Three candidates running for the Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative Board of Trustees plan to hold a series of meetings ahead of this month’s elections to discuss their platform and get feedback from the public.
The three candidates are Patrick Herrera, who will go against District 4 incumbent Lucas Cordova; Stanley Crawford, who will face District 5 incumbent Victor Salazar; and District 6 Trustee Bruce Duran, who is running unopposed.
The Reform Candidates campaign is managed by member-owner Luis Torres.
Audience members asked Herrera, Crawford and Duran questions ranging from what it is going to take to amend the Co-op’s bylaws, concerns over trustee compensation, if the Co-op will ever adopt mail-in voting and why previous Co-op general manager Donna Montoya-Trujillo resigned.
One member-owner asked what will have to happen to change the Co-op’s bylaws.
Duran said it all comes down to attendance at the annual meeting.
The bylaws state 5 percent of the membership must attend a meeting to have a voting quorum.
Duran said one of the issues is that the annual meeting is advertised as an annual picnic and not enough people know that this is their opportunity to vote on changes to the bylaws.
“Let me make something clear, they don’t want you guys to vote,” Duran said, referring to the current Executive Committee members. “It would not benefit them to change the bylaws because they’ve created a shell around themselves.”
He said he believes if they change the bylaws to include term limits and provisions of the state Open Meetings Act, issues at the Co-op would self-correct.
All three Reform candidates said they support mail-in voting.
Herrera said that he went to a committee meeting during this year’s Legislative Session concerning House Bill 300, the Rural Electric Co-op Proxy Voting and Quorums bill, which allows member-owners at all New Mexico rural electric cooperatives to decide if they want to allow for mail-in voting. It also allows them to decide if those mail-in votes can count toward a quorum of the membership.
It was passed and signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Herrera said he is concerned because some voters will have to travel long distances to get to their polling place.
Crawford said, for example, that people from Dixon will have to drive all the way to Española Valley High School to vote. This might not be possible for all member-owners.
Crawford answered many of the night’s questions in the context of renewable energy.
He said once the Board is “on the right path,” they can focus on bringing more renewable energy to the service area.
When it comes to Co-op finances, he said that it is paying upwards of $60 million a year to Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association for electricity.
More renewables could help drive costs down for member-owners, Crawford said.
“If we kept some of that money, a half or a third of it, in this County, it would have a huge effect,” he said.
While Duran did not discuss specifics as to why Montoya-Trujillo resigned, he said the current Board did not allow her to be a general manager.
He also read a text he received from Montoya-Trujillo after he had trouble getting his election registration packet.
During the April Board meeting, Montoya-Trujillo said the packets would be available May 1. They were delayed by one week.
Duran read the text he received from her when he asked why the packets were delayed.
“You all enable (Executive Assistant Laura Rendon) to be completely unaccountable to me or anyone, but when stuff falls through the cracks I get yelled at,” the text states.
The group released a list of seven issues they will focus on if they get elected.
The first item is to create a working group of Co-op member-owners to make sure it is managed in ways that reflects their wishes.
Second, the group is calling for a complete forensic audit of all Co-op financial disbursement records since Board President Nick Naranjo took over the top spot in July 2017.
Third, they want to replace Naranjo as Board president.
Fourth, the group wants to fill vacant administrative positions, including the chief financial officer job.
Fifth, they plan to take a “strong stance against theft and other forms of abuse,” according to their campaign fact sheet.
Sixth, is to create a series of member-owner led committees to rewrite the bylaws and policies, clarify boundaries for each district and wards and create election procedures.
Seventh, they want to investigate ways the Co-op can move away from an energy portfolio of fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources.
The Board has 10 elected members and one member-at-large that is chosen by a majority vote of the other trustees at the annual meeting.
The Reform candidates must win all three races if they want to flip the Board. If they win two spots, the Board will be split five to five.
The current Board is split into two groups: those who are a part of the Executive Committee and often vote with Naranjo, and those who are not.
Many people are working to get the Reform candidates elected.
A postcard writing event to remind member-owners to vote was held May 31 in Nambé in support of Crawford.
There will be another event at 6 p.m., Thursday (6/6) at the Embudo Valley Community Center.
A District 5 candidate forum will be held at 5 p.m., June 12 at the Embudo Valley Community Center.
A forum for all candiadtes will be held at 3 p.m., June 16 at Northern New Mexico College.