"Financial irregularities" at Socorro Electric Coop?
Board holds special meeting on Friday
Friday, August 13th, the Socorro Electric Coop board met for a special session to discuss "legal and personnel issues." The meeting was not open to the public, with the board citing exemptions in the NM Open Meetings Act which allow for legal and personnel issues to be discussed behind closed doors. It appears that the original intent of the meeting was to discuss allegations of sexual and racial harassment, made by SEC employee Kathy Torres against SEC board member Charlie Wagner to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). SEC attorney Dennis Francish had been pushing for the SEC to respond to Ms. Torres' claims by, among other things, giving Ms. Torres a lengthy guaranteed employment contract - essentially making her job guaranteed for years to come, as seen in Francish's letter to the board (page 1 and page 2). Many SEC members found it odd that Mr. Francish recommended such actions before Ms. Torres' claims had been thoroughly investigated, questioning whether Mr. Francish was a bit premature in assuming that Ms. Torres' claims against Charlie Wagner were true.
Whistleblowers claim "financial irregularities" at the SEC
Just when you thought the situation at the SEC was strange enough, things just keep getting "curiouser and curiouser" to borrow a phrase from Alice in Wonderland. In light of Mr. Francish's push to have Ms. Torres' job guaranteed, allegations surfaced in this letter in which it appeared that some anonymous SEC employees were accusing Kathy Torres of wrongdoing of her own. Initially it was not clear if the letter was legitimate or in fact even emanated from SEC employees (however, it was mailed in a SEC envelope using the co-op's Pitney Bowes meter register, lending credence to its authenticity). Indeed, it appears that the whistleblowers are real, because after Friday's special meeting of the SEC board, the following statement was released, apparently in response to accusations about "financial irregularities" at the SEC, made by the whistleblowers. According to the board's statement, two SEC employees have been placed on "administrative leave" pending an investigation. The board states that the investigation is forthcoming, so this is all the information available at this time.
Allegations against Ms. Torres?
It should be emphasized that the board's statement does not mention Ms. Torres by name, but given the prior letter which had surfaced, in which Ms. Torres was mentioned by name, it might be reasonable to assume that the investigation centers around her. However, that is speculation at this point. In fact, the board's statement notes that two employees have been placed on leave, not just one. So, the accusations may include Ms. Torres and another person, or it might be two people other than Ms. Torres. It is important to note that, at this point at least, these are accusations only - nothing has been proven. Like anyone accused of wrongdoing, Ms. Torres (and anyone else accused) should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, it is only speculation at this point that Ms. Torres is one of the two that has been placed on administrative leave.
In other SEC news
One further matter before the board was whether the SEC would need to hold a special election to replace SEC board member Manny (Manuel) Marquez, who resigned recently. According to the SEC attorney, because of the new bylaws reducing the board's numbers from 11 to 5, Mr. Marquez's slot should remain vacant and not be backfilled. His conclusion can be read in his official statement on the question. Finally, it is not clear if any other actions were taken at the special meeting regarding Ms. Torres claims to the EEOC against Mr. Wagner. As additional information becomes available, it will be posted.