The Myth of Jones: A Column
By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
Responding to pressure from legal action, the legislature and the Attorney General, Pedernales Electric Cooperative embraces the thrilling prospect of reform. Please excuse those of us who don’t share the excitement.
As the crusaders take their victory lap, waving their flags and shaking their fists, one wants to ask if their productions are really less absurd than those of the old boy system they’ve demolished. The crusaders’ productions certainly aren’t as numerous or destructive. But the old boys couldn’t have worked up a sillier scheme than the coming election for a seat on the board of directors.
Under the old, corrupt system, a nominating committee seated by the board decided whose names could go on the ballot, basically guaranteeing re-election for sitting directors. The elections stimulated little interest, which also benefits incumbents.
Under the new, reformed system, anyone can run for the board simply by collecting 25 signatures and passing a criminal background check. As of a week ago, no fewer than 20 hopefuls had officially declared their candidacies, and the number could approach 30 when the last filings trickle into the Johnson City office with April 7 postmarks.
The heart may be warmed to learn of two dozen citizens trying to make a difference, but that heart is not attached to the head. The crusaders haven’t yet addressed compensation for PEC directors, which runs about $40,000 annually for little more than attendance at monthly meetings. Thus, the director election attracts dozens of public-spirited individuals who know where to find a buck.
The seat up for grabs is alleged to represent an entity known to PEC geography as “District 7,” which includes Buda, Kyle, Manchaca, Niederwald, Uhland and Wimberley. Presumably, the people of District 7 would decide who represents District 7. But when it comes to PEC, one should never presume. Instead, the election is open to all 220,000 cooperative members in 24 counties covering 8,100 square miles. The candidate drawing the most votes in District 7 could finish 37th in this election, which means the local representative is elected from elsewhere.
And for those of us who live in District 7, how are we supposed to choose, anyway? Everybody in town has four or five friends running for this seat. It’s kind of a headache.
But there’s more. Continuing the list, one might assume that the winner of this lucrative seat will need to procure a majority vote. Wrong again. The winner of this election is the candidate who receives the most votes, period. It’s not 50 percent plus one or any other kind of majority, nor is there even a lower threshold required of a plurality winner.
In an election with 25 candidates, the winner could theoretically receive less than five percent of the vote. The PEC bylaws posted on the cooperative’s website make no provision for a run-off election. Not even in case of a tie. Surely, you might say, the bylaws stipulate some kind of democratic process to break a tie. Again, don’t presume.
Here’s the tiebreaking procedure, straight from the bylaws: “In the event of a tie, the Director or Advisory Director elected shall be determined by a drawing by lot to be conducted by the independent election service. In conducting a drawing by lot, a representative of the election service will place in a box as many slips of paper as there are nominees in the tie, with a single slip marked ‘elected’ and the remaining slips marked ‘not elected.’ In alphabetical order by last name, each of the nominees in the tie shall blindly draw one slip from the box. The nominee drawing the slip marked ‘elected’ shall be elected to the directorship in question.”
A drawing. A random drawing. And it’s not just a random drawing, but a random drawing verified by an “independent election service,” just in case you’re worried that PEC doesn’t waste enough money.
Here’s a better idea: Dispense with the election and just hold a drawing. Throw the 20- or 30-odd names into a tumbler and announce a drawing for the $40,000 grand prize. For all the sense this election makes, chance would do just as well.
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