Kit Carson Electric Cooperative had a ballot machine, donuts, coffee, cash and door prizes ready Saturday morning (June 9) at the Taos High School gym …
Kit Carson Electric Cooperative had a ballot machine, donuts, coffee, cash and door prizes ready Saturday morning (June 9) at the Taos High School gym in hopes members would show up to vote on two important changes to the bylaws.
But despite last-minute pleas by Bobby Ortega, president of the KCEC board of trustees for people to "text and call their friends," the cooperative was unable to get its 23,000 members to cooperate. Only 411 registered at the meeting, 47 members shy of a quorum.
Without the required quorum - only 2 percent of the cooperative's members - no vote was allowed on the bylaw amendments or any other official matters.
One of the amendments would have limited district meetings to elections only. It stated, "no business of the cooperative shall be conducted."
The other amendment was to limit the cooperative's trustees to two terms of four years each.
The members present and the trustees decided to at least discuss the amendments if they couldn't vote on them Saturday. What ensued was a sometimes tense back and forth debate over whether the term limit amendment had already been approved by members nearly a decade ago.
Ortega, chief executive officer Luis Reyes, the cooperative's attorney and the other trustees said a 2009 vote on term limits was invalid because it lacked a quorum of members participating.
But several members in the audience disagreed.
And it left open a question of whether an entire rewrite of the cooperative's bylaws might be warranted.
Kit Carson Electric, one of 13 rural electric cooperatives in the state, provides power to nearly 23,000 members and 30,000 meters. It also has branch companies providing propane and internet broadband services to thousands of customers in Taos, Colfax and Río Arriba counties.
Some of the current trustees on the board have served well over 20 years. Currently, there is no limit on the number of terms they can be elected to serve.
It was the seventh time in the last 10 years that a quorum of KCEC members failed to show up for the annual meeting.
A volatile meeting
In 2009 there was a movement to change the KCEC bylaws and cap the terms at two. At the annual meeting, 714 members registered and a quorum of 672 was needed to vote, according to minutes from the meeting. (Those numbers differ slightly from a KCEC spreadsheet showing attendance over the last 20 years).
When it came time to vote on the term limit amendment, an activist in favor of the amendment asked for a count to ensure enough members were there to vote.
Only 547 members raised their cards to show they were there to vote. The meeting had lost its quorum, said parliamentarian Al Park, then a state lawmaker and attorney who was presiding.
No vote could take place, he said.
The meeting erupted with protests, according to those who were there. Another attorney, Peter Adang challenged Park's ruling. (Adang later ran for the KCEC board and won in 2012). The members who were there ignored Park and voted overwhelmingly to consider the bylaw amendments. An amendment to reduce the number of trustees from 11 to 7 failed.
The motion to limit trustees to two terms was overwhelmingly approved.
But nine years after the vote, according to Ortega and KCEC chief executive officer Luis Reyes, the cooperative's attorney had found the vote null and void due to the lack of a quorum.
Businessman and frequent KCEC critic Link Summers challenged that finding during Saturday's meeting. "If you had to do that, prove there wasn't a quorum, how would you do that?" said member Link Summers. "The way you do it now, if you are signed in, you are deemed to be present and evidence that there is a quorum. These (proposed amendment changes) are significant changes."
While questions lingered over the yearslong bylaw debacle, Reyes touted the cooperative's successes. The cooperative finally won an exit from Tri-State Generation and Transmission in 2016 and partnered with Florida-based Guzman Energy to expand the amount of renewable energy used to supply members.
The cooperative is aiming to install 35 megawatts of solar arrays by 2020, enough to supply all of its members' daytime power needs, Reyes told member. KCEC has six more arrays scheduled for completion, spread out around the county. One of the scheduled arrays will be a 3 megawatt project at the Taos water treatment facility.
Reyes also noted Kit Carson Propane had done well enough to repay KCEC $700,000 of an inter-company loan.
The cooperative won approval from the state Public Regulation Commission for a rate increase despite challenges from some members who still believe the cooperative isn't managing revenues appropriately. Reyes noted new challenges have emerged now due to the lack of new customers in the region and the loss of Chevron Mining as a big customer after it shut down the Molycorp mine for good.
Ironically, KCEC customers are doing such a good job of conserving energy, the cooperative is losing some money on their conservation efforts. The cooperative's revenues come in part from selling electricity, Reyes noted.
Those revenues have to cover the fixed costs of keeping the power system maintained and repaired.
KCEC and Kit Carson Internet overcame big challenges in the first week of June on multiple levels as the Ute Park Fire affected both power and internet service.
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