[Watchdogs] Pedernales Electric Cooperative directors must keep kneading reforms [Editorial Board, Austin American-Statesman]
milton.hawkins at gmail.com
Thu Feb 25 09:28:51 CST 2010
Pedernales Electric Cooperative directors must keep kneading reforms
Thursday, February 25, 2010
More often than not, the road to reform is neither as wide nor as smooth as proponents envision it. Imagine the thoughts that crossed Larry Landaker's mind when members of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative board of directors this week balked at adopting a set of bylaw changes billed as reforms.
Landaker is board chairman, one of a group of directors elected at a time when the co-op -- with a membership of 223,000 in the Hill Country, including Williamson, Travis and Hays counties -- was embroiled in scandal and the target of a grand jury investigation.
They went to work to change the bylaws and thought the revisions would be handily adopted. The reformers also crafted a members' bill of rights that pushed the co-op toward transparency.
They got a half a loaf. And while half a loaf might not satisfy a hefty appetite for reform, it's better than nothing at all.
The bill of rights resolution still faces a vote by the general membership, but it's difficult to imagine that the beleaguered PEC membership would vote against the right to attend every board meeting or against opening up the co-op's records.
Important highlights from the bill of rights resolution:
- "A member has the right to fair and open director elections, with nomination to the director ballot by petition. Proxy ballots are prohibited for use in any director election."
Before the PEC scandal erupted, board members -- not the membership -- selected other board members as board nominees rarely faced opposition. Technical obstacles discouraged challenges from the general membership. Proxy votes were allowed, and the more electric meters you had, the more votes you got.
- "A member has the right, on written request, to examine and copy at the member's expense the records of PEC, except those records exempted from disclosure for reasons of privacy, attorney-client privilege, real estate subject matter, personnel subject matter, security or matters that are clearly competitive, or when the board determines in good faith that disclosure presents a compelling risk of likely harm to the cooperative or its members."
While there might be some cause for concern about the wide discretion the open records provision gives the board, this section generally follows the state's open records law. An attempt to pass legislation requiring the co-op to adopt the state's open records laws met with opposition of other co-ops. Legislators were only too happy to oblige the naysayers.
So the bill of rights resolution was monumental progress. The changes proposed to the co-op bylaws, however, failed to muster the required two-thirds vote of the seven voting members of the board. Two board members, O.C. Harmon and R.B. Felps -- identified with the board's so-called "old guard" -- voted no, and board member James Williams abstained, killing the proposed bylaw changes for now.
There was more seemingly bad news in the results of an employee survey released this week. The poll showed that PEC employees have little confidence in co-op leadership.
Juan Garza, the co-op's general manager, noted that he initiated the survey last April to take stock of employee attitudes. The survey answers, Garza said, show him what he needs to do.
"I don't shy away from bad news," Garza said. Employee attitudes are changing, but that, too, will take time.
The board has an opportunity to try again and should. Changing bylaws is pain-staking, time consuming work. Committee members have been at it for months, and they still heard objections about the quantity and quality of the proposed changes.
Reformers are no doubt sincere in their efforts, but sincerity is no shortcut to change.
http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/insight/0225PEC_edit.html?cxtype=rss <http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/insight/0225PEC_edit.html?cxtype=rss&cxsvc=7&cxcat=45> &cxsvc=7&cxcat=45
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