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Utility's trustees questioned

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By David Giuliani

Some of the members of the Mora-San Miguel Electric Cooperative’s Board of Trustees don’t live in the areas they were elected to represent.

That troubles at least one cooperative customer. But the utility, which serves thousands of residents in Mora and San Miguel counties, maintains the trustees are allowed to serve out their terms.

In December, more than 80 percent of customers participating in an election rejected a trustee proposal to keep the board at 11 members. The board called that election, even though the membership had already voted the previous summer to reduce the board to five.

Because the customers again rejected the status quo, the board was required to redistrict because certain districts, depending on population, had more trustees than others. With the new system, the board divided its service area into five districts with about the same numbers of customers.

The trustees approved a redistricting plan a couple of months ago. As a result, four of the incumbents now live outside their newly formed districts.

“Our position is that if you have no district, you need to go. We can go to the attorney general and make them step down,” said Rey Herrera, a customer who was part of the group that pushed the 11-to-5 reduction.

Both Herrera and Carlos Lovato, chairman of the Board of Trustees, agreed that the four members living outside their districts are Elizabeth Leyba, Roy Gallegos, Felix Vigil and Daniel Romero.

Lovato said that at the advice of the utility’s attorney, Nicolas Leger, the board has let the four members stay in their posts. Trustees serve staggered three-year terms.

Leger said that it would be against both the state and federal constitutions to remove the board members who no longer live in their redrawn districts.

“All of the board members shall continue to hold office until the expiration of their terms. There is a constitutional issue in that you can’t district someone out of their office,” he said. “They were properly elected to their districts.”

Leger said the reason for such constitutional rights is to avoid situations in which people can get rid of elected representatives they don’t like simply by changing their districts.

Besides, he said, the amendment approved by customers called for members to serve out their terms.

Last 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 over a two-year period for items such as health insurance, meeting payments and conventions.

But the board decided to hold an election in December in an attempt to reverse the previous membership decision. The election was held for three hours during a workday in the middle of the Christmas season. Still, more than 800 people made the trip to Mora, the only place allowed for cooperative-wide elections.

Opponents of the status quo waged a vigorous campaign, placing advertisements in the newspaper and writing letters to the editor.