Visitation hours for PEC Member and reform activist Dave Collins, who passed away yesterday, will occur at Crofts Funeral Home in Johnson City from 2p-5pm on Sunday, March 5, 2017. Crofts Funeral Home is located at 305 E. Elm. The public is welcome.
By Larry Landaker
It saddens me to report that PEC member and reform activist, Dave Collins of Johnson City, died today at Scott and White Hospital in Lakeway. He had fallen ill several days ago and was rushed to the hospital. No arrangements have been announced by the family at this hour.
Dave Collins was one of several PEC members who revolted against the authoritarian reign of Bennie Fuelberg and his complicit board of directors over 10 years ago. Following a member lawsuit against the cooperative, he demanded reforms that resulted in the election of board members. He further advocated a member Bill of Rights, guaranteeing open records, open meetings and the democratic governance which prevails today.
On a personal note, Mr. Collins advised me on numerous occasions through my six years on the PEC board, two of them as Board president. He was an experienced business consultant. I considered him one of my wisest and most trusted confidants. We didn’t agree on everything but he was a straight shooter which I respected. He was also a great friend and we shared many cups of coffee discussing LBJ, Blanco County, Vietnam, PEC and a host of other topics too long to list. Dave served his nation honorably in Vietnam. He was exceptionally well-read and I reveled in his intellect.
I last saw Dave in Blanco about 6 weeks ago where we met for breakfast. He appeared happy and healthy and we enjoyed one last cup of coffee at an outside table that balmy winter morning, an experience which I will always remember. I will miss him terribly. Rest in peace, good friend.
The Hijacking of Pedernales Electric Cooperative
by Richard Golladay, PEC member
A Dec 29, 2016, lawsuit filed against Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) and five Directors (Pataki, Graf, Akers, Powers and Oakley) is a “last ditch effort” on the part of two brave PEC Directors (Scanlon and Clement) to halt a process that has been evolving for some years.
See PEC Truthwatch post, January 9, “Two PEC Directors File Suit Against Cooperative
Unknown to the vast majority of its members, PEC is being systematically hijacked. Most PEC member-owners are unaware because most who vote in Director elections (about 10%) “trust” the Directors they’ve elected. All but a few PEC members have discretionary time to attend monthly PEC Board meetings in Johnson City to observe what is going on.
Having attended most Board meetings for over 5 years now, I’ve observed that every new Director elected to the Board, starting four years ago, have from their very first appearance, been preoccupied with trying to change the Co-op’s bylaws and voting rules.
The last five Directors who’ve appeared on the Board (and replaced that excellent Board who ended the corrupt Bernie Fuelberg era nine years ago) have a common agenda, which they are advancing slowly and methodically. That agenda (and its full repercussions) went unreported in the press, with one sensational exception:
The straw that broke the camel’s back came on August 19. 2016. Having achieved a “super majority” (five out of seven Director positions) the Board voted unilaterally, without member consent, to overturn a 70+ year voting system known as “At Large” voting, which allows all PEC members to vote in all Director elections. The “Single Member District” (SMD) system they replaced it with only allows members within each district to vote for his or her Board representative. The obvious advantage to SMDs is that richly funded candidates will be able to outspend opposition with campaign road-side signs and mass mail-outs and win by name recognition virtually every time.
Four of the five most recent Directors were sponsored by a secretive organization called “American Reform Coalition”, which also uses the name “Texans for Affordable Electric Rates”. This organization is anti Co-op, from what little can be discovered about it, and most likely represents an effort by large fossil fuel energy interests to deregulate Co-ops – or force them to embrace customer choice. The Co-op’s customers would be baited by slick advertising, as in other deregulated areas of Texas, and lured to buy power from internet store front facade privately owned retail electric providers – supplied by the major energy companies, of course, who own most of Texas’s fossil-fired coal and natural gas plants, and transmission lines. No doubt, another component exists within this subterfuge of special interests, which would be an attempt to stop the further adoption of renewables (wind and solar).
