San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

January 30th, 2009
PEC implements more election changes


Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) officials are meeting today to finalize revisions to the troubled power provider’s election bylaws after the board of directors decided on Monday to make significant changes.

The board decided this week to limit each member to one vote in director elections, require 50 signatures for candidates to go on the ballot, and require that director candidates live in the districts they intend to represent. In addition, the board decided to re-draw the district boundaries to make them roughly even in population.

Under the measure thereby being replaced, members were allotted one vote for each meter on their accounts, candidates needed only 25 signatures to go on the ballot, and director candidates could represent any districts in which they held PEC accounts or owned businesses.

However, the cooperative is not changing a provision that enables members to vote in districts other than those in which they live. It remains, then, that any of the 227,000 members over PEC’s 8,100-square-mile area can vote in every district election. Thus, for example, a member living in Bertram could vote in an election to see who represents Kyle.

But the changes being made will address matters that made the 2008 directors election a source of wide-spread controversy, even if it was a more open election than previous affairs. Under the 2008 rules, 58 candidates ran for five seats, with Patrick Cox of Wimberley winning his District 7 Director seat by being names on 15 percent of 28,798 ballots cast.

During the last 18 months, co-op members have led an effort to democratize PEC’s board elections process and to stop fraudulent spending and mismanagement by the cooperative’s leadership. Among the reforms enacted for the 2008 election was a measure to remove the nomination process from a committee appointed by the board and place it in the hands of co-op members.

Continuing reforms this week, the board also approved a proposal by Vice President James E. Williams to reduce its size by eliminating most of the advisory directors. Due to vacancies created by earlier resignations, PEC currently has five Advisory Directors and one Advisory Director-at-Large. Under the approved proposal, all of those positions will expire on June 18. The Board may still appoint up to four advisory directors in the future, but is not required to fill the positions.

The board’s move to reduce its membership falls in line with an analysis submitted to PEC in December by Navigant Consulting, Inc.

“The Navigant review of directors’ compensation made a big issue of having too many people on the payroll,” PEC Board President R.B. Felps said. “These are big changes.”

PEC’s Governance and Oversight Committee submitted the changes to the director election bylaws. The committee consists of Cox, District 2 Advisory Director Rusty Allen and Advisory Director-at-Large Lamont Ramage. The committee considered input gathered from members at a public meeting held Jan. 12. The adopted changes include:

The redrawn director district boundaries submitted by PEC’s engineering staff more evenly distributes the number of meters per district. The new boundaries range in size from about 30,000 meters in District 4 to approximately 36,000 in District 1. Under the previous director boundaries, the number of meters in each district varied drastically, from approximately 14,000 in District 1 to about 64,000 in District 3.

The board also approved a new policy for internal and external communications by PEC Board members, submitted by Williams. The approved policy instructs directors to “clearly state whether he or she is speaking as an individual Board member or on behalf of the entire PEC Board” when addressing the media or the public about cooperative matters.

“This [communications policy] is not a new and novel concept,” Williams said. “Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits and government agencies have communications policies.”

Williams said he researched policies implemented by other organizations and “endeavored to choose the best practices from what I hoped would be most applicable.” Members at the meeting commented both for and against the policy before its approval by the board.

The new policy also requires board members to gain approval of the Board and PEC General Manager Juan Garza before using PEC staff and resources to release written communication to the media or general public. The policy also routes internal communication by board members to PEC staff through Garza or his designee. The measure passed by a 5-2 vote, with Cox and District 3 Director Kathryn Scanlon dissenting.

“It’s our responsibility to be able to use our judgment and use the resources that we have and be able to provide our opinions (to the membership),” Cox said. “It’s our right to communicate and provide information to our members.”

Cox reported that a bank account titled “Bennie Fuelberg Trustee Account,” opened by previous PEC management to fund a political action committee, no longer is active.

Also, Garza reaffirmed that PEC will no longer hire lobbyists after active contracts end. Garza announced that consultant Bill Cunningham’s contract will not be renewed after it expires at the end of this month, bringing the number of third-party contracts PEC has from 10 to one.

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