New Rules

OakleyThere has never been any love lost between Ernest Altgelt and the PEC board over the years. I have had more than a few tangles with Mr. Altgelt myself. During the two years I was board president, I remember him accusing the board of being the “Enron of the Hill Country”. My response to him was pointed and heated. He was rude in his comments toward Patrick Cox, who was the board president until last June, often demanding that he resign or belittling his well-earned PhD. Occasionally Altgelt goes too far as when he had inappropriate interactions with staff members–something which had to be stopped. He seldom speaks about matters germane to the day’s business, choosing instead to address his own subjects. Occasionally he is right as he was when he demanded the travel expenses for every board member. Members have the right to know these things. Mr. Altgelt is a gadfly and an oddball…but he occasionally offers a nugget of truth. Above all else, he has every right to speak.

Free speech is a very big deal with me. I will travel some distance to fight for someone who has been publicly silenced by a heavy hand. Mr. Altgelt was silenced yesterday in a PEC board meeting by an overzealous board president, James Oakley. Mr. Oakley ordered Mr. Altgelt’s microphone muted when he disagreed with what Mr. Altgelt had to say. When that didn’t work, Mr. Oakley ordered an armed security officer to remove Altgelt from the meeting. Altgelt extended his hands to the officer and asked to be tased and handcuffed in protest. This ridiculous, Kafkaesque scene played out in full view and on camera during the member comments section of the meeting.Altgelt

(Note: The security officer was Johnson City Police Chief Randy Holland who handled the situation with skill and great restraint, gently speaking with Altgelt and nudging him toward the door. It was a model of good policing).

Prior to member comments Mr. Oakley took the occasion to lecture the members present about his new rules. He declared that he had unilaterally changed the rules of decorum (which were unanimously passed by the Board several years ago and which have served us perfectly well ever since). Mr. Oakley inferred that member comments were somehow a privilege granted by the chairman, that they could be taken away at any time, that comments had to be germane to the topics of the day, etc etc. In essence he was saying, “If I don’t like what I hear I will cut off your mic.”.new rules This authoritarian rubbish is unacceptable. It should not be tolerated by the members who fought hard for the unfettered right to speak. It was the Fuelberg regime which conducted its business without public comment or even meeting access. A revolt of the members ensued over this and many other matters and eventually the members filed a successful class action lawsuit against the Cooperative and won.

Mr. Oakley should be reminded that when he is presiding over a PEC meeting, he is not in commissioner’s court in Burnet county where he is apparently the grand poo-bah who gets to make his own rules. Until 7 years ago, PEC was a secretive, lawless enterprise with rules known only to those who ran it. When it comes to limiting free speech, Mr. Oakley should tread lightly. He either believes in constitutionally protected free speech or he doesn’t. Telling people what they can or cannot say or how they say it invites big trouble. He should tell members that they have 3 minutes to speak and then let them have at it. Mr. Oakley should know of the futility of prior restraint when it comes to free speech in the United States.

Mr. Oakley should have known better than to fall into Mr. Altgelt’s trap. He surely has enough experience to understand that you never win such encounters–the optics of the police being called to remove a citizen for heckling or speaking his mind often results in sympathy for the protester. Citizens take sides with their fellow citizens. Censoring him censors me. YouTube is full of these things.

Besides, it is naive for President Oakley or anyone else to believe that he can truly stifle speech critical of him. We live in a social media world with blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. These are the great equalizer. For example, when I publish this blog, it will automatically post to my Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin accounts with thousands of followers, many of them PEC members. By pushing another button I could link this story to an email blast to over 7,000 PEC members I have gathered over the years…and it all can be seen worldwide by anyone with one of these accounts and Mr. Oakley has no say in what I say. Censorship and control of free speech is quite yesterday.

By contract how many people watch the live streaming of the PEC meetings? 50? How many people attend the meetings–a dozen?

Come on James Oakley, get a thicker skin. You are better than this. A leader’s strength and power is derived from his patience and restraint, not bombast and heavy handedness. I am pulling for you to be the former, not the latter. I like you and want you to do well, if for no other reason than I revere the cooperative.

voltaireIn the end it is always better to let people speak, even those you do not like. Let them say what is on their mind, even if they choose to read recipes from a book. As a board member I always learned far more from our members than I ever learned from almost anyone else in the room.

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6 thoughts on “New Rules

  1. I was watching the video feed of the PEC Board meeting around noon Tuesday in order to see the owner-member comments. But first I had to listen to a rather long dissertation by Judge James Oakley, the county judge of Burnet County, and the current Board president, during which he suggested that the Board during its meetings might just eliminate the comment period entirely and thereby end any opportunity for the cooperative’s owners to address agenda items at public meetings.

    He also pointed to new language governing the presentation of comments and stressed the necessity of one’s addressing agenda items only.

    His announcement took at least one director, Cristi Clement, by surprise, for she asked when these changes had been discussed, with whom, and why there had been no vote by the Board.

