Board again invit­ing wrath of leg­is­la­tors

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

Scram­bling to jus­tify the abrupt fir­ing of Juan Garza —a $1 mil­lion vote — the board of the Ped­er­nales Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive has in­vited two leg­is­la­tors to stop by for a visit next month.

“There was some anx­i­ety over the Garza mat­ter,” PEC Board Chair­man Larry Lan­daker said of his in­vi­ta­tion to state Sen. Troy Fraser and state Rep. Pa­trick Rose. “We wanted to give them the op­por­tu­nity to say what­ever they want to say.”

That choice of words be­trays the tonedeaf ap­proach Lan­daker took in June when Garza was ter­mi­nated. Garza was hired as gen­eral man­ager in 2008 to redi­rect a util­ity mired in scan­dal. Garza was work­ing hard to re­store its cred­i­bil­ity and was blind­sided by his ter­mi­na­tion, as were the util­ity’s cus­tomers, who will pay him a lit­tle more than $1 mil­lion in severance pay.

Garza wasn’t mov­ing fast enough to suit the board ma­jor­ity, Lan­daker said, adding in a com­men­tary pub­lished here that “CEOs are fired in Amer­ica ev­ery day.”

Fraser, R-Horse­shoe Bay, and Rose, DDrip­ping Springs, aren’t “anx­ious” about the Garza fir­ing; they are down­right ir­ri­tated. Fraser even urged the board to keep Garza and was ob­vi­ously ig­nored. Lan­daker is about to learn that be­ing on the bad side of a state sen­a­tor or rep­re­sen­ta­tive is not a good place to be.

“We cre­ated Ped­er­nales,” Fraser told the Amer­i­can-States­man’s Lay­lan Copelin. “We can un­cre­ate it.”

Those are not the words of an anx­ious man. They are, how­ever, the words of some­one who can in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion that would man­date changes in the way the nation’s largest elec­tric co-op is gov­erned.

Not only are Fraser and Rose ir­ri­tated about the Garza ter­mi­na­tion, they are un­happy that the board balked at adopt­ing a pack­age of by­laws that would have made the co-op’s op­er­a­tions more trans­par­ent. The co-op cov­ers a wide area of Cen­tral Texas, in­clud­ing por­tions of Travis County, and has more than 200,000 mem­bers.

When the Amer­i­can-States­man re­ported on the se­crecy with which the co-op was man­aged, its ques­tion­able deal­ings and ex­trav­a­gant spend­ing, co-op mem­bers de­manded an­swers as well as ac­tion.

Rose, who is up for re-elec­tion this year, says he in­tends to re­file leg­is­la­tion next ses­sion that would force stricter gov­er­nance stan­dards on the co-op board. The board balked at re­form­ing it­self, Rose said, so the Leg­is­la­ture will do the job for them.

“You can’t de­pend upon a par­tic­u­lar board to nec­es­sar­ily pro­tect the in­ter­ests of co-op mem­bers,” he said. “It shouldn’t be left to the fick­le­ness of any par­tic­u­lar board.”

Like Fraser, Rose is com­mu­ni­cat­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion, not anx­i­ety.

The leg­is­la­tion they are propos­ing to in­tro­duce next year is sim­i­lar to a bill that died in the fi­nal hours of the 2009 ses­sion, but Rose said he would file the bill early and expressed con­fi­dence that he could muster the votes to get it passed in the House.

The bill that failed would have re­quired the board to com­ply with Texas open meet­ings and open records laws and to sub­mit to an­nual au­dits by the Pub­lic Util­ity Com­mis­sion. It also man­dated term lim­its for board mem­bers, cuts in their pay and elec­tion by sin­gle-mem­ber district.

The talk of re­form is no idle chat­ter. The co-op was rocked by scan­dal that sparked the in­dict­ments of Ben­nie Fuel­berg, the for­mer gen­eral man­ager, and Wal­ter De­mond, the co-op’s for­mer le­gal coun­sel, on charges of felony theft. Both deny wrong­do­ing.

Rose and Fraser are plan­ning to ac­cept Lan­daker’s in­vi­ta­tion to “say what­ever they want to say” at the board’s Au­gust meet­ing. There may well be some anx­i­ety in the room, but we’re guess­ing that it won’t be Rose’s or Fraser’s.

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