor. One, from Nadine Ulibarri-Keller, recommended that annual district meetings be spread out over a period of several weeks. In this way, if at one district meeting a resolution is passed and is later discovered to be somehow flawed, it could be refined or improved at a later district meeting.
The other was good advice coming from Don Steinnerd. He recommended that thoughtful consideration be taken prior to proposing resolutions. Rather than bringing them up on a whim from the floor because it seems like a good idea, proposals should first be conceived, analyzed, dissected and drafted in advance of any meeting.
This would help avoid some of the issues that have cropped up in the past with resolutions that, though well intended, were imperfect.
I was disgusted with some of what I witnessed on April 14. But I came away believing that as untidy as it can be at times, democracy works, our beleaguered co-op has turned a corner and is under repair.