In his recent newsletter, “The Hightower Lowdown,” Jim Hightower celebrates the democratic potential of rural electric cooperatives, which were established in 1937 to provide electricity to rural communities that had been essentially left out of the technology by private utilities.
But he also laments the fact that many of the 900 rural electric co-ops have failed to realize their democratic potential. “…Clubish boards…slide the decision-making and co-op books behind closed doors, they shift organizational focus from cooperative inclusiveness to condescending exclusion…. In co-ops like these, the term ‘member’ has effectively been shriveled to mean powerless consumer…with no more clout that a member of Sam’s Club.”
Sound familiar? Many of these words can be applied to the board of trustees of the Jemez Mountains Electric Co-op. Or more specifically to the ruling majority. The majority makes up the executive committee, which makes major decisions without the consent of the entire board.
Recent examples include the firing of one law firm and the hiring of another within the past month. The full board was not consulted. The full board has not even seen the contract for the new firm. An earlier example was the termination of a general manager and the hiring of a replacement. This, too, was not presented to or even debated by the full board in advance: it was presented as a fait accompli.
In effect, the executive committee has become a board within a board. The executive committee should not be permitted to make decisions on its own. Only at the request of the full board, the executive committee should meet to discuss issues and recommend decisions, not make decisions on its own.
As things now stand, there is essentially no reason for the five-member Board minority to attend meetings to register either its assent or dissent. There is no point attempting to discuss the merits of an issue that has already been decided behind closed doors by the executive committee.
As a result of this pattern of executive committee behavior and the making of questionable decisions, Jemez has spent vast amount of money—members’ money—defending itself in numerous lawsuits, which the Co-op has a good chance of losing.
But the real damage is internal: a divided, dysfunctional board of trustees cannot direct its full attention to the urgent issues facing us all. Our community needs a unified, functional, forward-looking board willing to embrace transparency in all areas.
And the role of the membership here is clear: make your opinions known to the Board.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has made participation in board meetings difficult, not aided by the fact that the Board appears unwilling to share the telephone meeting contact codes with either the public or the press.
And, so far, the poor audio quality of the meetings for those participating remotely makes the meetings almost a waste of time. This, of course, is to the advantage of the Board majority. The Co-op should look into the possibility of audibly broadcasting board meetings via its website.
Members, you have power. Exercise it however you can. We desperately need a better Co-op for these challenging times.
Jemez Co-op Board Trustees Stanley Crawford, Bruce Duran, Dolores McCoy, Dennis Trujillo and John Ramon Vigil