[Watchdogs] PEC scores low on trustworthiness [Austin American-Statesman]
milton.hawkins at gmail.com
Wed Feb 24 14:17:45 CST 2010
PEC scores low on trustworthiness
Members like service, but they and employees are displeased about
By Patrick George<http://www.statesman.com/news/local/pec-scores-low-on-trustworthiness-273579.html?service=popup&authorContact=273579&authorContactField=0>
Published: 8:41 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010
A survey of Pedernales Electric Cooperative members and employees reveals
that although about three-quarters of the co-op's members are satisfied with
their electrical service, many co-op employees remain critical of
management's openness, leadership and treatment of personnel.
Among the findings: Only 1 in 3 employee respondents agree that "PEC's
leadership can be trusted to do what it says it is going to do."
Even fewer — 26 percent — think that their pay is linked to performance, and
only 28 percent feel confident that management is working to serve members
or that the board is doing a good job.
The low numbers might seem surprising, given the avowed determination of the
co-op's leadership to turn over a new leaf after the tumult of recent years,
when disclosures of questionable practices forced out many top officials.
But they also reflect a common criticism of Pedernales employees: Many
distrusted managers who were part of the co-op's old culture remain at their
The survey, compiled by Austin-based research firm SomersetGuild, was
released at Monday's regular meeting of the co-op board of directors. It
took about nine months to survey or interview 900 co-op members, 700
employees, local officials, a co-op watchdog group and all but one board
Board President Larry Landaker said the board will take the results to
"It's very important that our employees and members know we hear what they
say," Landaker said.
Former Austin Energy head Juan Garza took over as general manager of the
co-op in 2008, and the board began a series of reforms that year.
His predecessor, Bennie Fuelberg, has since been indicted on felony charges
of theft, money laundering and misapplication of fiduciary duty.
Throughout his tenure, Garza has pressed for more openness and
accountability at Pedernales — even when some longtime board members were
uneasy with the new direction. The survey, which cost $250,000, was part of
"We conducted this research to learn the true perceptions of PEC from
members and stakeholders and provide a safe haven for all employees to
express their views," Garza said. "We have chosen the road of open
communication, so this information was presented in the open session of our
At the same meeting Monday, however, the board failed to muster the
two-thirds majority needed to pass new bylaws meant to make some reforms
permanent. And the survey noted that some employees reported they were
afraid to participate in the research for fear of losing their jobs.
In the survey of members, about 60 percent said they think Pedernales treats
its members fairly, and about 50 percent said they think Pedernales is
trustworthy. The co-op has more than 200,000 members, who are also its
For the survey and interviews of employees, SomersetGuild contacted a
cross-section of workers, from managers on down the line. Though employees
reported a high level of commitment to Pedernales, a strong devotion to
serving members and a good sense of camaraderie, they also expressed a great
deal of concern, the survey said.
"Sessions were highly emotional. Employees had very deep feelings about the
problems facing PEC," according to the survey presentation. "Employees were
hopeful, but highly skeptical that anything would happen as a result of the
Garza said that management isn't taking the report lightly.
"We're already working on initiatives to address concerns raised in the
report, and starting tomorrow, I'm visiting each office and inviting every
employee to further discuss any issues or ideas they have to move the
cooperative forward," he said.
Member research consisted of surveys and focus groups that included rural
and commercial power users.
About 62 percent of respondents said their electric power is reliable, 48
percent said power is promptly restored after an outage, and 35 percent said
they are kept informed about important issues.
The research firm said PEC board members and officials need to do a better
job initiating contact with members, develop a better Web site and promote
the co-op's environmental efforts without losing its rural character. About
45 percent of members surveyed said they didn't know whether PEC was acting
to protect the environment.
pgeorge at statesman.com; 512-392-8750
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