Utility members call for change

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By David Giuliani

MORA — By big majorities, members of a cooperative serving northeastern New Mexico made one thing clear at Saturday’s annual meeting: They want change.

A total of 255 members of the Mora-San Miguel Electric Cooperative showed up at the meeting in Mora to vote on seven proposed bylaw changes. They approved all of them.

The new bylaws will scrap health insurance for the members of the Board of Trustees, all of whom are part time; set term limits; require the utility’s trustees and attorney to resign when they file for partisan political offices; increase the number of polling places for annual and special meetings; strictly prohibit nepotism; and prohibit changes to just-amended bylaws for another three years.

This is the second annual meeting in a row in which members voted in substantial changes. Last summer, they decided to reduce the Board of Trustees from 11 to 5 members. During a weekday special meeting last December, however, the trustees tried to overturn that change, but members came out in force to prevent a reversal of their previous decision.

In recent times, members have been upset over the costs associated with the board. In one two-year period, the cooperative reported that it had spent $254,000 for meeting payments, travel and health insurance for trustees. More than two-thirds of members in Saturday’s election supported doing away with the insurance benefit. (Other part-time cooperative employees, unlike trustees, haven’t received insurance.)

One proposal approved appeared to have an immediate effect. Nearly two-thirds voted for barring the utility’s attorney and trustees from filing for partisan elected office and if they do so, they must resign. Attorney Nicolas Leger and Trustee Marcellino Ortiz are running as Democrats for County Commission seats.

Carlos Lovato, chairman of the Board of Trustees, pushed for the proposal, but he said it wasn’t meant to be anything personal against Leger or Ortiz. He said he wanted to make sure board members and the attorney didn’t get into situations involving conflicts of interest.

Leger said after the meeting that he accepted the decision.

“I understand that people want change. I don’t understand why it was proposed in the first place,” he said.

Members voted on competing proposals for increasing the number of polling sites during cooperative - wide elections. This has become a big issue for many members, especially those in Pecos and other areas, who have to drive long distances to vote in Mora, the only place allowed to have a polling site for such elections.

More than 70 percent supported the proposal calling for polling sites in Mora, Pecos and Las Vegas, while 63 percent voted for the alternative seeking sites in all five districts.

Asked near the end of the meeting about which proposal on polling sites would prevail, Leger responded, “I’m not the legal counsel anymore.”

Lovato said outside the meeting that members clearly wanted change.

“It’s been what people have been saying they want — change,” he said.

The bylaws needed to be reviewed, and that’s why many in Pecos have felt left out of the loop, he said.

Diego Quintana, a Pecos resident who lost re-election to the board after nine years, said he supported all of the proposed bylaw changes.

“This should have been done 20 or 30 years ago,” he said.

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Also during the annual meeting, Harold “Hub” Thompson, chairman of the board for Tri-

State Generation & Transmission Association, spoke to the membership.

The Mora-San Miguel cooperative is one of 44 that belong to Tri-State, which provides electricity for rural customers in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

Thompson stressed that like the Mora-San Miguel utility, his association is nonprofit and strives to keep rates as low as possible.

“Wall Street gets confused by us because we’re a cooperative. We judge our CEO by how low he keeps rates,” he said.

But Thompson warned that rates may be going up soon, predicting they would stabilize after that.

Thompson said the cost of energy has driven electric rates higher in recent years. He said the cost of transportation of coal, which is what most of Tri-State’s power plants use, has doubled and even tripled.

He also said government mandates have increased the cost of doing business.

Thompson warned members about carbon taxes under consideration in Congress; advocates of such taxes argue that such taxes are needed to combat global warming.

He said a carbon tax could easily double electric rates. The federal government should take a go-slow approach toward the carbon tax and that if there is a tax, the proceeds should go toward research and development for energy efficiency, he said.

Thompson praised the cooperative’s leadership.

“It’s well-managed. There’s a little controversy, but that’s healthy,” he said.