Co-op board backtracks

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Socorro Electric Cooperative’s board of trustees are seeking the advice of an attorney to determine how to handle the reduction of the size of the board from 11 to five trustees, as members mandated be done two years ago.

At last month’s meeting, the board took action to hold elections in each of the five districts later this year. But the vote was invalid because it wasn’t listed on the agenda as an action, in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

“They were good intentions by Mr. Anaya,” Co-op President Paul Bustamante said of District 3 (Socorro) Trustee Leroy Anaya’s motion last month. “It would have been a simpler way to go, but that wasn’t valid. It slipped by me that it wasn’t on the agenda.”

Even if it were on the agenda, it wouldn’t have held up. Co-op attorney Lorna Wiggins pointed out that such action would have violated state statutes by depriving trustees the opportunity to serve their entire four-year term.

“It’s clear under state law that if you decrease the number of directors, you can’t shorten the term of an incumbent, unless the incumbent agrees. You can’t force action,” Wiggins said.

Four trustees would have had their terms reduced by one year under Anaya’s motion, including Prescilla Mauldin and Charlie Wagner, the two trustees who voted against the motion last month.

Wagner said the board was already aware that the action would have been illegal since the co-op’s previous attorney told them the same thing after members passed the bylaw to reduce the size of the board at the annual meeting in 2010. He said there was still another matter the current attorney should address.

“There’s a bylaw that says trustees can’t run two consecutive terms,” he said of another resolution passed by members in 2010. “Some (trustees) are saying they’re going to run even though they’ve already served two consecutive terms or more. Our attorney needs to address that.”

The question is whether the bylaw addressing term limits is retroactive to the years preceding the vote in 2010, or if it wouldn’t go into effect until the next election cycle.

Wagner said he believed it was retroactive, so none of the six trustees up for re-election this fall would be eligible to run, since they’ve all already served two consecutive terms or more.

Others disagreed.

“I think everybody needs to run,” said Anaya.

Anaya noted that since members approved new district alignments at this year’s annual meeting, the new District 5 is without representation due to Trustee Jack Bruton’s resignation last month.

Trustee Donald Wolberg said another question was what to do about District 3, where the terms of three trustees won’t expire until 2013. The bylaws provide that each district be represented by one trustee.

“That’s unclear, too,” he said.

Wagner continued the debate until Bustamante cut him off.

“We’re not going to discuss this now. It’ll go on the agenda for the next meeting,” Bustamante said.

The co-op president asked Wiggins to prepare a legal opinion on term limits and how to handle district elections for the next board meeting, which will take place on June 27.

 


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