By Larry Landaker
“My continued service as CEO has become impossible because of this situation. I am in the process of providing the board details.”
“Personally witnessed retaliation”
“Conditions for some of our key employees in the organization have become untenable because of the conduct of the board. Those of us who spoke up to support minority employees and to object to racially insensitive comments were assured that retaliation would not occur. This has not been the case,”
“Board response to concerns of employees has been ‘inappropriate.”
Whether John Hewa has actually tendered his resignation at PEC is unknown. The cooperative is officially silent other than to confirm that Mr. Hewa has not resigned. External communication on the matter has apparently been placed on lockdown.
Whether Mr. Hewa resigns or is fired, he is clearly on his way out the door. At the board meeting on Monday, May 15, Mr. Hewa spoke briefly before he was cut off by Board President Emily Pataki, who claimed Hewa’s comments were “not accurate” and that Hewa “should not be speaking on these matters.”
Hewa accused board members of retaliating against employees for speaking out against Board Member James Oakley’s, “time for a tree and a rope” comment widely reported around the world last November.
Video and a published story in the Austin American Statesman, Thursday, May 18, 2017 is found here:
Hewa’s departure would be considered an enormous loss by most employees and PEC members. Widely respected in the utility industry and hired by a unanimous majority in 2013, Mr. Hewa has enjoyed a generally smooth tenure. Under his direction since 2013, rates have been lowered by 17%, debt has been reduced, service has significantly improved, new technology empowering members to save electricity is in place, and metrics that compare PEC performance to other similar providers have soared.
Hewa’s likely departure was fully avoidable. In failing to deal forthrightly with Mr. Oakley’s incendiary racist comments, which most observers took to mean a lynching, the story gained legs and ultimately divided the cooperative internally. Many called for Mr. Oakley to resign, citing the practices of large corporations, municipalities, school boards and other elective bodies to quickly sever themselves from similar comments. It is inescapable that PEC has chosen to sacrifice its exceptional CEO rather than remove the offending party, Mr. Oakley. To be clear, they have chosen Oakley over Hewa.
Mr. Hewa’s loss will likely register as one of the most profound blunders by any board in PEC’s 79-year history. It has taken PEC well over 10 years to retain a measure of industry reputation and public confidence following the demise and ultimate conviction on fraud charges of a former General Manager, Bennie Fuelberg. The damage to the cooperative’s reputation resulting from Mr. Oakley’s comments will run just as deep, take years to repair and will likely result in a flood of talent loss and a negative financial impact. The PEC Board of Directors, in protecting one of it’s own, James Oakley, appears willing to endorse a standard of values quite apart from the cooperative’s own stated values.