Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wagner Mum On Allegations

By John Severance

SOCORRO – The New Mexico State League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) office wants the Socorro Electric Cooperative to investigate claims that trustee Charlie Wagner made offending remarks to Hispanics on more than one occasion.
State director Paul “Pablo” Martinez, who will be replaced by Ralph Arellanes, addressed a letter on April 27 to Co-op Trustee President Paul Bustamante, saying he had spoken with consumers and present and former trustees that alleged Wagner made the remarks.
When contacted for comment before the co-op meeting Wednesday night, Wagner said he had been advised by counsel not to respond.
At the meeting, Wagner stayed mum and then passed out bottles of water to the members of the audience as trustee president Paul Bustamante read the LULAC letter aloud.
After Bustamante read the letter, trustees demanded that Wagner respond to the allegations.
After about five minutes, Wagner then said, “I was talking to an attorney friend of mine and he advised me not to respond.”
Attorney Dennis Francish then advised the board that it did not have the power to remove Wagner and that it had to go through the courts.
Trustee Donald Wolberg then made a motion to condemn Wagner’s actions, which was seconded and passed unanimously.
According to the letter, Martinez wrote, “The complaints specifically allege that Mr. Wagner has referred to at least one of the Hispanic Trustee Board member as a “Chihuahua” and made other racial or demeaning remarks toward Hispanic Trustees and consumers. On several occasions, Wagner has referred to Hispanic Trustee Board members as being “stupid.”
Martinez continued, “Evidently, Mr. Wagner perceives that those who speak only English are intellectual and that Hispanics are inferior. It is contended that he demeans those in which English may be one’s second language. It is reported that he maliciously belittles others that speak with a Spanish accent and interrupts them in a pugnacious manner by telling Hispanics that he can’t understand them because they do not speak in complete sentences. He is condescending and treats Hispanic staff and fellow trustees with such callous disregard.”
Martinez went on to say that he was completely appalled by this type of conduct and that the behavior was tolerated by the SEC Trustees and the community of Socorro.
Martinez said he forwarded the information to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and U.S. Attorney’s Office and he insisted that the co-op board take immediate action to minimize the potential threat of litigation and liabilities.
“I just want the co-op board to investigate the matter and if the allegations are true, I want them to take corrective action,” Martinez said. “The state of New Mexico does not tolerate this kind of behavior.”
Martinez’s letter was brought up at the co-op meeting Wednesday night and the attorney Dennis Francish briefed trustee members by writing a letter that was received this past weekend.
Bustamante said, “I’ve warned Mr. Wagner several times about comments he has made verbally and in email.”
“Anything about this should come from Paul,” trustee Milton Ulibarri said. “He is our spokesman. We need to act on it. All the documentation is there.
“I have seen an email from Charlie that compared to our co-op meetings to a KKK meeting. I guess he has been to one before. That’s kind of disturbing. We have to act on this. It’s kind of serious.”
The KKK reference came in an email from Wagner to Bill Miller, who was in charge of filling out the co-op’s Form 990 last year.
Wagner was writing about the fight of the reform movement.
Wagner wrote in an email to Miller dated Dec. 9, 2009, “Members for reforming SEC are too familiar with the extreme measures the board majority used to dodge their duty to assure equal representation through trustee elections of 2008 and 2009. Every thing from banning the use of video cameras and tape recorders at meetings to manipulating election’s times, places and limiting hours and not allowing members to present propositions and propose bylaw changes at district and annual meetings.
“Combine that with the number of secret board sessions in which no minutes are kept, which the board publically announces as “executive sessions” without stating its purpose and you have what looks more like a KKK meeting than a Cooperative board meeting.”
Martinez forwarded his letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Rural Utility Service (RUS). RUS is the federal entity that funds the co-op.
“Your Cooperative is federally funded and you are subjected to all Codes of Federal Regulations and applicable federal and state statutes with respect to civil rights acts and non-discrimination,” Martinez wrote. “I feel compelled to also report this matter to the authority that funds your cooperative to investigate this matter.”

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