John Tapia, the former District 6 Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative Board of Trustees representative, was elected as trustee at large, during the July 16 annual member meeting.
Tapia won the vote, six to four. It is unknown why Tapia decided to not run for his former seat in District 6, but decided to accept the trustee at large position.
The trustee at large is not elected by the members of the Cooperative, but rather, by the members of the Board, and represents the entirety of the Co-op’s membership, not just a given district.
Newly elected Board President Nick Naranjo, who represents District 5, nominated Tapia for the position.
District 6 Board member, and former Board president, Bruce Duran said he thought it is unfair Tapia decided to not run for his seat in District 6, but still got on the Board through a “back door.”
He called the situation “good old Rio Arriba politics.”
He said he thinks Tapia decided to not run because of the problems he faced while he was Board president.
In January 2016, District 6 Co-op member John Gutting sent a report to members of the Board about Tapia’s alleged failure to follow the Co-op’s bylaws, policies and regulations related to payments he received from the Co-op for attending meetings, joining teleconference calls and lobbying on behalf of the Co-op — among other activities.
In an audit conducted by McHard Accounting and Consulting LLC in 2016, in response to Gutting’s allegations, it was found Tapia received $61,180 in payments from the Cooperative from 2013 to January 2016 — more than any other Board member during the same time period.
The audit found that Tapia and other Board members submitted vouchers that did not conform to the Co-op’s Board policies.
“In many cases, vouchers were submitted for compensation, which clearly violated policy; however, we found no evidence of any intent to deceive or conceal their actions,” the audit said.
These violations included submitting payment vouchers for two meetings in one day, submitting vouchers for meetings that were not eligible for compensation, requesting payment for per diem work done outside of meetings and payment for teleconference calls.
David Salazar, the Board’s longest-serving member, who was re-elected for his 14th term in June, said he is very concerned with Tapia coming back onto the Board and that he has a penchant for micromanaging the Co-op’s general manager.
Salazar said anything that puts the Co-op’s future with current General Manager Joseph Sanchez in question is worrisome.
“I will defend Mr. Sanchez to the end and, if I have to, I will join with him because I think he is one of the best things to happen to our Co-op,” Salazar said. “He has courage, which many managers don’t have.”
Sanchez did not express worry when asked about the Co-op’s future, after Tapia’s election.
“The Board made their decision and I am optimistic we will continue to make progress,” he said.
Salazar, along with Duran, newly-elected District 1 Trustee Dennis Trujillo and District 2 Board member Dolores McCoy, voted against Tapia being appointed to the trustee at large position.
Former trustee at large Steven Santistevan, who was replaced by Tapia, said he wanted to serve another term in the position and that he enjoyed serving the entire membership of the Cooperative.
He knew the vote would be close and did not feel blindsided by the outcome.
“It is normal procedure for the vote to happen,” he said. “You obviously try to campaign for your position and try to get the Board, but not everyone will offer their support prior to the vote.”
Santistevan said he has not yet contemplated whether he will make a future run for the Co-op’s Board.
It is not only current members of the Board who expressed concern over Tapia’s election.
Executive Vice President of Northern New Mexicans Protecting Land, Water and Rights, Heather Nordquist, said Tapia’s election is another example of “questionable, ethical behavior” from the Co-op’s Board.
“Good old boys network running things, inevitably leads to business practices,” Nordquist said. “I guess I am most afraid that they will make another decision that will cause our rates to skyrocket or their management decisions will put the Co-op in financial jeopardy.”
Former District 1 Board member Richard Ramsey is against the decision for Tapia to serve on the Board in any capacity.
“The question has to be asked, ‘Why did he (Tapia) choose not to run and then choose to accept the appointment?’” Ramsey said. “The only other thing I can figure out is dirty politics...to take more advantage of the rest of us.”
Naranjo said Tapia is well-qualified to take over the position.
“The members wanted him and I don’t see why he shouldn’t be in the position,” he said.
The majority of Tapia’s payment vouchers were retroactively approved and vetted, Naranjo said.
Tapia said he looks forward to serving on the Board in his new position and working on the Co-op’s solar array project and tribal easements.
“I feel honored that the Board asked me to be the member-at-large and that they have the confidence in me,” he said.
Tapia would not comment on the allegations that his election was due to politics, rather than his qualifications and experience.
Change in executive positions
McCoy and Trujillo said they are concerned about the west side of the Cooperative’s service area, which includes the areas of Cuba and Jemez Springs, that they represent, no longer having a presence within the executive membership of the Board.
Besides Tapia, three executive positions changed hands through a majority vote of the Board’s membership.
Naranjo replaced Duran as president, newcomer Leo Marquez from District 6 replaced McCoy as vice president and Harold “Charlie” Trujillo from District 6 replaced Santistevan as secretary. District 3 Trustee Johnny Jaramillo and District 4 Trustee Lucas Cordova Jr., remain as treasurer and assistant secretary treasurer, respectively.
Dennis Trujillo said, as a new Board member, he will give anyone in a leadership position a chance, but that “it would have been good to continue” with the Board that was already in place.
“It is nice to have some continuity,” he said. “Hopefully, it is a united Board. It is the Jemez Corporation. It is one unit.”
McCoy said she wanted Duran to continue as president and feels like she was left out, but that she will continue to attend meetings of the executive members, if allowed to do so.
Naranjo said he will continue to work hard for the Co-op members.
“My idea is that we are the largest and we should be number one in everything,” he said. “The whole Board is qualified and I think this is one of the better Boards.”
He said in the next two to three years, he wants to get more capital credit checks out to members.