Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative has hired a lobbyist to represent Co-op interests in the 2020 legislative session—though over half of the Board of Trustees did not see the lobbyists’ contract before the Board approved it, and trustees did not know the details of what the lobbyists will be asking for on the Co-op’s behalf.
General Manager Ernesto Gonzales said in a Jan. 24 Board meeting that the lobbyists, from Santa Fe-based Trujillo Enterprises, would try to protect the Co-op’s “infrastructure” during the session.
“As an example, this year in the docket they’re proposing to tax renewable energy, or solar energy,” he said. “So, he will lobby, in our favor, the Co-op’s favor, that we do not get those taxes. Otherwise, the Co-op, Jemez electric, would lose revenue, and so would the customers, because we would probably have to pass it on to the consumers.”
Gonzales said that the tax issue was one among a few.
“What tax at what level?” District 5 Trustee Stanley Crawford asked.
Neither Gonzales nor Board President Leo Marquez could answer.
Crawford asked what the purpose of the proposed renewable energy tax is.
“More money for the state,” Marquez said. “More money for the state.”
But Marquez did not know specifics about the purpose of the tax.
The 2.5 percent tax in question is being proposed in Senate Bill 18, by Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe.
The bill, if signed into law, would impose a 2.5 percent tax on every megawatt-hour of electricity generated from renewable energy resources in the state.
The tax revenue would be distributed to an Early Childhood Program Fund, which would be overseen by the state Early Childhood Education and Care Department.
At least six trustees—Crawford, Duran, District 1 Trustee Dennis Trujillo, District 4 Trustee John Ramon Vigil, District 2 Trustee Dolores McCoy and Marquez—said they did not see the contract before Gonzales announced that the lobbyists had already been working for them in the Legislature.
“Is there a reason why the contract isn’t here in the packet to review with its details and terms?” Vigil asked.
Marquez said Vigil was more than welcome to look at the contract, and Gonzales said it was for $10,000.
“Who voted on that contract?” District 6 Trustee Bruce Duran asked. “I wasn’t a part of that vote.”
Marquez said the Board was about to vote on the contract.
Duran pointed out that lobbyists were already serving the Co-op in the session, before the vote had taken place. Gonzales said their contract had not been signed yet and was pending Board approval.
Asked in a Jan. 24 phone call how the lobbyists were working for the Co-op before their contract had been signed, Gonzales said he could not say.
But, he said, “It’s moot, because it got approved.”
District 5 Trustee Nick Naranjo said in a Jan. 24 phone call that he had seen and signed the contract, but would not specify when.
Crawford asked that the lobbyists meet with the Board, that the meeting be added to the motion to approve the contract, and Marquez said the meeting could occur the following week.
Naranjo, with a smile, said he would be traveling to Santa Fe and meeting with the lobbyists on his own.
“Excuse me, Mr. Chairman, it seems to me that this is something that should have been discussed a month ago.” Duran said. “We would have been prepared for the session.”
Marquez said the matter was discussed months ago, though neither Duran nor Trujillo remember there being such a discussion.
The trustees moved toward a vote.
Vigil said he would abstain from voting, as he had not seen the contract, and Duran said he too would abstain.
“It’s all good,” Marquez said.
“No, it’s not good,” Duran replied. “You guys need to conduct business the right way. What do you mean it’s good?”
Marquez said the Board had just given Duran the contract for his approval.
“If you don’t want to read it then that’s your problem with your eyes closed,” he told Duran.
Duran began to protest, and Marquez cut him off.
“You know what, Bruce, let me just make a comment,” Marquez said. “If all you’re going to do bring is negativity to this board, don’t come. Don’t come. Don’t come. Let’s try to work together. I’m trying to unite this board.”
Duran attempted to speak several times as Marquez spoke.
“Well, let’s run this board professionally,” he said, over Marquez. “That’s why I’m here.”
Crawford said that he too would abstain.
“Abstain, everybody’s abstaining, so it passes,” Marquez said.
Earlier in the meeting, another argument erupted over trustees’ access to information.
Duran asked that the minority faction of the Board—Duran, Trujillo, Vigil, Crawford and McCoy—receive copies of the Co-op’s contract with Cuddy & McCarthy, LLP, a law firm that has represented the interests of the majority faction of the Board, and copies of Gonzales’ contract.
“You’re more than welcome to look at them, Mr. Duran,” Marquez said.
Marquez said he would discuss the matter with Duran in private.
Both Duran and McCoy said they had difficulty accessing Board documents. McCoy said she only received the December and January Board documents the night before the meeting, leaving her with very little time to review and consider those documents.
And Duran said he sometimes does not receive the documents at all.
“You guys can’t withhold that information,” he said.
Duran and Marquez began shouting at each other.
“Don’t point your finger at me, Bruce, don’t point your finger at me,” Marquez said.
“I will,” Duran said. “We’re part of this board, Mr. Chairman, excuse me, Mr. Chairman, we’re part of this board. We should not have to chase information.”
“Bruce! Bruce!” Marquez said over Duran.
“It’s your responsibility to get the information to the full Board,” Duran said.
Vigil cut in and told the two men that they were being unprofessional.
“Listen to Mr. Vigil,” Marquez said. “Thank you, Mr. Vigil. It is unprofessional. Welcome to Mr. Duran’s circus.”
Naranjo then said the five trustees could see the documents in question but asked that they not receive copies.
“Don’t make copies, that’s very, don’t give them copies, but they can see it,” Naranjo said. “The five of them can see what we have.”
“Anything we have,” Marquez said.
“But don’t give them copies,” Naranjo said. “That’s personal.”
Duran told Naranjo that whether they receive copies was not up to him.
“Don’t give them copies,” Naranjo said again.