The most appalling fact about the hijacking process is that it is preeminently political. In early 2015 an exercise in tyranny was orchestrated by Tony Dale, Paul Workman, and other House Republicans in the form of House Bills 3451 and 3391. These outrageous bills, had they been passed, would have (1) nullified the existing Board of PEC by resetting all Director elections, (2) nullified our bylaws by forcing Single Member District representation, and (3) changed PEC’s plurality voting to majority voting with requirements for runoff elections. These bills represented the tip of a political machine’s spear, but the agenda in these failed House bills is nevertheless alive and well on the current and dutifully complicit Board.
Can PEC survive as a democratic member-owned Co-operative? Probably not, if the lawsuit fails. It may become nothing more than a local crony energy arm of the Republican Party. And being a Republican, I am both appalled and ashamed.
Publisher’s note: Lawyers will meet in court in Hays County next week.
It took the Board of Directors of PEC eight long tumultuous weeks to take action on Board Vice President James Oakley’s “time for a tree and a rope” comments he made on his personal Facebook page last November. At yesterday’s PEC board meeting the board voted 6-0 in favor of a resolution removing Mr. Oakley as a board officer. He will remain on the board and will continue to receive full compensation as a director.
A fair summary of yesterday’s meeting was reported in the Austin American-Statesman:
In taking this action the board acknowledged recommendations made by a special complaint committee comprised of board president Emily Pataki and directors Paul Graf and Kathy Scanlon. Their report acknowledged Mr. Oakley’s First Amendment constitutional right to free speech. It also suggested that Mr. Oakley “must have a heightened sense of awareness regarding his personal and public activities…and has cast certain unfavorable light to PEC’s goodwill and brand and has apparently caused a negative impact to PEC’s otherwise high employee morale.”
Among other things the committee recommended that Mr. Oakley be issued a warning to “thoughtfully guard his public and personal actions” and that “no member or employee should be subject to any actual, or perceived act of retaliation for their individual input into the Cooperative’s review of this matter.” Retaliation is strictly prohibited under PEC policy. Finally, “In the best interests of the Cooperative…the Board of Directors should replace Director Oakley as Vice President of the Board, effectively removing him from his leadership position on the Board.
by Larry Landaker
It has been 7 weeks since PEC Board Vice President and Burnet County Judge James Oakley posted on his Facebook account a photo and accompanying statement from the San Antonio Police Department of an African-American murder suspect, with the comment, “Time for a tree and a rope.” A complaint committee of the Board of Directors was formed on November 30, 2016, to review the merits of a formal complaint filed by Director Cristi Clement regarding Director Oakley’s comment.
Seven weeks of secret meetings of the complaint committee ensued.The meetings were preceded by comments from numerous members and some PEC employees. At times these comments were emotional. No action or recommendations were made until today. Today the committee released a Report and Recommendation that will be considered by the full Board on January 17, 2017. The findings of the committee are reported here:
By Larry Landaker, Publisher, PECTruthwatch
Legal action was taken on behalf of concerned member-owners whose voting rights may have been critically diminished by a majority vote of the PEC Board during an August 2016 meeting. The two Directors filing suit, Cristi Clement and Kathy Scanlon voted against the August resolution. The are joined in the lawsuit by PEC member Thomas Mitchell and are represented by attorney, Randall Buck Wood.
The voting rights of PEC members are protected under Texas Law, in the Utilities Code, Chapter 161. The law says, “Each member present at a meeting of the members is entitled to one vote on each matter submitted to a vote at that meeting.”
Today the majority of PEC members are ineligible to vote in the upcoming 2017 election. Only members from District 2 and 3 will be allowed to vote. Thus, the remainder of the membership is disenfranchised from a vote to which they are entitled under the law.
It would appear that the Board exceeded its authority when they UNILATERALLY changed the PEC election rules.
Under current Texas law, members should be entitled to enjoy full voting rights. PEC members have voted on this matter twice, in 2011 and 2014 and both times REJECTED a change in the at-large voting system. In supporting the at-large system, members voted, in essence, to hold all seven (7) directors accountable for cooperative business.
Under the plan approved by the Board last August, members can vote for only one (1) director every three (3) years, thus leaving members with significantly diminished control of the Board.
It is unclear whether PEC lawyers (both the outside general counsel, Don Richards and the General Counsel, Don Ballard advised the Board of the law before the board took action, or whether the board simply chose to ignore it. In any event, it is incumbent upon counsel and the Board to protect and maintain strong democratic member control of their own cooperative. The resolution passed last August negatively impacts democratic member control.
