With party primary elections coming to a close next week, area residents face another vote, to determine two seats on the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors. PEC members will also have the opportunity to vote to continue with “at large” elections for directors or to change to a “single member district voting” system that allows only members within a district to vote for who will serve as the district's director.
Under the current at large system of voting, candidates for the PEC board must reside within the boundaries of the district they seek to represent, but all 217,860 PEC members from PEC's entire service area have the right to vote for who will represent the individual districts.
The PEC's seven districts span 8,100 square miles and 24 counties. PEC's service area is demographically and geographically diverse, home to rapidly growing cities as well as expansive ranch land. Some PEC members believe the interests of members living in urban centers differ from those of members in rural areas of PEC's reach. Others believe the business interest of PEC trumps any geographical differences.
Texas Senator Troy Fraser strongly favors changing to a single member district voting system. Even though the PEC has come a long way since Senator Fraser had to force open the doors at PEC (the board actually locked the doors to its board room to prevent members and the press from attending board meetings), Fraser feels the transformation of the PEC governance structure will not be complete until it implements single member district voting.
Dave Collins, a retired management consultant residing in Johnson City, said he came to understand the various, competing sides of the issue of single member district voting when he was involved with the PEC Board’s Governance Committee and the issue of voting structure was debated. “There are certainly attractions to the single member district approach, but the PEC Board is not a legislative body like a City Council or County Commissioner’s Court. It is a corporate board and like any corporate board member, each PEC director is obliged to represent all PEC members, equally. Single member district voting undermines that obligation, one specified in the governing documents of the cooperative. So, I continue to support at-large voting.”
Milton Hawkins of Johnson City, who was an early leader in making PEC a more transparent governing entity, favors the new single member district system because it “allows the owner-members in a district to elect their own representative, without outside interference, and is the only hope of rescuing our cooperative from the Austin area dominated, green-at-any-cost crowd that has been able to control the PEC board for the last several elections.”
Blanco County Attorney David Hall was a leader in the efforts to reform PEC and strengthen members' rights at PEC favors changing to single member district voting. “If I thought it logical and productive for me to vote in an El Paso congressional district, or for a Dallas socialite to vote in mine, I would support at large voting.”
So how do the current batch of candidates feel about changing to single member district voting? The two District 2 candidates are split on the issue. Incumbent Bill Boggs favors continuing the at large system because it is “based on the long standing cooperative principle of one member/one vote every year.” However, Boggs said he can “live with whatever the members decide” and will act to implement the members' choice if re-elected to the board. Emily Pataki “strongly favors” changing to a single member district voting system to encourage more local involvement in PEC matters. “I think the PEC membership deserves to know its directors better, and the best way for that to happen is for directors to be more tied to their districts during the election process. Additionally, it will save the co-op time and money each year if we only have to send ballots to the districts that are electing directors.”
The four candidates for District 3 director are mixed on changing voting systems. Incumbent Kathryn Scanlon favors retaining the current at large system because “directors are elected to represent all members, so all members should be able to vote for all directors.” Scanlon said, “I can't imagine any business having directors elected by getting votes from only shareholders that live in different geographical areas.”
Candidate Arnold LeVine favors changing to the single member district voting system because it “prevents special interest groups outside a district from dominating what should be a local election decision.” LeVine believes directors should not only live in the districts they represent but also be known in their districts. “I live in Austin; no one in Junction or Blanco knows me.”
Candidate Judy Lawler Pokorny also backs changing to single member district voting to elect PEC’s directors. “Since PEC directors are each related to a specific district or geographical area, it seems to me to be more in alignment with the spirit of the way the cooperative has established the board.”
At the PEC candidate forum on April 24, candidate Don Zimmerman favored the current at large system but has since been swayed by the “overwhelming” grass roots movement and now supports changing to a single member district voting system.
Three years ago, PEC members were split when asked to select between three different voting systems: retain the at large system (8,122 votes), change to single member district voting (6,400 votes), or adopt a hybrid system with some directors elected in districts and others elected at large (4,212). Less than 10% of the over 200,000 PEC members eligible to vote in that election opted to voice their opinion regarding how directors are elected to serve on the PEC board.