We all know that campaign elections, even for local La Plata Energy Association board directors, can have moments of heated tension. I was saddened by Joe Lewandowski’s April 30 guest column in The Durango Herald headlined, “Don’t ‘fall for Purser’s hysterical, untruthful claims.” Though Joe is a friend, I disagree with the tone and content of his guest column. That said, John Purser is also a friend and colleague. When all voices are heard and discourse follows, it can contribute to the common good. We all benefit from civil dialogue.
Lewandowski writes about conflict of interests. As a bit of background, In 2018 LPEA changed its bylaws (elimination of Article III, Section 2c) to loosen conflict of interest guidance. It was unwise. Better governance would see LPEA board directors working hard to strengthen, not weaken, the bylaws affecting conflict of interest.
In Lewandowski’s guest column he says, “Mr. Purser overtly accuses LPEA Board Chairman John Witchel of corruption.” Purser did not. Witchel is the CEO of King Energy and that presents a conflict of interest, but it does not imply corruption. A thoughtful conflict of interest policy should preclude an energy company executive from representing LPEA members. In addition, Witchel was appointed to the board and never elected. His appointment was done by a process that was devoid of transparency for members.
Lewandowski quotes Purser in saying, “Our (LPEA) board has been rife with special interests and conflicts of interest.” John Purser stands by that statement. LPEA board members do have conflicts of interest. Again, that does not imply corruption. It just means they have a conflict of interest, which should be reviewed regularly, possibly eliminated and publicly acknowledged.
Unfortunately, Lewandowski goes on to draw a conclusion that Purser feels that a conflict of interest “implies that I (Lewandowski) or others are making money illegally.” John does not believe that. Once Lewandowski and other board members better understand this aspect of proper board governance, they will hopefully work to change the bylaws and policies. Understanding and collaboration is key to fair governance that represents all members’ interests.
Finally, Lewandowski addressed Purser’s statement that LPEA “entered into contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars without member review.” Lewandowski refuted the statement. Lewandowski forgets that on Feb. 16, 2022, the LPEA board passed a resolution to allow staff to negotiate and finalize a power supply contract with Tri-State and Crossover Energy Partners. On the LPEA website, this is referred to as a 20-year contract for 70+ MW per year. This agreement lapsed due to a Federal Energy Regulation Commission ruling against the partial supply agreement. The issue is that the LPEA board approved the above, but members were not allowed to see that contract’s requirements. Transparency is key to accountability.
Purser welcomes a review and update of LPEA purchasing policies. LPEA purchasing policies should be not just industry standard, but the best possible policies to serve our customers. We need cost effective and reliable energy. LPEA already does a great job and with updated policies, we can do even better.
Purser advocates for more transparency in all aspects of LPEA, from policy to conflicts of interest to contract negotiation. These are important issues to him and why he is running for LPEA board director District 4.
Purser can add an important voice to the board, not hysterical, but thoughtful. That'’s good for LPEA and for the members they serve.
Susan Atkinson volunteers with the local Citizens’ Climate Lobby Durango chapter.