Co-op makes up its mind on elections

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The monthly meeting of the Socorro Electric Cooperative on Wednesday evening may have been clouded with confusion and disdain, and officers from the Socorro City Police Department were even called to the scene, but the board at least managed to come to a conclusion related to the long-standing dispute regarding new district elections and term limits for existing trustees.

In light of some controversy over whether or not present members should be allowed to serve out their current elected terms, since co-op member-owners decided in 2010 that the board should be downsized to five members, the meeting specifically noted state laws that will require Districts 1, 4 and 5 to hold elections in upcoming months. The four trustees that have one year remaining on their elected terms will finish out those terms, regardless of recent redistricting.

According to a presentation given by Patty Williams, of Williams, Wiggins and Williams Law Firm, “Case laws say that if a member of a board is elected, qualified to have run and won an election, they have the right to serve out their term.” Those wishing to run for re-election, however, will likely not be qualified to run for re-election in their current district in light of newly placed qualification standards. According to Williams, anyone running for re-election in upcoming years has to “be a member, and a bona-fide resident, physically residing for 12 months in the district they’re seeking election in.” Sitting trustees in districts with more than one representative, who are qualified to run, will have to run against one another.

During the presentation, Williams made it a point to educate the co-op on the emphasis of staggered terms, in that the method is integral in ensuring that there never exists an infant board. “Transitions take time, or they are destructive to the organization,” she said.

Also under new qualifications, by law all existing members will be given a technical clean slate in relation to their term limits, in that they will, regardless of past terms served, be allowed to serve two more four-year terms if elected. While the conversation of elections and new terms was taking place, trustee Leroy Anaya motioned that the board hold elections for all members’ seats in 2012, regardless of current terms being served. SEC attorney Lorna Wiggins pointed out that a duly elected member of the board cannot be pushed out of their elected office, as that might be subject to action by any member that doesn’t wish to be forced out.

“If you make a motion to force them out, I think that the person that is unhappy with that decision could make a claim against the co-op,” she said. “We could wind up having to litigate this issue. I think it’s clear that if everyone wants to resign, that’s your choice. But forcing that is not something we recommend you do.”

After it was established that current election terms would be carried out, the issue of election dates came up. Trustee Charlie Wagner motioned that 2012 election dates be held in late October and mid-November, so as to avoid the issue of lame duck trustees making rushed changes in the co-op during their last official meeting as a serving member. The motion was voted on at a 3-3 tie, and sitting chairman Vice President David Wade, of District 4, served as the tie-breaker to vote against the motion. It was then that a member of the public audience stood up and walked out of the meeting, saying “You are an embarrassment, Mr. Wade.”

As it stands, district elections for 2012 will take place as follows: Wade chose Oct. 6, 2012 for the District 4 election, Leo Cordova chose Oct. 13, 2012 for District 1 and Wagner (District 2) chose Oct. 27, 2012 for District 5, as that district has no incumbent. Members who want to run in District 4 must declare on or before Sept. 6, those in district 1 before Sept. 13 and District 5 as of Sept. 27.

In other business

  • James Lucero, head coach for the Belen Eagles rookies of the Young American Football League, formally asked the board for a donation of $650, or whatever they could donate, in order to help his team, consisting of 9-year-old boys and girls, for the upcoming season. The SEC board donated $250 to the team two years ago, but a bylaw passed by the members in 2010 restricts the SEC Board of Trustees from making contributions to adult or civic organizations. Any donations would have gone towards payment of insurance, referees, etc. Lucero pointed out that the board’s sponsorship “could help develop these young kids.” According to an original proposition on this issue, passed at the 2009 District 5 meeting, it had a second sentence that is not included in the bylaws: “Contributions may only be made to student scholarships.” A motion was made to postpone the decision until August, even though a decision made at that time might be too late for the team.
  • During the public comments portion of the meeting, District 1 member James Bockenstette publicly requested that the board “withdraw the lawsuit in process against the cooperative membership.” He said that the board made a serious mistake, but it was not too late for redemption. “Admit your mistake and avoid the inevitable embarrassment,” he said. “A personal benefit will be that you will be able to look in the mirror without becoming nauseous.”
  • General Manager Joseph Herrera issued a report on Member Applications and Cancellations, which listed 24 new connects, 38 reconnects, and 147 disconnects.

Executive Session

The board went into executive session to discuss a new hire and two cases of active litigation which included a wrongful termination suit brought by former co-op manager Polo Pineda Jr. and the class action suit, in which Wagner is still named as representative of the class.

Wagner was asked to leave the executive portion of the meeting. He protested, the manager called the police and three city of Socorro policemen arrived in their their squad cars. Wagner requested a copy of the police complaint and then left the scene without incident.

The next SEC meeting will be on Wednesday, July 25.