Categorized | Government, News, PEC

PEC and state lawmakers wrangle over at-large voting system

CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF

JOHNSON CITY — Lawmakers are expected to consider legislation that would change the way Pedernales Electric Cooperative members elect their board of directors, and some members and directors are rejecting the proposal citing “autonomy.”

Under current rules voted on by PEC members in elections in 2011 and 2014, utility customers elect directors with an at-large system. A director would petition within a district; however, he or she must seek votes in all districts to win elections.

Under House Bill 5431 and HB 3391, directors would be chosen in a single-member district format, in which residents living in that district would elect their director.

“We have a charter from the state of Texas as a corporation. We have by-laws adopted by the member owners of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative,” said John Watson, a PEC member opposed to the proposed law. “We’ve had an election process that’s been in place by 2008 that’s been fair, accessible and transparent and has worked well and served the corporation well.”

PEC just passed a resolution, drafted by District 6 Director Larry Landaker, calling the proposed legislation “unprecedented, undemocratic and unwarranted governmental interference and overreach into the governance and operation of a private independent member-owned cooperative corporation.”

All but two PEC directors on the board voted to pass the resolution.

District 5 Director James Oakley said he voted against the resolution, not because he supports the legislation as written now, but because the action would shift utility staff responsibilities.

“I agree that the membership should decide its own fate and should not be subject to the Legislature mandating it; however, in the past, whenever (a cooperative) has been allowed to decide that for itself, it was not a truly representative election based on the ballot language,” Oakley said. “I did not like the idea of the resolution before us making our staff become lobbyists, lobbyists against the legislation.”

Oakley added he does support single-member district voting because he believes it gives the members in their individual districts control over who their director will be.

“Once a bill is filed, it can change dynamically, but once it starts going,” he said. “It may be something that, once brought back, it could be that the board decides they do like it.”

Longtime PEC member David Collins said he supports the current at-large system of voting because directors represent the entire cooperative, which is comprised of 225,000 members, not just customers within their district.

He believes the cooperative has worked to ensure populated areas do not overrule rural areas in the voting process.

“What we’ve seen is a very constant level of voting participation across the seven districts,” Collins said. “We have gone through a process now within the PEC to reapportion the districts, just like you do in legislative districts, as the population shifts. … Those line are redrawn as much as possible so the same number of members are in each district.”

Other changes in the proposed legislation are as follows:

• All seven directors would be voted on during one election

• Directors would be represented within new districts with lines drawn by lawmakers

• Runoff elections would determine winners if there is no majority

• Three-year terms would increase to four-year terms without term limits

Bill sponsors Rep. Tony Dale and Rep. Andrew Murr were unavailable for comment by deadline March 20.

If passed, the law would go into effect Sept. 1.

connie@thepicayune.com

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