Co-op board still doesn’t get it

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It’s been more than two years since member-owners of Socorro Electric Cooperative implemented a new bylaw that calls for the co-op’s board of trustees to abide by the Open Meetings Act. It’s been a year since a district court judge told them they must follow OMA — and should have been all along.

Yet at last month’s meeting, the board did it again. They violated OMA, they completely ignored at least two other bylaws, and they gave members more reason to distrust their abilities to serve as trustees.

By a 6-2 vote, the board approved a motion to hold elections in all districts later this year. It’s what members want, they said, and at least that much is true. But what members want most is for the board to follow the bylaws they were elected to uphold, and that they did not do.

According to OMA, “a public body shall take action only on items appearing on the agenda.” It’s one of the most fundamental tenets of the law, yet this board, after more than two years, is oblivious to it.

The motion was made under the agenda item “subjects by trustees.” Sorry, that’s not good enough. OMA requires action to only be taken on “specific items of business.” They cannot act on items described in “general and vague terms.” The agenda item must provide a “reasonably clear idea” about the actions the board intends to take at the meeting.

Not only were they wrong in doing that, it’s not up to them to decide when elections are to be held. That’s determined by the bylaws, which are set by members. The bylaw they are currently operating under state that district meetings are held “only in those years when there is an election of trustee(s).” Another bylaw states that trustees are “to serve until the expiration of their four-year term of office.” The action they took would violate both those bylaws. It would also open the co-op up to potential lawsuits, as they were warned about by the co-op’s previous attorney – the same one they listened to when they chose to sue all 10,000 members in an effort to block OMA and other new bylaws that call for increased transparency. Why wouldn’t they listen now?

Because they realized his advice wasn’t very good and it was a foolish thing to sue the members? Maybe.

Because they have ulterior motives for holding district elections this year? Probably.

Because they don’t have to absorb the cost of the lawsuit, the members do? Without a doubt.

You would think these guys would get it by now, but they clearly don’t. It’s a shame that nobody, aside from the members, has stepped in to rein them in. This isn’t the first time they’ve broken the rules; they do it a lot.

Hopefully, the co-op’s new attorneys will speak up at the next meeting and point out their errors.

Someone needs to hold them accountable. And in the interest of accountability, the trustees who voted in favor of the motion are Leroy Anaya, who made the motion, Milton Ulibarri, who seconded it, and Luis Aguilar, Leo Cordova, Dave Wade and Donald Wolberg. President Paul Bustamante, who served as chairperson, allowed the vote to take place.

Prescilla Mauldin and Charlie Wagner voted against it. They probably should have abstained, though, so to not acknowledge the motion.

Yes, a new board of trustees is what members want. They want the board to be reduced to five members, as they mandated two years ago, and the sooner the better.

The solution is simple. If the board is sincere about giving the members what they want, they would all resign now — the whole lot of them. They want to have district elections this year, OK. What would be in the best interest of the co-op is to start fresh.

T.S. Last is general manager of El Defensor Chieftain

 


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