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In surprise move, board votes Garza out as GM at Pedernales Co-op

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 by Austin Monitor

Five members of the board Pedernales Electric Co-Op—including two who will be retiring on Saturday—voted Monday to fire General Manager Juan Garza, who has worked for the past 28 months to bring transparency and accountability into an organization that seemed immune to those ideas. Two members opposed the termination.


Garza left his job as general manager at Austin Energy in January 2008 to take the helm at the PEC in Johnson City as scandal rocked the nation’s largest electric co-op.


Contacted last night, Garza said he was caught off guard by the board’s action. He added, “I’m very proud of what we did. The co-op is 100 percent better off since we got there—but they wanted something different.”


At the time he was hired, the board agreed to pay Garza $350,000 a year, which was still substantially less than the former general manager, Bennie Fuelberg, who has since been indicted on a number of felony charges, including theft and money laundering.


When he took the job, Garza also negotiated a severance package of $350,000 per year for three years.


Garza will serve through the end of June. The current board of directors has scheduled a special meeting at 10am Saturday to discuss how to manage the co-op once Garza departs. The search for a new manager could take between six and nine months, according to a co-op press advisory.


Then, at 2pm, co-op members will hold their annual meeting, which includes election of two new members to replace the outgoing ones, O.C. Harmon and R.B. Felps, the last of the old guard to retire.


Board President Larry Landaker made the motion to terminate Garza’s contract. According to a statement released by the PEC after the vote on Monday, Landaker said,  “There are a variety of reasons, but it is safe to say that anytime an action like this is taken, it is an indication that the Board and General Manager are not in sync and are going in different directions. It is the sense of the Board that the General Manager needs to be on the same page as the Board and going in the same direction.”


Garza served as General Manager of Austin Energy for nearly six years and before that as Austin’s human resources director. Prior to coming to Austin, he was city manager in Corpus Christi.  He recruited Paul Hilgers as his Deputy General Manager at PEC. At that time, Hilgers was director of Austin’s housing and community development department.


Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Inc. is the largest electric distribution cooperative in the nation with more than 220,000 members in Travis, Hays and Williamson counties as well as all or part of 21 other Texas counties. Members who have not voted on line or by mail may vote at the annual meeting in person Saturday. All co-op members are invited to attend the meeting at the co-op headquarters in Johnson City.

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