An hour into Kit Carson Electric Cooperative’s annual meeting Saturday morning (June 9), only 411 of its members out of about 23,000 had registered.
It wasn’t enough for a quorum.
“We need 458 for a quorum,” said Bobby Ortega, president of the KCEC board to the cooperative’s members who did show up to the Taos High School gym. Lacking a quorum, the members and the board of trustees can’t take any official actions, he said.
The board couldn’t let the members cast ballots for an amendment to the KCEC by-laws that many of those at the meeting firmly felt they had already approved nearly a decade ago: limiting board members to two terms. Currently there are no term limits for board members. Some have served as trustees for the cooperative for more than 20 years
The term-limit issue, plus members’ obvious feeling KCEC hadn’t done enough to coax members there for the meeting, caused some heated discussion and good ideas as the meeting entered its second hour.
Kit Carson Electric provides power to nearly 30,000 meters, both residential and businesses, and about 23,000 members. It also has subsidiary companies providing propane and internet broadband services to thousands of customers in Taos, Colfax and Rio Arriba counties. A quorum now requires only two percent of the members.
In 2009, a quorum of KCEC members showed up and registered at the annual meeting. They voted on a change to the cooperatives by-laws, which would prevent board members from serving for more than two consecutive terms. People used tickers that registered their vote.
Those who voted overwhelmingly, by more than a two to one margin, approved the term limits. But, according to Ortega and long-time KCEC chief executive officer Luis Reyes, when those yes and no votes were counted, they didn’t represent the necessary quorum. Which means either some people at the meeting simply didn’t vote or they had left before the vote occurred.
The board’s attorney said the vote for term limits wasn’t valid.
“In 2009, there was a quorum when the time the meeting started,” Ortega said. “At the time that the by-law amendments got acted on there was a quorum call made, if you read the minutes, and it was determined that there was not a quorum at the time of the vote. Some of the members who were here insisted on having the vote and the term limit was passed by a majority.”
He did not note by how much the vote lacked a quorum.
“It’s been the position of the board that we can’t implement an action if there isn’t a quorum,” Ortega continued. “If we did, we would be setting a dangerous precedent.”
“We put it on the agenda today, hoping there would be a quorum and you could vote,” he told the crowd.
Several people in the audience shook their heads and disagreed, saying they had been there in 2009 and they believed the vote was legitimate.
“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.”
Jerome Lucero, another member, agreed.
“Why in 2009 when the vote was taken, the attorney at the time approved it and put into the computer as a by-law change. Now all of a sudden you want to say it didn’t count. I believe it was very clear by the vote then that people wanted term limits,” Lucero said. “It’s time you guys step aside and let other people be part of this management team.”
Others defended the board’s actions saying that since 2009, anyone had been free to run for a seat on the KCEC board of trustees. “If you don’t like something this board is doing, find someone to run, and win,” said Mary Mascareñas.
In part, attendance at Saturday’s meeting may have been hurt by the Ute Park Fire still burning near Cimarron. The fire has closed U.S. 64 between Cimarron and Eagle Nest since June 1 and had forced the evacuation of people from Cimarron and Ute Park for several days last week. The fire has taken up the attention of residents in Eagle Nest, who have been providing shelter and food for evacuees.
It is not the first time in the last few years that a quorum of KCEC members have failed to show up and participate, despite door prizes, cash incentives and donuts and lunch offered by the coop board as incentives. In addition, every member of the cooperative had been mailed a notice of the meeting, which was also announced on radio stations and through other media.
Some members said the coop need to do more to entice people to the meeting, including providing something for children to do and make the meeting “more fun.”
The controversy over the term limit amendment followed a report by Reyes in which he laid out what he believes are the cooperative’s successes and challenges. Reyes said in 2000 the members voted for the cooperative to branch out into propane and broadband.
“We have less outages,” Reyes said, of the efforts to maintain thousands of miles of lines across the service area.
During the Ute Park Fire, there was no loss of power in the area affected by the blaze. “None of our lines there were affected,” he said.
“If we have an electric outage, I have people call, pretty understanding,” Reyes said. “If I have an internet or cell service outage, it almost seems like it is the end of the world.”
The Ute Park Fire burned a main fiber optic cable that affected KCEC customers for a couple of days, but the cooperative was able to restore service using redundant lines more quickly than CenturyLink or Comcast.
Kit Carson was one of a handful of rural electric cooperatives to have fiber optic broadband a few years ago.
Reyes said the cooperative is on target working with Florida-based company Guzman Energy, to install ten more solar power arrays this year. KCEC’s goal is to achieve all of its day time energy needs from solar in the next few years.
Others at the meeting, including Lucero, remain concerned about the amount of debt Reyes and the board of trustees have incurred for the cooperative’s members in the last few years in order to pursue solar projects, propane service and broadband.
Read more on this story in the next edition of The Taos News.