    Once Judge Oakley was done, Ernest Altgelt began his three-minute comment, intending to comment at the outset on what he had just heard from Judge Oakley. Then, on being abruptly interrupted by Judge Oakley with the charge that he was straying from agenda items, Ernest began his planned comment on the on-going litigation involving Director Perry, only to be told that he was not permitted to address that topic either, presumably because it was also not on the agenda.

    I say presumably because the video and audio feeds were cut the moment Ernest mentioned that Emily Pataki and Judge Oakley had been at the hearing Friday in Burnet, where Judge Stubbs was considering Perry’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

    If Judge Oakley did indeed cut Ernest off because he believed that Ernest was addressing a topic that was not on the agenda, Judge Oakley acted improperly.

    The published agenda for today’s Board meeting contains the following item:

    12. Executive Session
    A. Legal Matters [my emphasis]
    1. Update on Litigation and Other Legal Matters [my emphasis]
    2. Matters in Which the Board Seeks the Advice of Its Attorney as Privileged
    Communications in the Rendition of Professional Legal Services

    And the case of Perry v PEC is very much a “legal matter.” Judge Stubbs heard the summary judgment motion last Friday and will render his decision Monday or Tuesday of next week, having given the attorneys on both sides time this week to file additional material for consideration. Judge Oakley was in the courtroom in Burnet and would have heard the judge’s announcement of his plans.

    I do not know for certain, of course, but having talked to Ernest in Burnet, and having observed and heard what he saw and heard there, I suspect he would have asked the Board to end this expensive effort to prevent Director Perry from obtaining information about communications between PEC and its major power provider, LCRA, whose charges largely determine our cooperative’s rates for electric power.

    In any event, Ernest was addressing a topic that was on the agenda, and one that no doubt got plenty of discussion in the Board’s Executive Session, away from the eyes and ears of us mere owner-members.

    I don’t know what happened after the audio and video feeds were cut, but I do know that Ernest wasn’t hauled off to jail, or worse, for I heard him ask, as Judge Oakley was breaking for lunch, for an extension of time to address the Board. Judge Oakley said “No.”

    I guess doing away with owner-member comments is a step in a logical progression for folks who conduct much of the cooperative’s business in secret and who kill microphones and terminate live video feeds when their behavior is being called into question.

    Fear not: things can get worse, and probably will.

    Milton Hawkins

    PS: You can see the video (what was filmed, at least, and then the blank screen) on the PEC web site.

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  2. Dearest Larry –

    I hope you embrace the notion of free speech as it relates to my rebuttal of your viewpoints since it is your blog and you own the mute button. Once again we are entertained with your embellished account of events without including all the facts. I would challenge any readers to watch the video of the member comment section of our last meeting. It is about 2 hours into recording. I disagree that I lectured members about declaring new rules. I felt like I adequately articulated the existing decorum policy, nothing new there except for an expectation in the event of non-compliance.

    You mentioned that Mr. Altgelt has previously ” gone too far in having inappropriate interactions with staff – which had to be stopped”. I would maintain that yesterday’s remedy was a parallel repeat of his inappropriate interaction during a PEC meeting that, too, had to be stopped. The pre-existing policy was explained and it was depicted on the sign-up sheet and the consequences were printed and reinforced verbally as well. I gave him a warning moments into his dialogue to which he responded in a very disrespectful way. Then when he began a personal attack on a sitting Director and a sitting District Judge, at that point, I did indeed proceed to enact the remedy that was in place. As General Counsel stated in the meeting, the PEC is a private corporation and as such, there is no constitutional right to free speech at the meeting. There is no member right that allows for such either. Free speech is a constitutional right in public places. When the errant speaker refused to remove himself from the podium, I did indeed ask the security officer ( yes they are generally armed ) to assist. I hardly ordered him to do so. I would mention this was not the first time that the security officer has had to interact with Mr. Altgelt.

    You categorized my handling of the situation as “authoritarian rubbish ” even though I had verbally stated, and as was included on the sign up sheet, that the majority of the board could overrule the action of the Chairman. Please review the recording, there was no motion to that effect. I can assure you I fell in no trap as you infer. To the contrary, the events as they played out proved to show my respect of fellow Directors, staff and the membership. Since that moment, I have received numerous texts, emails, calls and good old slaps on the back applauding me for taking a definitive stance on what is really a pitiful situation. To be clear, I do invite member comments at the meeting, but, that platform is no way to be used as a no rules apply opportunity to make personal attacks that in no way corrolate to the business of the cooperative.

    Your post seems to threaten me by stating you could simply push a button and send your blog post to over 7,000 member emails you have gathered over the years. In the last PEC election, in which you handily lost your position, you received 1,632 votes. My take is that most of the folks on your digital contact list might would rather not be.

    Again, I hope you embrace the same expectation of others when it come to free speech and post my comment.

