Tensions ran high at the Valley Electric Association’s annual meeting Saturday, with members accusing the board of hiding finances and ignoring concerns before the meeting was quickly adjourned.
Hundreds of members filled the Pahrump Valley High School gymnasium to try to make sense of the cooperative’s finances, including the 9.9 percent rate hike that went into effect in March.
“We want to know where the money’s going!” one member yelled from the crowd after hearing a presentation about the cooperative’s recent audit, which stated the utility’s 2018 financial statements “present fairly” its financial position.
Interim CEO Dick Peck said that while the board has made mistakes in the past, recent rumors against the cooperative — including embezzlement and financial cover-ups — are false.
‘Mistakes were made’
David Copeland, a partner at Texas-based accounting firm Bolinger, Segars, Gilbert and Moss, discussed the firm’s independent audit on the cooperative, released earlier this month. He said the firm issued “a clean opinion” on the cooperative’s financial statements and found no wrongdoings in its fraud inquires.
Peck said the audit proved that rumors were false, and said the utility is working to make changes, including four new committees to oversee areas including finances and policies.
“(We’re) changing the culture of this corporation,” he said. “That’s why I was hired.”
Peck was brought on board amid a series of allegations against the cooperative.
Shortly after the utility announced a rate hike in February – despite promising to keep rates stable throughout 2024 — the Nye County Sheriff’s Office conducted a search warrant on the cooperative, citing allegations of sexual harassment and financial cover-ups against former CEO Tom Husted. The next week, CEO Angela Evans was arrested on charges of embezzling from the utility.
Now, a group called VEA Members for Change is attempting to oust board members.
“Mistakes were made. I cannot emphasize that enough,” Peck said. “There’s not a board or utility that can promise stable rates in this day and age when renewables are coming to the forefront.”
On Saturday, following the annual meeting, the cooperative board also led a special meeting to address the bylaws concerning the removal of board members.
VEA Members for Change and the board have had different interpretations of the utility’s bylaws, which say members can request the removal of a director if they bring charges and a petition in writing that has been signed by “at least ten per centum of the members.”
The VEA Members for Change group has more than 1,000 signatures, which it believes is enough to hold a special meeting where members can vote to remove board members. But the board said the “10 per centum” of the members must be counted by district, meaning more signatures are needed.
“The board interpreted the bylaws to say that since only members in a particular district can elect their members, then only those members in that district can vote to remove their members,” said corporate counsel Tammy Peterson, a partner in the law firm Peterson Baker.
The meeting’s question-and-answer forum was cut short amid disagreements over the members’ three-minute time limit for questions. Members were still lined up at microphones when board president Ken Derschan adjourned the meeting about 20 minutes into questions, as members voiced their opposition.
Many members continue to push for board members’ resignation.
“Our new CEO is all for change, but the only way is to get any change is to have the board resign,” said Gary Eshelby, a 14-year member of Valley Electric. The abrupt ending was “just ludicrous. Shows the true color of the board.”
Angel Mietzner, a member of Valley Electric since 2000, said she left after the meeting started to get “rowdy.”
“They should let people speak,” she said.
Ronald Cordova, a member since 1995, said many of the members’ questions went unanswered on Saturday.
“They shut the members down,” he said. The board “didn’t protect the membership. … We need to take the board members out. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll need to do it one at a time.”
Valley Electric member Paula Rooks said she was disappointed with how the meeting was handled.
“It was not an open meeting for members, it was more their platform,” she said.
Rooks, a member of VEA Members for Change, said the group will continue to work on gaining enough petition signatures to remove board members.