(Editor’s note: In this open letter, District 45 State Representative Patrick Rose (D-San Marcos) says nothing short of state legislation will protect members of Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) from the co-op’s leadership. “What once was a priority has now become a mission,” Rose said.)
Dear Friends and Neighbors:
To the Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) members, employees, and Board of Directors, I have a clear message: I will not stop my reform efforts until the Texas Legislature puts protections for PEC members and employees in Texas law.
Reform was my priority before the Board, led by two outgoing directors who were part of the legacy that participated in the mismanagement and corruption of PEC, decided to spend $1 million to fire then-General Manager Juan Garza. What once was a priority has now become a mission.
A small handful applaud and defend the board’s action, even with the knowledge that PEC Board President Larry Landaker admitted at the August meeting to me and everyone else in the room that the decision to fire Garza was without cause. To those who say that it should be accepted without question, I say your short-term memory, and Landaker’s recent action, proves the need for the Legislature’s involvement.
You can hide behind lines like “CEOs are fired in America everyday…” and the “dismissal was handled in a manner consistent with the legal requirements…” and other lawyerly explanation. But the reality is that with the cooperative’s recent history of controversy, including the member-led lawsuit alleging financial mismanagement, outrage over the high board salaries and lavish spending, and ongoing criminal prosecutions, PEC members and employees deserve more than an attorney’s interpretation of what was legally necessary. Especially when the decision at issue cost the co-op membership $1 million.
Our three-county district is served entirely by electric co-ops and municipally-owned systems. I believe that public power has served our area well and kept costs lower than other energy providers across the state. As we continue efforts to protect and grow jobs in our region, energy affordability is key. This is one of the many reasons why I demand a strong and transparent PEC.
To those who say that Sen. Troy Fraser and I should stop our reform efforts and allow the fiscally-irresponsible Landaker to set the course for the future of the PEC, I say that you sound eerily similar to the leadership of the old regime. Given their loud desires to put a stop to legislative reforms, it is natural to suspect that Landaker and the handful of people who defend his recent actions are enjoying their time at the helm of our co-op a little too much. Co-op members and employees are right to be suspicious and concerned with their actions.
At the annual members’ meeting this summer, co-op members sent a message that they want an open and transparent PEC by adopting a Members’ Bill of Rights that included positive open records and open meetings requirements. Landaker and his supporters think that should signal an end to legislative reforms. He and his supporters are wrong.
The legislation that Sen. Fraser and I are championing works hand in hand with members’ recent actions. Our bill will put their Members’ Bill of Rights into law, but it will also do much more. Our legislation includes a requirement to keep a written/audio record of executive sessions; it establishes a complaint process for co-op members that includes a review by the general manager and right of appeal to the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division; and it requires critical governance reforms that include the adoption of written policies for travel expenditures, reimbursement, conflicts of interest, whistleblower protections, procedures for 3rd party professional services, and a committee to audit actions of the board.
None of these reforms were included in the “Members’ Bill of Rights” but all of these reforms, I believe, would be welcomed by a large majority of the co-op membership.
I will continue to express my strong disapproval of the Board’s decision, led by a pair of corrupt, outgoing board members, to spend $1 million before the election of two new board members. This costly action took place just days before seating the co-op’s first ever 100% democratically elected board. This decision could have and should have waited until the new, duly-elected board members were sworn in.
The board’s actions in June were unacceptable and show the type of irresponsibility and lack of transparency that justify legislation. What co-op members can count on, regardless of the makeup of the PEC board or who is general manager, is that Sen. Fraser and I are committed to transparency and openness at our cooperative. The Legislature will reconvene in January and we will proceed with our effort to statutorily protect members’ rights.
For more information about my efforts to reform electric cooperatives, or should I be able to be of assistance to you and your family, you can reach me at your Capitol office at (512) 463-0647, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at P.O. Box 2910, Austin, TX, 78768.