VIDEO: Kicked out of a Texas electric co-op meeting

I don’t have a lot in common with State Sen. Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Texas. He chairs the Texas Senate committee that writes laws regulating business and industry.

I, on the other hand, investigate and write stories for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and about what happens to folks when the laws he writes do not work

But both of us are extremely bothered by secretive groups. Both of us have found ourselves standing outside the doors of an electric co-op meeting, not allowed in. Fraser did something useful with his initial rejection a couple of years ago from a board meeting of the Pedernales Electric Co-Op, of which he is also a member. He tried to pass a law earlier this year in the Texas Legislature subjecting these secretive electric co-ops to state open records and open meetings laws. Electric co-ops fought it, and it didn’t pass.

For my Fraser-like experience, I was shown the door recently at a members’ only meeting at Tri-County Electric Cooperative. In the video you can see me get turned away. (Sorry for the jerky camera, but I was testing the tiny Flip Mino. I wasn’t undercover, just holding the minuscule camera.) finds it so unacceptable that in this Era of Transparency in government – local, state and federal governments are making more information public than ever before – these little good-ole-boy clubhouse holdouts still exist everywhere where you can’t get any idea of what is going on. It’s so, well, darn un-American.

Electricity is serious stuff in Texas and everywhere else. Forty-seven states have electric co-ops. Every little bit of information given to consumers helps. But these co-ops, as shown in this classic study by an consultant of the most crooked co-op in Texas, Pedernales, show the way corruption can flourish when unchecked.

My study of Tri-County’s secretive ways began months ago when resident Paul Thompson asked me for helping in digging up information.

We both ran into a one cold stone wall – Tri-County Executive Vice President and General Manager Craig Knight.

The co-op, which brings electricity to residents in 16 North Texas counties, is run, like many others, as the secretive fiefdom of one man. Knight earns about $300,000 a year, according to one of the few government disclosure documents the co-op has to file. Knight’s father ran the co-op before him. Not much else about him is known.

You can read my latest study about Knight and his secretive ways in the Dave Lieber Watchdog column here in the Nov. 1, 2009 Star-Telegram.

Texas State Sen. Troy Fraser

Texas State Sen. Troy Fraser

This video shows my “Troy Fraser moment” standing there, trying to get in to watch the co-op elect a new director. But that never happened. I didn’t get in. And there was no true election.

Previously, Knight had told me I could attend only if the membership approves, but he never even offered them the opportunity that night.

Turns out there were only 90 people inside, not enough to make the 3 percent quorum, so as my detailed report in the newspaper shows, the election wasn’t held and the nominee, who has held the job for three decades, was reelected without opposition.

Other watchdog groups keep an eye on their co-ops, such as CoServ Watchdogs and Bravo for them. Tri-County and many other co-ops don’t have peering eyes.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee writes in his study of co-ops: “Too many electric co-ops have turned away from their historic role as exciting, pro-consumer organizations and have instead taken on deeply troubling anti-consumer behaviors.”

As co-op activist John Watson said in the Dave Lieber column, “Co-ops, everywhere as far as I can tell, need a beady eye cast on them by members and the press. Most operate with a lack of transparency.”


Dave’s new book — Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation — won two national book awards for social change in 2009.