IGNACIO – Britt Bassett, Kohler McInnis and Kirsten Skeehan were elected to the La Plata Electric Association board Saturday.
It was a highly visible election that focused largely on how aggressively LPEA should pursue renewable energy.
Eight candidates were competing for four seats in the election and one race was too close to call, La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker announced during a meeting at the Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio.
In District 4, northern and eastern La Plata County, the margin of victory between Karen Barger and Tim Wheeler was less than 1 percent, she said.
A recount in the District 4 race will start on Monday. LPEA did not release how many votes Wheeler and Barger received in the race.
In District 3, city of Durango, Bassett, the incumbent, garnered 1,452 votes and his opponent Gene Fisher received 678 votes.
It was a much closer race in District 2, southern and western La Plata County. McInnis received 1,292 votes and Jeff Mannix garnered 1,074 votes.
In District 1, Archuleta County, newcomer Skeehan received 1,109 votes and defeated incumbent Bob Formwalt who received 796.
The candidates will serve three year terms as part of a 12-member board.
There were about 8,700 ballots cast in the election, a turnout of about 26 percent, said LPEA spokeswoman Indiana Reed.
The turnout was a little lower than last year’s turnout of 28 percent, but it was higher than recent years, a news release said.
LPEA saw a 22.5 percent return in 2016; 22.6 percent return in 2015; 25 percent return in 2014; and 22.5 percent return in 2013.
“I am encouraged that so many of our members are paying attention to these important issues,” Bassett said. But he would like to see more members participate in the future.
Several groups backed candidates in this election, drawing more attention to the campaigns. Historically, LPEA elections were fairly low-key but have gained more public attention in recent years.
Environmental nonprofits backed Bassett, Wheeler, Skeehan and Mannix, who were all enthusiastic about understanding what it would take to leave LPEA’s energy supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Buying out of LPEA’s contract with Tri-State could give the co-op greater freedom to pursue local renewable power, some candidates said.
Common Sense LPEA, a concerned citizens group backed the other four candidates, McInnis, Fisher, Formwalt and Barger, who took a more cautious approach to transitioning to renewable energy.
Formwalt was defeated after 18 years on the LPEA board. He has held a local office since 1986 when he was elected as an Archuleta County commissioner. He described his time on the LPEA board as challenging, and he said he appreciated everyone who supported him.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” he said.
Voters also approved all 10 LPEA bylaw changes, including a rule that will require candidates to disclose their campaign finance contributions.
Unlike most local races, LPEA board elections are not governed by state campaign finance law. LPEA is a private entity and so its elections are not governed by the same rules that would govern public campaigns.
Another bylaw change makes it possible for a director to be employed by a business selling electricity or a major supplier of the cooperative.
Voters also approved a bylaw change that makes it possible for board members to remove a fellow LPEA director who no longer meets the requirements of holding office. For example, if a board member moved, they could be voted off the board.
Several of the other changes made the bylaws more gender neutral.