Bruce Duran, who was kicked off the strife-ridden Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative board shortly after he was reelected this year, declined the board’s offer to pay him $50,000 if he would drop a lawsuit and agree to never run for the board again, his lawyer said Wednesday.
The lawyer, A. Blair Dunn, called the settlement offer a “bribe.”
“It would be unethical, if not illegal for him to accept this,” Dunn said, explaining that the money would come from ratepayers in the co-op’s rural service area, which spans parts of five Northern New Mexico counties. “It would be a violation of his fiduciary responsibilities.”
Board Chairman Leo Marquez said Wednesday he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
Duran, who lives in El Rancho, won election without opposition in June. The incumbent ran as part of a “reform” slate of candidates critical of an “old guard” that has dominated the board. The reformers have clashed with other board members over procedural issues as well as matters surrounding using renewable energy sources.
Two of the three reform candidates won seats on the 11-member board.
However, in a split vote in early July, the board declared Duran’s election invalid.
Opponents claimed Duran is not a valid member of the co-op, which serves parts of Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, San Juan, McKinley and Sandoval counties.
The board claimed it was not Duran but his wife — from whom he was legally separated — who paid most of the recent electric bills for the couple’s house. The couple still resides in the home and has reconciled.
Last week, First Judicial District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid ordered the board to certify Duran’s election — and remove his appointed replacement, former Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. George Rivera — until a trial is held on the merits of the case.
Dunn said evidence heard at a Sept. 30 motions hearing will be incorporated into a “bench” trial in front of Biedscheid, which has yet to be scheduled.
Marquez confirmed Wednesday the board has yet to certify Duran’s election.
The bitterness among factions on the board has gotten so pronounced recently, the Rio Grande Sun noted last week, that state police officers now routinely attend the board’s monthly meetings.
With about 21,000 members, Jemez Mountains is one of the state’s largest electric co-ops.
The co-op buys all of its power from Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, made up of rural electric co-ops in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. Tri-State has imposed on its member co-ops a 5 percent cap on the amount of energy that can come from independent sources, though a spokesman for the association said in August that it’s looking at renegotiating its contracts “to increase flexibility.”