Of co-op pots and kettles

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“One opposed, that’s normal,” Socorro Electric Cooperative board of trustees president Louis Aguilar said at the April 24 co-op board meeting when trustee Charlie Wagner voted against a motion and everyone else voted in favor of it.

The comment is just one of many disparaging, subtle and not-so-subtle words thrown in Wagner’s direction at every meeting of the co-op trustees that takes place.

Wagner is regularly accused of being stupid, saying stupid things, lying and talking too much, and sometimes just directed to “shut up, Charlie” by not one, but several of the other trustees on the board.

It is no surprise Wagner has been accused — in an independent investigation — of being critical, demeaning, belittling and sarcastic. It is true, he is all of those things — generally it is in response to board members being all of those things first.

The investigation, reported here on Page 5, also considered certain other accusations, addressed as “issues,” against Wagner.

Investigator Ira Bolnick said he looked at issues of Wagner recording board of trustees executive sessions and disclosing those recordings; having unauthorized or inappropriate contact with a vendor; submitting improper claims for payment or expenses as a trustee; having a possible self interest in asserting claims against the cooperative; and exhibiting unprofessional or discriminatory conduct toward other individuals in his capacity as a trustee.

Essentially the report found evidence that Wagner had done all these things.

The whole investigation of Wagner stems from an email exchange last October where Wagner sent an email asking for advice to Ryan O’Connor at Survey and Ballot Systems in regard to the co-op’s 2012 trustee elections.

There are those in the community who feel the District IV election held in San Antonio was seriously flawed and may have been unfairly weighted. Wagner and the co-op reform group have been working to ensure fair elections at all levels.

Wagner’s “unauthorized contact with a vendor” email stated:

“This is confidential at this point. The members of the SEC Reform Committee were successful in passing the 2010 bylaw reform that requires voting by mail administered by a 3rd party, etc. Now they want to make sure your firm gets the job again for the District II and III elections in 2013. So they need the specks to write into a resolution in the bylaw that will cause mail in ballots to be sent to all district members with at least 21 days minimum for postage prepaid return of the ballots. In addition they need more suggestions on how to write the post card (if one is mandatory) or the notice and timing to get the attention of members and to enhance numbers of return ballots. In other words specks that assure much better voter turnout. Can you please send me some suggestions quickly.”

Following this email, the board first held an intimidation tribunal where the acting board chairman, Dave Wade, asked question after question of Wagner with the implication Wagner had acted improperly in regard to communication with a co-op vendor. In meetings following that, the board voted to hire Bolnick to investigate Wagner.

As to the findings in the report, Wagner freely admits to recording executive sessions, saying he did it to protect himself and the only place he disclosed the recordings was to his attorney and a judge requesting them.

And “improper claims for payment or expenses as a trustee” refers to a time when Wagner had to change his travel plans; he flew to a conference and back instead of driving. This resulted in Wagner owing expense money back to the expense pot, which he paid — except he backdated the check to the day he requested disclosure on the payment rather than the actual day (about two weeks later) that he received the information and wrote the check.

If Wagner is guilty of “self interest in asserting claims against the cooperative,” it is a self interest that includes all the member/owners of the co-op as “self.” It is true that he is often over-enthusiastic and crosses lines of decorum when it comes to pushiness and adamantly telling people what he thinks they should do in the interests of the co-op. He is sometimes inflexible in his views and loud to express them.

So if you think believing in openness, fairness and giving all co-op members a voice should be against the rules, please tell your co-op trustee representative to vote Wagner off the board.

 

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