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Cooperative proposal shot down

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By David Giuliani

Members of a northeastern New Mexico utility board wanted to keep the same number of members. The customers’ response: No way.

The Mora-San Miguel Electric Cooperative held an election Wednesday on whether to keep the Board of Trustees at 11 members. A total of 649 customers rejected that idea, while 159 agreed.

During the summer, the membership voted at its annual meeting to cut the number of members from 11 to five. The election’s petitioners contended it was too expensive to have 11 members, citing $254,000 in costs for items such as health insurance, meeting payments and conventions.

Before that change had even taken effect, a number of trustees led by Diego Quintana of Pecos pushed for another election to reverse the membership decision. They scheduled the election at a controversial time — for three hours during the morning on a business day in the middle of Christmas season. That timing led many members to cry foul, accusing the trustees of trying to keep voter turnout low to pass their proposal.

Opponents of the latest proposal paid for ads in the newspaper and wrote letters to the editor to persuade customers to go to Mora — the only place to vote — to stop the trustees’ move.

Their efforts likely paid off. A total of 808 voters showed up at the polling place, around a 10th of the nearly 10,000 members in the cooperative, which serves rural customers in Mora and San Miguel counties. That was far more than showed up during the annual meeting, when 338 voted. Many had to be on the road for more than a hour to get to vote Wednesday.

“When I got there, there was a line outside the building. I waited in line for half an hour. Over 450 people had voted when I was there at 11:30 a.m.,” said Frank Splendoria, a cooperative member from the Las Vegas area. “They tried to pull the wool over the people’s eyes. Apparently, it didn’t work.”

Cooperative officials, including Quintana and Board of Trustees Chairman Carlos Lovato, didn’t return calls for comment on Wednesday. Lovato said previously he didn’t support having another election on the issue so soon after the bylaws had been changed, but he had contended that 11 trustees are needed to effectively represent the membership.

Quintana has said he pushed for keeping the cooperative at 11 members after being asked by a constituent.

John Pintek, one of the leaders of the effort against the 11-member board, said the customers sent a message that the trustees have to represent their interests.

“I wasn’t surprised we won, but I was very elated by the extent,” he said. “With five, it’s important that we get good people on the cooperative board.”

Pintek said voters parked along the side of the highway for about a quarter mile in each direction and that there was a traffic jam at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post, where the polling station was.

Previously, the utility’s five districts had different numbers of trustees. For instance, Pecos had three. Now each district will have just one trustee, so the cooperative will have to get a consultant to divide the districts into areas of roughly equal populations, Pintek said.

Former Trustee Frank Roybal, who is recovering from surgery, said he would have voted against the 11-member proposal. If he had had his way, Roybal would have created a seven-member board, but he preferred five to 11.

“I don’t think it was right to have an election. These guys don’t understand,” he said.