The High Cost of a Tree and a Rope

editorial and opinionBy Larry Landaker, Publisher of PEC Truthwatch

Information about former CEO John Hewa’s recent departure from PEC has been made public by the Austin American Statesman. According to an article published today,  Mr. Hewa was apparently paid handsomely to “leave quietly”.

“The former chief executive of Pedernales Electric Cooperative was recently awarded an estimated $1.1 million to leave quietly in May, the American-Statesman has learned, on the heels of a dramatic board meeting in which he announced his intent to resign and accused board members of retaliating against employees who spoke out against perceived racism at the electric utility.”

Link to the entire article is found below:

pec john hewa 3

Former CEO John Hewa

It is clear from this story that Mr. Hewa’s departure remains a sensitive matter for the Board of Directors who authorized the settlement. Neither the Board President, Emily Pataki, nor the Acting CEO, Tracy Golden, would comment for the Statesman story. Furthermore, the Board appeared to have no intention of providing its member-owners with details concerning the settlement sum until next year when the cooperative would be forced to disclose it as part of its IRS 990 filing. So much for transparency.

There is good reason why this subject remains a sensitive matter. It is a near-certainty that the Board would not wish to link the cost of Mr. Hewa’s “go quietly” money to its own board member, James Oakley. It was Mr. Oakley who started a chain of events, ultimately leading to Mr. Hewa’s departure. It was Mr. Oakley who uttered the viral-bound words, “time for a tree and a rope” on his personal Facebook page in reference to an accused African-American suspect in the killing of a San Antonio police officer.

Nor would the board wish to acknowledge the highly avoidable cost of their own fiduciary failure in protecting the cooperative’s best interests. Instead, they dithered and  chose to protect one of their own, Mr. Oakley.  When they finally got around to giving Mr. Oakley a slap on the wrist by removing his title as board vice president, Oakley allegedly set about on a vendetta against Mr. Hewa and against the employees who protested against Mr. Oakley’s comments.

$1.1 million to go quietly. Perhaps the board was lucky. Mr. Hewa, no doubt, chose to protect his family and good reputation and move on with what will undoubtedly be a bright future. His settlement was probably a pittance when measured against the ultimate legal and financial exposure PEC faced at the hands of James Oakley. Employers cannot punish employees for making discrimination or harassment complaints or participating in workplace investigations. To do so, if proven, violates PEC’s own workplace policies, not to mention state and federal law.

And where is PEC today? It’s reputation once again is in tatters, not because of its dedicated rank and file employees, but because of the actions of those at the top.

Was it worth it?



One thought on “The High Cost of a Tree and a Rope

  1. This debacle has cost the Board something far more importnat than $1.1 Million. It has cost them their integrity, respect and trust. From the PEC Website: “At PEC, our members are also our owners. That’s why we strive to make doing business easier and more convenient. Our business is conducted via a transparent and democratic process THAT WE ENCOURAGE OUR MEMBERS TO PARTICIPATE IN AND REVIEW” (emphasis added). Good, I’d like to PARTICIPATE AND REVIEW by asking the BOARD to immediately release the details of a $1.1 Million severance.


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