Monday, January 28, 2008

The Good Ol’ Boys Need to be GOOD 'N GONE

Along with most PEC members and Horseshoe Bay residents, I’ve been happy to hear of the retirement of PEC board members Bennie Fuelberg & Bud Burnett. The scandal at Pedernales Electric Cooperative has been mind boggling even by Texas standards. No doubt, many are hoping to hear the last of it. But I agree with assessments as diverse as HSB resident, Republican state Senator, Troy Fraser, members who called for the board resignation last summer, and the editorial staff at the Austin American Statesman. The books need to be open, the audits need to be independent, and ALL the good ol’ boys need to be GONE.

The PEC was established by President Lyndon Johnson during the Great Depression to provide electricity to the Texas Hill County. Based in Johnson City, it now has 220,000 customers, covers 8,100 square miles (larger than the state of Massachusetts) & has $500 million in annual revenue. It’s the largest electrical co-op in the country.

In May, PEC member Lee Beck Lawrence filed a class action lawsuit against PEC and 19 of its leaders accusing mismanagement & seeking reform. Since last year’s lawsuit filing a criminal investigation is now under way. District Attorney Sam Oatman, prosecutor, announced last week that he will open a preliminary investigation of the PEC, including questions raised about excessive board member expense charges. According to recent disclosures in the above mentioned lawsuit, Pedernales executives and board members charged $700,000 from 2002 to 2006 on co-op credit cards for expenses such as first-class airline travel & exclusive hotel stays. Court documents also show that board President W.W. "Bud" Burnett, whose staff role as "coordinator" for the utility enabled him to draw $1 million in pay since 2001, testified that he knew little about the co-op's operations. Burnett had no office, staff, files or regular hours at Pedernales Electric.

Members only recently learned that General Manager Bennie Fuelberg obtained a five-year, $2 million deferred compensation package in 2004, on top of his annual $390,000 salary. The compensation was revealed in November, just months after Fuelberg's salary was reported for the first time in a decade.

The lawsuit is in settlement negotiations. I am hopeful it will lead to the much needed audit & not be limited to the four year period currently listed in the suit, which is restricted to that time frame by the fraud law limit. This board is a failure in their managment, oversight, & responsiveness to member's concerns. The only good place for them to be is GONE.

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