Valley Electric Association experienced months of sweeping changes from the early part of 2018 and into 2019.
The co-op, a main source of electric power and high-speed internet for residents and businesses in Pahrump and surrounding areas, moved from a dialogue of experiencing a “historic” year to one of realignment, as a new leader, Angela Evans, brought a different voice to Valley.
Unexpected by many in the region, this new voice of ideas by the co-op’s board and Evans, named CEO of Valley in October 2018, ushered in rate increases for both broadband and electric power customers.
That decision brought about more shakeups as a group of member-owners of Valley set out with a goal of replacing the board of directors. Many turned out to sign a petition to replace the board on the notion that promises were broken.
Things such as electric rates were promised to stay stable with the more than $200 million sale of Valley’s 164-mile, 230-kilovolt transmission system that closed in 2017. Others questioned where the idea of a promised community center had gone and when they would see fiber-optic lines laid in their area.
Movement for change at the co-op was only invigorated further with the announcement of an alleged financial cover-up of sexual misconduct by a former leader of the co-op; and later, the arrest of Evans on suspicion of embezzlement over allegations that she had work done at her personal residence with co-op monies.
Hundreds of member-owners of Valley laid down their pen on a petition in the hopes ushering in change for the co-op.
A new chapter, only months since the previous one seemed to close, was turned to in the early part of 2019. That’s when a new interim chief executive, Richard Peck, was named at Valley—less than six months after Evans was named as CEO of the co-op permanently in October 2018.
Peck entered the co-op in March 2019 with an idea of taking Valley in a new direction, one of transparency.
The utility executive, with more than 47 years of experience in the public power industry, did just that with his entrance into Pahrump from Kenai, Alaska. Peck put a lot of Valley’s information online, including financials and other information.
Peck started his time at Valley just as things got heated with member-owners, who filled the room at Valley’s conference center for annual district meetings, posing questions about the co-op’s operations, finances and past decisions by the board of directors.
Beyond the notion of broken promises that caught the ire of several member-owners at the meetings, Peck also had to deal with other questions as well.
Evans was arrested at the end of February 2019 on suspicion of embezzlement of $3,500 or more. Allegations leading up to her arrest included that Evans billed $75,000 worth of work on her personal residence in Pahrump to the co-op.
She was put on paid administrative leave, pending an outside, third-party investigation, just after her arrest, and a court date in Pahrump Justice Court still loomed for her in early 2019. For a short period, Valley’s Chief Financial Officer, Steve Morrison, was named as acting chief executive of the co-op just before Peck’s arrival.
Evans took over for former Valley CEO Thomas Husted in May 2018, being named interim CEO at that time. Husted had abruptly announced his retirement just following Valley’s 2018 annual meeting at the end of April that year.
Overall, four people in a 10-month period took the helm of Valley on either a permanent, interim or acting basis. A fifth was designated to take the role but didn’t take the position just days after being named.
Evans was also part of an investigation by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office that included allegations of a cover-up at the co-op that involve payoffs to current and former employees at Valley, so they would keep quiet about allegations that former CEO Thomas Husted sexually harassed a female employee.
This brought about the execution of two search warrants at Valley in February 2019. During the execution of the second search warrant, Evans was arrested.Allegations included that Evans billed $75,000 worth of work done at her personal residence in Pahrump to the co-op. Evans was not the CEO of the co-op at the time the alleged work orders were dated, based on past news releases from the cooperative and information in a search warrant’s accompanying affidavit.
Other turmoil at Valley included a members’ group known as VEA Members for Change collecting enough signatures for its path to removing the board of directors.
Despite the shakeups, Dave Hall, on the board of directors for Valley’s District 2, managed to keep his seat for another three years. Hall represents Amargosa Valley.
Contact reporter Jeffrey Meehan at firstname.lastname@example.org