PEC board member Jim Powers has just resigned, apparently because of conflicts of interest that he failed to manage, and the episode raises troubling questions that need to be addressed by our electric power co-op.
Powers is a former Hays County judge, and a prominent Republican who had previously been appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to the board of another utility, the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority. Rumors of conflicts of interest – using public office to prosper his business enterprises – have circulated quietly for some time, but without proof.
Then last week at a special executive session of the PEC board, conflicts of interest were discussed and it seems – though no one is saying so on the record – that Powers was encouraged to resign. He did, and though the official reason was so he could spend more time on his business, he told the Austin American-Statesman, “I’m not saying that’s not true” when asked whether fellow board members had asked for his resignation because of conflicts of interest.
Powers was re-elected to the board from the Dripping Springs area just a few months ago. The second-place finisher in that race, Kathi Thomas, told reporters that the district should release more information about the nature of the conflicts.
She’s right that there needs to be more sunshine on this. After all, PEC may be a utility company, one that provides electric service for most of our readers, but it is also a member-owned cooperative, among the largest in the country. More than that, PEC has a sorry history of hiding conflicts of interest and fostering corruption. It’s a reputation that has been on the mend, but the latest episode is one of several recent setbacks, including the departure of a general manager who raised questions about board judgment.
Clearing the air would be a good step forward. And that means sharing information with members about what did and didn’t go wrong – and whether Mr. Powers’ conflicts were minor and transitory, or serious and long-lasting. That’s only fair for the co-op, and Judge Powers.