Thursday, June 24, 2010

Co-op Meeting Ends With Police Call

By John Severance

Alvin Hickox walked into the Mountain Mail office Wednesday night and said, “I never envisioned it would be that bad.”
Hickox had just come from the Socorro Electric Cooperative meeting Wednesday night and he was wearing his SEC member-owner and my vote counts T-shirt.
“They started talking about the open meetings act and all hell broke loose and the meeting was over,” he said.
Trustee Charlie Wagner had drafted a letter to Trustee president Paul Bustamante, stating the SEC had been in violation of the open meetings act since April 17 when the members adopted 10 bylaw amendments.
Wednesday was the deadline for the trustees to respond.
And they did not take too kindly to member-owner James Cherry trying to videotape the meeting.
After a lot of yelling and screaming, Wagner said that trustee Milton Ulibarri called the police. The trustees then attempted to go into executive session (another OMA violation) and eventually adjourned the meeting.
Most of the trustees headed to the door, but Wagner said he wanted to conduct a meeting with the members and fellow trustees Prescilla Mauldin and Luis Aguilar stayed.
Wagner said the police eventually did show up and asked the members to leave.
“The members have won,” Wagner said. “And I have the attorney general to back me up.”
Wagner said that attorney Dennis Francish told him that he was heading to district court Thursday to challenge the open meetings act bylaw and two other amendments passed by the members.
Everybody then left and the gate to the parking lot was being locked up at 6:20 p.m., 50 minutes after the start.
Giving advice
Sarah Welsh, the executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG), has some advice for the Socorro Electric Cooperative.
Welsh was in town last month when the Attorney General held a variety of seminars including one on the Open Meetings Act.
Welsh wrote a letter to the trustees, lending some perspective from her office.
“It is not for us to say what the precise wording of the Cooperative’s bylaws should be. However, your Cooperative members have made their wishes clear – they seek a guarantee of free access to information about how their corporation is being managed. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government supports that effort wholeheartedly. Transparency promotes good governance, in both the public and private sectors.
“Secrecy promotes the concentration of power and control in the hands of a few, in direct contravention of democratic cooperative principles.”
Welsh went to write that each individual member has the right to inspect the books of his rural electric cooperative, which is guaranteed by state law and upheld by the New Mexico Supreme Court in Maureen Schein v. Northern Arriba Electric Cooperative. Schein, a newspaper reporter and member of the defendant cooperative, was successful in obtaining access to legal bills paid by the company.
“We urge the Board of Trustees to work with its member-owners to guarantee and provide access to corporate information,” Welsh said. “This is the practice of private companies the world over, and we submit that is the best way to ensure honest, quality service and value for your shareholders.”
Capital Credits
The Board of Trustees of The Socorro Electric Cooperative, Inc., authorized the retirement of $300,000.00 in capital credits. Member/Owners received or will receive their capital credit checks in the mail. The check represented a share of Socorro Electric Cooperative’s margin for the year 1977 and a percentage of 2004-2008 and the check was based on the amount of electricity that was purchased.

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