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    • Having now watched Tom Roudebush’s video of the meeting, covering the parts that were blacked out by PEC, I can say with certainty that, contrary to Judge Oakley’s assertion in his comment on this blog, Ernest never attacked “a sitting Director” (Emily Pataki or Judge Oakley) or a “sitting District Judge” (Judge Evan Stubbs).

      Ernest got only the following out of his mouth before Judge Oakley interrupted him and ordered the audio and video feeds cut: “Ms. Pataki and you were at Burnet County before Judge Stubbs.”

      I also noticed that, contrary to his assertion in his posted comment about Ernest’s having launched a “personal attack,” Judge Oakley in the actual meeting resorted to the new rules he had enacted and announced at the beginning of the meeting. He accused Ernest of having strayed from topics on the published agenda.

      Use the link Tom provided,

      to check all this out for yourselves.

      I’ve dealt with this charge (attempting to address a topic not on the agenda) already, and posted my response on this blog as a comment, making the point that “Legal Matters” was indeed an item on the published agenda.

      But I’d question even further, focusing on the advent of this new “guideline” (to use the outside counsel’s term) that speakers must address items on the agenda for a specific meeting. Despite Judge Oakley’s repeated references to PEC’s Decorum Policy, which I downloaded from the PEC web site and reviewed just today, that policy doesn’t require that speakers address specific agenda topics.

      Here’s the relevant part:

      http://www.pec.coop/Home/Your_Cooperative/Meetings_and_Voting.aspx
      http://www.pec.coop/docs/default…/decorum-policy-final-9-15-14.pdf?...

      DECORUM POLICY
      2. Board of Directors’ Meetings

      2.6.Participants shall refrain from disruptive behavior. Distracting, irrelevant or unrelated subject matter, personal or character attacks, speaking out of turn, approaching or standing at the Board meeting dais without the permission of the Presiding Officer, or improperly sidetracking the attention of other Participants are examples of disruptive behavior.

      The closest we get here to regulations regarding the content of the speaker’s comments are the examples of “disruptive behavior,” among them “[d]istracting, irrelevant or unrelated subject matter.”

      As I’ve pointed out earlier, the lawsuit Perry v. PEC is a legal matter involving secret communications between officials of PEC and LCRA, PEC’s major power supplier. Hardly a matter that is irrelevant, and very much a “legal matter” that would be “related” and included in the agenda item “Legal Matters.”

      I think it is clear, now, that Judge Oakley first manufactured (“enacted”) a policy, with the aid of the outside counsel, modifying the existing Board-approved Decorum Policy as they saw fit, and then used that policy to silence Ernest, acting on his assumption that Ernest was going to make remarks critical of the Board’s handling of Director Perry’s request for access to the communications he wants to examine.

      Regards to all, and enjoy Tom’s video.

      Milton

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  3. In that same meeting, Judge Oakley voted in favor of striking an article from the Directors Code of Conduct (Article B8), which forbids sitting Directors from making political endorsements in future Board elections. Now Mr. Oakley and other Board members are presumably free to take swipes at sitting Board members in the public forum, which, as we know, in politics can be ad-hominem, divisive, and shallow. So while Mr. Oakley has reserved for himself an authoritarian power to unilaterally mute and stifle member comments, he has hypocritically helped eliminate the Director Code of Conduct “decorum” rule that previously set boundaries on his own conduct. This appears to be an abuse of power, and the latest evidence of an orchestrated attempt to turn PEC’s Board into a partisan political organization, rather than a member-owned Electric Co-op Board.

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  4. Mr. Golladay –

    The chair of the meeting has always had the “power” to mute the microphone and take other actions to maintain the decorum as set forth by policy. I merely enacted that authority. As mentioned prior, by democratic rule, a majority of the board ( 4 of the 7 members ) may override the presiding officer.

    As for the Director Code of Conduct modification, I proudly claim that I embrace Constitutional rights. I do not believe the PEC Board of Directors has the legal authority to “muffle” potential candidate support when off of PEC property. I dispute your claim that I am part of an “orchestrated attempt to turn the PEC’s Board into a partisan organization…” . Respecting the Constitution is a far cry from your assertion.

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  5. Milton –

    Thanks for your comment. What you may not realize is that I have already heard the story he was telling, and I knew what the next sentence was going to be. Out of respect for the parties envolved, I was not going to let that next sentiment occur. As former Director Landacker pointed out, Ernest has a long history of inappropriate actions during the meetings and with female staff in the facility. While it may appear that I was a bit quick on the trigger, and I get that, it was based on ample history. I maintain that pursuant to section 2.6 of the Decorum policy, his most recent actions are reminiscent of past and do not adhere to the policy. I do take exception to your reference to a dictator. Does your video indicate a motion and second to allow continuance as allowed for? Maybe you could manufacture that.

    Respectfully,

    James Oakley

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