CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
JOHNSON CITY — Members of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative elect directors differently after the board approved a resolution to switch from an at-large system to a single-member district one, officials say.
On Aug. 15, directors voted 5-2 to make the change during their regular board meeting.
Historically, director candidates would petition within a district or single geographic location where they resided; however, he or she would seek votes in all seven districts to win elections.
Now, candidates would reside in as well as seek votes from within their designated districts.
The move countered the outcome of non-binding referendums during elections in 2011 and 2014, when members approved PEC maintaining the at-large system.
“There were two referendums. They were legitimate referendums. Before we held those, there were town hall meetings and public events. There was a lot of member opportunity to voice their preferences,” said District 1 Director Cristi Clements, who favored the at-large system. “They were an indicator of the sentiment of what kind of governance (members) preferred.”
After the 2014 election, the state legislature entered the debate, offering up House Bills 5431 and 3391 to recommend the single-member district voting system as well; however, the legislation did not gain traction.
“It’s more consistent with how local governments are run, and I understand PEC is not government. I get that completely,” said James Oakley, District 5 director and board vice president. He supported the move to single-member system. “However, there’s lots of things that can be applied to that large organization that have proven themselves to be equitable in society.”
Oakley contends that the ballot language during the last referendum and advocacy from a board member unfairly swayed voters, while Clements believes the new system would shield directors from criticism outside their geographic districts.
“Every member ought to have equal weight. They should have the right to recall, disapprove or remove any member on the dais, not just one,” she said. “That has to do with member empowerment.”
The next election is scheduled for June 2017 when members will vote for candidates in Districts 3 and 7.
District 4 Director Jim Powers, who supported single-member districts, said in a statement, “We are all concerned about the cooperative as a whole, but I think it’s important that we carry the water for the place we live.”