The lawsuit now places in doubt the question of if or when the cooperative will change its voting system to single-member districts, a matter that will apparently be decided in court. The next election of board members is scheduled for June 2017.
Publisher’s Note: Guest Opinions are welcomed from any PEC member, subject to the editorial standards of PECTruthwatch. The opinions expressed may or may not reflect the opinion of the publisher and all viewpoints are considered. Members are invited to comment as part of this post.
by Chris Perry, former PEC board member
The current controversy and calls for the removal of James Oakley from the PEC Board because of something he said on Facebook raise crucial and fundamental issues concerning effective democratic control of the cooperative. The fact that PEC leaders find themselves in a yet another governance crisis highlights the dismal quality of legal advice the Board receives and the failure of the Board to enforce its own long-standing code of conduct. To be clear, the conduct to which I refer is not Director Oakley’s.
In 2007 a member revolt began that took back control of PEC from an entrenched and corrupt group of management and board insiders ending decades of financial and governance abuses, including the practice of the Board of Directors deciding who could and could not serve on the board. I became involved in the grassroots effort to reform PEC when a friend was denied the right to appear on the ballot as a Director candidate in 2007. Later, I was encouraged to run for the Board and was elected, under new election procedures, eventually serving two terms as a PEC Director. The current controversy around removal or “discipline” of an elected Director is cause for concern. Now, even some of those PEC members who fought to overturn the decades of abuse are calling for Oakley’s removal because of remarks considered offensive, that he posted on Facebook—remarks that are undoubtedly constitutionally protected speech.
This controversy hits a nerve with me because I too worked to overturn the corrupt and self-perpetuating insider group that ruled PEC for decades; because I have defended the right of PEC Directors to exercise their constitutional right of free speech; and because I too was the target of and successfully fought off an attempt to remove me from my elected Director position at PEC.
What may not be clear to many PEC watchers is that the path that led to the current controversy—aside from what Mr. Oakley himself probably would agree was a poorly thought out Facebook post—began in November with little fanfare and even less deliberation, when the PEC Board adopted a new Bylaw giving itself the unprecedented authority to overturn a Director election. Without any explanation of the need for or meaning of the change, PEC’s then General Counsel Don Richards urged the Board to adopt the Bylaw revision, implying only that the change reflected best practices among his other cooperative clients in the telephone business. (Note: In response to an Open Records request by the author, PEC lawyers have refused to provide documents reflecting the detailed history of the development of the November Bylaw change, or the perceived need for it.)
While in the past, a PEC Director could only be removed by the members for malfeasance, i.e. an illegal act, or by the Board because the Director no longer met the qualifications to be a PEC Director, the newly adopted Bylaw confers upon the Board the power to remove a Director for “bringing of such disrepute or disparagement to the Cooperative”. Inexplicably, Mr. Richards offered no public explanation of what would constitute “disrepute or disparagement”, and the Board requested no public explanation prior to its adoption. I believe that such a subjective standard of cause for removal of an elected Director has no place in PEC Bylaws and threatens the hard fought for reforms of ten years ago.
Importantly, the newly adopted Bylaw requires that a complaint made by a Director against another Director be made in “good faith”, a term defined in PEC’s Directors Code of Conduct. In this case, Director Clement brought the complaint against Director Oakley. Having been privy to the inner workings and dynamics of the PEC Board for six years, I believe there are grounds for the Board to re-examine the behavior of Director Clement toward Mr. Oakley, and that a careful review of Director Clement’s conduct since Oakley’s first election will raise serious doubts about the complaint meeting the standard of “good faith” required by the revised Bylaw.
Removing or interfering with an elected Director’s legal rights and duties, exercised on behalf of the members that vested those rights and duties in him, threatens the foundation of democratic control of the cooperative. In fact, I argue that Mr. Oakley owes a duty to all PEC members to defend any attempt to remove him or to interfere with the exercise of his fiduciary responsibility to the cooperative and its member-owners. Finally, I urge the PEC Board to more carefully examine if the complaint against Oakley was made in good faith and suggest that the PEC Board consider rescinding the ill-conceived Bylaw change.