A candidate for a seat on an electric cooperative board has sued the utility, claiming that it failed to follow its own bylaws and discriminated against him.
In May, Louis Clayton lost by one vote to Daniel Romero in the San Juan-based District 4 race for trustee for the Mora-San Miguel Electric Cooperative board. Romero took 34 votes to Clayton’s 33.
The lawsuit, filed in state District Court in Las Vegas on Friday, is requesting a judge stop Romero from taking office while the dispute is settled. Romero swore in for a three-year term during the cooperative’s annual meeting Saturday.
According to the cooperative’s bylaws, 5 percent of the members from District 4 needed to vote within the first hour of the three hours of voting to make the election legitimate.
Instead, the utility, which serves more than 10,000 customers in northeastern New Mexico, operated under a rolling quorum over the three hours, as called for under a 1993 policy. The utility couldn’t get enough voters within the first hour.
“The bylaws are the constitution, and they have to be followed,” said Dave Romero, a Las Vegas attorney representing Clayton. “Any policies you pass have to be consistent with the original constitutional document.”
The attorney said his client wants Daniel Romero off the board while the dispute is being resolved. If a judge find that Daniel Romero’s election was illegitimate, every board decision with Daniel Romero as a member could be challenged, the lawyer said.
The lawsuit notes that three lists of eligible voters in District 4 were circulating before and after the election, so it’s unclear how many votes were needed to meet the quorum requirement. The board contends it’s 67, but Clayton argues that two lists indicate it’s 68.
Also, the lawsuit contends that the utility denied Clayton his constitutionally guaranteed rights based on his race and his freedom of association. Clayton is Anglo, while the board majority is Hispanic.
According to the lawsuit, a majority of the board supported Daniel Romero, while a minority backed Clayton.
The lawsuit also claims the utility, which is a nonprofit organization created as part of a federal rural electrification program in the 1930s, violated the Freedom of Information Act. It states that the cooperative charged Clayton $66 for a list of eligible voters.
“Sixty-six dollars is not a reasonable charge for the request for information,” the lawsuit states.
Nicolas Leger, the board’s former attorney who was present during the District 4 election, has said the 1993 policy clarifies the bylaws and that the rolling quorum is allowed. He called the policy “a practical interpretation and application of the bylaws.”
He has said it has been difficult to get quorums and that the cooperative would have to endlessly reschedule elections if it didn’t have the rolling quorum.
Leger, who is running as a Democrat for County Commission, is no longer the utility’s attorney because members voted over the weekend to prohibit the cooperative’s legal counsel from filing for partisan elected office.
Daniel Romero, who was named as a defendant, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
Carlos Lovato, a board member and the former chairman, said he agrees with Clayton’s arguments.
“If we’re not following the rules, soon none of us will be on this board. We took an oath to follow the bylaws of the cooperative. This is our constitution,” Lovato said.
Felix Vigil was voted in as the new chairman after the utility’s annual meeting Saturday. He couldn’t be reached for comment.