GUEST COLUMN by JAMES E. WILLIAMS
On Jan. 26, the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors passed a board communications policy. The board followed a democratic process to review, debate, revise, and ultimately pass a final policy. I have written and disseminated this account of that process under those new board communication guidelines.
In researching this policy, it became clear that many companies, both public, private, for profit and not for profit, have communication policies. These policies fulfill many needs: they protect entities from lawsuits resulting from libelous statements; they guide board communications through defined channels; and they educate the public on how they can expect to hear from their elected representatives. And in the case of our cooperative, it also protects the members from unnecessary expenditures of the PEC staff and resources that they pay for.
Our new communications policy is a process that helps us define when a statement from the board is an official PEC communication or a personal statement. Once this determination is made it guides the person making the statement on how they can transmit that to the public. Official PEC Board communications will be disseminated through our communications department. Personal board communications will be disseminated through the board members’ own accord.
The policy contains no restrictions on the individual board member’s communications other than that it must contain a disclosure clause at the end stating the piece reflects their personal opinion and not necessarily that of the cooperative. The policy suggests that the board member submit it to our Board General Counsel to review it for any libelous statements. This is offered for the board member’s own protection, not to alter the content or tone of their message. The individual board member is free to distribute their communication to whomever he or she wishes in any manner they desire.
The policy also contains guidelines for internal communications. The policy requests that any board member wishing to communicate with PEC staff go through the General Manager. This is done to respect the PEC working hierarchy and company resources that the membership pays for through their electric rates. The policy does not in any way restrict the content of a Board member’s communications with the staff. The policy merely asks that they make arrangements to do so through the General Manager so that the managers and their supervisors are aware of it.
I appreciate the input received from PEC members, PEC staff and Board Members in drafting this policy. While some people were under the impression that the policy might hinder board members from communicating freely with the public, I want to assure our members that this policy as adopted is intended to have quite the opposite effect. By having a set of standards all board members can now communicate with the public within a process that they can trust and that protects both them and the cooperative. All board members can now communicate openly with the public without fear of unintended legal consequences. The result of this is that our communications policy creates a safe environment, which encourages communication between the board members and the staff, membership, and media.
The events leading up to the adoption of the policy have been an excellent challenge for the PEC board to test its commitment to frank dialogue and debate in a forum open to our membership. The experience detailed here shows the challenges in making “openness and transparency” more than just a phrase.
I am encouraged by the debate among our board members on this and other issues. The fact that we have disagreements is proof that we have a diverse board. Our willingness to accept that diversity and still work together is what will support our efforts to remake the Pedernales Electric Cooperative into an institution of respect and reliability.
JAMES E. WILLIAMS is vice president of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors. This editorial is his personal opinion and not an official communication on behalf of the PEC Board or the cooperative.Email | Print