Saturday, July 10, 2010

Transparency war heats up

The Socorro Electric Cooperative is "a member-owned electric utility, serving over 13,000 consumers in Socorro, Catron, Valencia, Sierra and Cibola counties in central New Mexico."link.

The member-owners would like to know the truth about the management of their interests by the cooperative's Board of Trustees.

A majority of the members of the Board of Trustees would like to continue to keep them in the dark and have filed suit against the co-op's 13,000 members, local judges and the local newspaper; the El Defensor Chieftain, link.

Naming the local newspaper in the lawsuit, is one of the suit's more onerous aspects. The plaintiff's lawyer, according to the Journal report, link, stated that, the newspapers were named as defendants

"because it's my belief that the press ought not to be at a business meeting ..."
The suit specifically challenges three bylaws adopted by an overwhelming majority of member-owners earlier this year;
  • Call for the board to voluntarily follow the Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Act.
  • Allow members access to co-op books, records and audits, with the exception of records protected by the Privacy Act.
  • Allow member-owners and the media to attend co-op board meetings and that a portion of the meeting be set aside for public comment.
Individually named in the suit, was activist Charlene West. Her offense; her belief that members of a democratically controlled utility cannot be kept in the dark about the management of their interests. She is justifiably apprehensive about her future, saying;
"I feel like I'm being made a martyr, because I'm just a working Joe, and people know me and people identify with me. They're going to prosecute me and persecute me, and try to break me."

"If they come after me monetarily, they're going to kill me."
She said she doesn't have money to hire a lawyer.
"It's pretty scary that this can happen in the United States, just because we're asking questions," she said. "I haven't done anything that's illegal; I've just asked questions."
The "secretists" claim those bylaws are "unworkable and unreasonable" and that, "... the state's sunshine laws would be a hardship, and allowing members to attend meetings would "adversely impact the ability of the Board to conduct business."

According to the Journal; Reform trustee Charlie Wagner says the secretists want to weaken member control and, "... and the best way to do that is to deprive the members of information and keep everything secret."

If any of this has a familiar ring to it, there is a reason.
There are those in state government who feel the same way;
in particular a number of legislators and the Governor.

If you ask them to shine the light on their legislation or administration of the public interests; they will tell you "transparency would adversely impact their ability to do the people's business".

If you ask them for a "for instance", if you ask them to describe, even in generic terms, the discussions they need to have in secret from the people, they cannot.

Or, they will not.

On July 29th, the Government Restructuring Task Force will reconvene. Task Force Chair Senator Tim Eichenberg has promised to appoint a subcommittee to examine transparency as an aspect of restructuring government to make it more effective and efficient.

I wish I could tell you I felt confident that some heavy hitters will show up to hold their toes to the fire when they form their subcommittee and define its confines.

So far, none have.

An opportunity to critically examine perhaps the most fundamental reform of them all, will come and go without notice, if no one stands up to defend the interests of the people, and their right to participate meaningfully in decisions that affect their interests.

That participation begins with knowing the truth;
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth
(except as specifically and explicitly excepted according to
the spirit of the law).

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