Animosity grows in contentious PEC board of directors race

Allegations of impropriety have been levied against two of three candidates running in a District 4 Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) board of director’s race that’s grown divisive in recent weeks. 

Joe Pool, a Dripping Springs area attorney and candidate in the District 4 race, alleges incumbent board Vice President Jim Powers potentially violated PEC policy by not disclosing his area consulting firm as a possible conflict of interest (COI).

Pool said he felt it was “inappropriate” for Powers, whom he called a “lobbyist,” to not list his firm, J.L. Powers and Associates, on a required COI form.

But allegations against Pool himself has arisen in the race, as Pool and Powers battle each other. The third candidate in the race is Kathi Thomas.

Pool, in a May 21 letter to PEC’s general counsel and board of directors, accused Powers’ firm of being “deeply involved” in state and local governments and municipalities, some of whom negotiate a PEC franchise fee. Pool also requested Powers be removed from the ballot.

Per PEC policy, a conflict of interest exists if a director or certain cooperative officers have a personal interest on a matter that an “antagonism” could exist between personal interest and the cooperative.

According to documents, Powers did not list any possible conflict of interest on PEC’s required form.

However, determining if an actual conflict exists is “impossible” as Powers’ firm does not disclose who its clients are, Pool said.

According to the J.L. Powers and Associates website, the firm provides business consulting and strategic planning for “economic and infrastructure development,” as well as creating business partnerships and marketing and branding exposure. On his PEC biography, Powers lists J.L. Powers and Associates as a business and media consulting firm.

Powers, a former Hays County Judge, created the firm in 2007. The website does not disclose any clients that work with the firm.

Pool alleges Powers’ “overlapping fiduciary duties” violates PEC bylaws as he might not be impartial and isn’t looking out for the best interest of its members.

Mike Viesca, PEC Executive Vice President of Affairs, said in an emailed response that Pool’s question of a possible conflict of interest was shared with the PEC board of directors.

“These matters fall under their purview for consideration and the board has responded through its attorney,” Viesca said.

In a May 24 letter to Pool, Ross Fischer, PEC board counsel, said Pool’s request to remove Powers from the ballot is “untimely” as PEC’s Qualifications and Elections Committee (QEC) made its report on candidates, when the board verified the candidates and ballots have been prepared.

Fischer said Powers met the qualifications established by PEC bylaws for the election, per the QEC.

The Hays Free Press reached out to Powers, who said he was “extremely busy” with commitments and opted for emailed correspondence, as opposed to a phone interview.

But concerns of impropriety have also gone Pool’s way as well. One issue is a series of mailers and robocalls that some felt are “misleading.”

Those mailers consist of language identifying Chris Perry, a former PEC District 4 board member, as someone who endorsed Pool, and who received an endorsement from Clean Water Action Texas.

However, members with CWAT said in May 28 Facebook post that the mailer is “misleading” as their organization is displayed “prominently” and implies they endorsed Pool. CWAT has not endorsed a candidate in the PEC District 4 election

Pool said he cited the group on the mailer as it was part of what he felt were Perry’s titles and accomplishments during his tenure on the board.

Questions have also been raised on Texas for Low Cost Power, a group that endorsed Pool and which he said has been around “for a while.”

The group, who Pool said has done some “grassroots stuff,” attempts to prevent politicians and lobbyists “and other special interest” from taking over public utility boards.

Pool said he did not know of the group prior to them calling to give him their endorsement.

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