by BRAD ROLLINS
Former Hays County Judge W.W. “Bud” Burnett did not show up on Capitol Hill on Thursday to testify at a congressional hearing on mismanagement of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative and is believed to be hiding out at his “remote New Mexico ranch”
Burnett, the cooperative’s former board chair and president, and former PEC general manager Bennie Fuelberg declined to voluntarily appear before the U.S. House’s Oversight and Government Reform committee whose chair, Rep. Henry Waxman, described the two former cooperative executives as evading U.S. marshals trying to serve a subpoena compelling their testimony.
“Bennie Fuelberg, the former Pedernales general manager, and Bud Burnett, the former Pedernales president, aren’t reflecting the co-op’s proud history by refusing to explain their apparent self-dealings,” Waxman said in an opening statement at the hearing. “They have refused to attend. They declined to appear voluntarily, and they have evaded federal marshals who tried to serve them with subpoenas. The federal marshals believe one of the witnesses is now hiding in a remote New Mexico ranch.”
U.S. marshals last week turned up in Wimberley, where Burnett lives, and asked local law enforcement to help track him down. He is believed to be staying at his ranch near Encino, NM, about 90 miles southeast of Albuquerque.
Asked if Burnett is on the lam, a former PEC official said “He is avoiding being served with a subpoena. You can use the choice of verb you want; a lot of people would say the one you chose works.”
The hearing unfolded in the House office building named for former House speaker Sam Rayburn who helped a young fellow Texan Lyndon B. Johnson, still a lowly congressman in 1935, pass legislation creating Pedernales to bring electricity to residents of the rugged Hill Country.
It has long since become the nation’s largest electric cooperative with 200,000 members spread across more than 8,000 square miles. It also became a good ole boy’s club where a tight knit group of executives and board members — many of them former elected officials — made comfortable livings.
“There is compelling evidence that the Pedernales co-op used its customers’ equity as a private piggy bank. Mr. Fuelberg, Mr. Burnett, and the Pedernales board paid themselves well. In 2007, Mr. Fuelberg received over $1 million in salary, benefits, and bonuses. In just five years, Mr. Fuelberg and the board spent $700,000 to stay at five-star hotels like the Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons, dine at expensive restaurants, and buy themselves fancy chocolates and Celine Dion concert tickets. They also spent millions of dollars in an unsuccessful legal battle against their own.” Waxman said.
Among other witnesses at Thursday’s hearing, State Rep. Patrick M. Rose said, “The PEC Board has historically relied on a self-perpetuating nominating committee and a proxy system for its elections. This policy and a lack of transparency in the co-op’s business practices are at the core of the PEC’s problems today.”Email | Print