Legal, consulting firm to review co-op board

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In an effort to reduce conflicts and problem areas between it and the members, the Socorro Electric Cooperative's Board of Trustees is trying something new.

In a unanimous vote at its June 25 meeting, the board decided to secure the services of Smith & Christensen, a legal and consulting service for electric and telephone cooperatives. The firm, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, will conduct an independent audit of the board.

"They are going to do an audit of the way the board conducts its meetings and its receptiveness to the members," board president Anne Dorough said. "It's like a self-appraisal of the board of directors of the co-op."

She said the move was proposed by co-op manager Joseph Herrera.

The auditor will meet separately with each of the trustees, as well as the manager, Dorough said.

"Results of the audit will give us a better understanding of how the members view the board," she added

The audit will solicit comments or complaints from members via a web-based form, as well.

Aaron Christensen said his firm concentrates on the rural electric cooperative industry and has worked with clients throughout the U.S.

"We're not plowing new ground here. We've worked with a number of co-ops on a proactive basis on a range of some of the peculiar matters that cooperatives sometimes encounter," Christensen said. "And that includes matters involving board governance."

He said the firm most recently completed a revealing audit of the Santee Electric Cooperative in South Carolina, that experienced issues similar to Socorro Electric.

"It would be fair to say that all sides found the report to be hard hitting but completely fair," Christensen said.

The audit for Socorro's co-op will be approached in the same way, he said

"Think of this as a governance review. In this kind of undertaking it's a little unique in that I'm not representing Socorro Electric as their attorney," Christensen said "I'm there to review governance, management and other practices with no other goal but to serve the best interest of the co-op, not to serve any board member, or any particular group. I'm there to look out for the best interest of the members."

Christensen said he will talk to all "stakeholders and all interested persons, and, frankly, any person who has any information to share with me. And then I'm going to see what's working and perhaps areas that are not working and try to propose solutions."

The time frame of the audit will be scheduled after conferring with Herrera, he said.

Despite being peppered with objections and comments from District II trustee Charlie Wagner, each of the Socorro Electric Cooperative trustees set the times, dates and places for each of their respective district meetings in October.

Wagner's objections had to do with two of the trustees setting their meetings on weekdays, claiming that in doing so it limited the number of members who could attend.

• District I will meet Tuesday, Oct. 13 at the Socorro Senior Center. Registration 5 to 7 p.m. Meeting 7 p.m.

• District II will meet Saturday, Oct. 8 at Macey Center in Socorro. Registration 1 to 3 p.m. Meeting 3 p.m.

• District III will meet Saturday, Nov. 15 at Finley Gym. Registration 1 to 3 p.m. Meeting 3 p.m.

• District IV will meet Friday, Oct. 17 at San Antonio Elementary. Registration 4 to 6 p.m. Meeting 6 p.m.

• District V will meet Saturday, Oct. 4 at Datil Elementary. Registration 1 to 3 p.m. Meeting 3 p.m.

The board passed a motion to participate in the Government in Action Youth Tour essay contest for a third year. The contest will solicit essays from sophomores and juniors at Socorro, Belen, Quemado, Magdalena and Alamo high schools.

One student from each school will be chosen to attend the Government in Action Youth Tour in Washington, D.C. The five winners on the tour learn about electric cooperatives, American history, and U.S. Government on this all expense paid trip, June 12-19, 2015.

The topic of the essay will relate to electric power and rural cooperatives.

The board approved a motion requesting invoices of legal fees charged by the co-op's attorney, Bruce Wiggins.

The next Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 23 at 310 Abeyta Ave.