By Larry Landaker
It was a stunning scene. CEO John Hewa had something he wanted to say at yesterday’s meeting of the PEC board of directors. In the first ten minutes of the meeting he was given the floor to present his routine monthly report. He mentioned something about speaking on a “somber” note. Then, his mere utterance of one word, “retaliation”, stirred General Counsel Don Ballard to tap the shoulder of Board President Emily Pataki, who stopped Mr. Hewa cold in his tracks. The duly empowered chief executive of the nation’s largest electric cooperative was silenced and not given the floor again for the entirety of the day.
After Mr. Hewa’s interruption, Board Member Cristi Clement, requested a short recess in order to determine the legal reasoning behind this act of prior restraint. Yet, when the Board reconvened, nothing was mentioned. No reasons were given.
It remains unknown what Mr. Hewa intended to say. However, it seems the word “retaliation” is a sensitive subject around PEC. It is sensitive because of the accusations surrounding board member James Oakley’s incendiary, “time for a tree and a rope” comment, now widely known. Both the PEC board and the Texas State Commission on Judicial conduct have reprimanded Mr. Oakley for his comments and have provided further disciplinary measures and guidance for Mr. Oakley to follow.
Members would be within their rights to know exactly why Mr. Hewa was silenced in such a heavy-handed way. Mr. Hewa has always spoken in a controlled and professional manner. He has always been exceptionally well-briefed. He has always demonstrated a sensitivity to legal constraints. PEC needs to explain why Mr. Hewa was muzzled.
As was reported yesterday on PECTruthwatch, sources within PEC are alleging that Mr. Oakley has disregarded the warning he was given in the disciplinary resolution passed by the PEC board in January, 2017. That warning explicitly said, “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; and the board authorizes and encourages PEC management to act swiftly under the current PEC policy and procedures with the reporting and immediate addressing of any act of retaliation.”
It now appears that the fate of one of the nation’s most respected electric CEO’s is in the balance. Rumors abound. Is he about to be fired? Will he quit? Is he seeking a settlement? Does he have grounds to sue the cooperative? There are no answers at this hour. Thus far, Mr. Hewa remains employed at PEC.
It appears, to PEC observers, including PECTruthwatch, that Board President Emily Pataki and her board majority are eager to accept Mr. Oakley’s behavior and move ahead at all costs. They seem eager, that is, to sweep the entire Oakley matter under the rug.
During yesterday’s meeting, Director Cristi Clement attempted to place a resolution she and Director Kathy Scanlon wished to offer for consideration. She was blocked from doing so in a parliamentary move. Her resolution, buttressed by the findings of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, intended to ask the Board to remove Mr. Oakley “for cause” that includes violations of Director’s fiduciary duty or Code of Conduct/Ethics policies or the “bringing of such disrepute or disparagement to the Cooperative by unacceptable personal conduct” per the Bylaws. Clement was told that her resolution was filed too late. In fact, her resolution was filed 30 minutes before the deadline but was apparently ignored by the General Counsel, Don Ballard, until after the witching hour. Failing to respect her peer’s timely filing, Pataki ruled the Clements-Scanlon resolution out of order.
On matters such as this the Board President may assume some latitude to allow the resolution. Even the general counsel admitted that it was filed before the deadline, just not posted by him. It is a splitting of fine hairs that the resolution was not allowed. President Pataki chose to strong-arm two of her fellow directors.
Below is the resolution Ms. Clement intended to introduce but which must now wait until the June annual meeting: