Valley Electric Association Inc.’s new interim chief is planning to take the co-op in a new direction—one that could increase the level of transparency the organization has with members and staff.
“I’ve been in the program for 47 years-plus, and the last three systems I managed were in pretty tough shape financially and politically, and I have always had a good solid reputation on how to put things back together again…,” said Richard Peck, who has been named interim chief executive of Valley.
Peck, of Kenai, Alaska, owner of Utility Innovations Plus, a management consulting and renewable energy business, replaces Valley’s Chief Financial Officer Steve Morrison, who was named acting chief executive of the co-op at the end of February. Morrison has returned to his role as chief financial officer with the co-op.
Angela Evans, named CEO of Valley in October 2018, is on administrative leave pending an investigation by an outside, third-party firm, according to Valley. She was put on leave following her arrest on suspicion of embezzlement.
Peck, who is new to the Southern Nevada area, comes to the co-op that has seen several shakeups in recent weeks with allegations of a financial cover-up of sexual harassment by a former leader of Valley and embezzlement. But this isn’t Peck’s first time dealing with tough situations.
Peck said he walked into a tough situation in 2012 at another co-op in Red Lodge, Montana, Beartooth Electric Cooperative, where he served as interim general manager.
When Peck arrived at Beartooth, the co-op was facing turmoil with the bankruptcy of its main supplier of power: the Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative.
“They (Beartooth) had two board members with six months experience and five board members with about two weeks experience,” Peck said.
Peck spent three years at the Montana co-op before returning to his home in the “Kenai Peninsula to continue his consulting business after developing a management agreement for Beartooth Electric with Lower Valley Energy, a Wyoming cooperative,” a news release from Valley stated.
Peck said he brought transparency to the Montana co-op during his time there.
“I helped the board rewrite all their policies, bring all the bylaws up to date so that the membership had maximum transparency,” he said.
That’s where Peck is hoping to take Valley Electric’s board of directors. Things like financial forecasts, engineering work plans and the annual budget will be made available online, Peck said.
“Everything will be online and available to the membership,” he said. “Remember, our membership is kind of unique in the co-op’s cycle. They own the company, so there is no private information other than there’s a contract, or there’s a personnel issue. We can’t put that out there, but everything else, we’ll be putting that out there.”
Peck said he is “just having a lot of fun right now stepping in and correcting some of the problems with the co-op. For example, we have about $5 million worth of inventory. That’s about $4.5 million more than we actually need.”
With the recent layoffs at Valley Electric, Peck said there are about 15 to 20 vehicles that are now surplus. He is to have the staff look at which ones the co-op doesn’t need, so they can be put up for sale at Valley’s annual meeting in April.
Peck said he doesn’t have any negative reactions to the VEA Members for Change group hoping to unseat Valley’s current board of directors.
“That’s called America and a democracy, and they’re entitled to do what they want to do,” he said. “We’re not in any way taking any negative reaction to what they’re doing.”
The VEA Members for Change group has to collect enough signatures in its petition drive that it launched in February to equate to 10 percent of the membership in Valley. That’s roughly 1,800 signatures, group organizers have estimated.
The sheriff’s office is currently investigating an alleged 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.
The Nye County Sheriff’s Office has executed two search warrants at Valley: one on Feb. 22 and the other on Feb. 26. According to a video news release following the execution of the first search warrant, the sheriff’s office is expected to release more information on March 10.
“It’s really interesting, the Nye County Sheriff has been here twice two weeks ago, they arrested and seized a whole bunch of records,” Peck said. “The district attorney in Nye County doesn’t know anything about it. The district attorney’s office in Nye County doesn’t know what the hell’s going on with the sheriff’s office in Nye County. There are no charges pending.”
Peck said, “I’m going to leave that dog alone. I’m just telling you, to me, there were some mistakes made, but there is nothing that I can see, and I’ve only been here three days, that would be worthy of any illegal actions by this board or any staff at this time. What happened before, that’s a separate matter. I can’t discuss those legal issues.”
Evans was arrested on Feb. 26 on suspicion of embezzlement. It’s alleged that Evans charged the co-op $75,000 for work she had done on her personal residence in March and April 2018, according to information in the Feb. 26 search warrant executed at Valley.
According to Chris Arabia, the Nye County district attorney, no charges have been filed in regard to Evans, and he didn’t have anything specific on a timetable, he said in a voicemail on Thursday. Arabia added that was all the information he had at this time.
In recent weeks, the sheriff’s office disputed statements the co-op and its board had released about actions taken during the search warrant execution by the sheriff’s office on Feb. 22 at Valley and other statements in those releases.
Peck has worked in public power for several decades.
“Peck’s 47-year career in public power has included 24 years as a CEO of rural utilities in the West and four years of international consulting in South America and Southeast Asia,” a release from Valley Electric stated. “He started his public power career in October 1969 at Homer Electric Association in Homer, Alaska.”
Peck has an associate of arts and sciences in electrical engineering and has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Central Washington.
Peck is from the Pacific Northwest.
“He fell in love with Alaska while commercial salmon fishing in southwest Alaska,” the release stated. “He returned to Alaska in May 2004 as director of Unalaska Public Utilities.”
Peck served two terms on the Unalaska City Council; he was also a member of the Unalaska Fish and Game Advisory Board. He was a board member and president of the Unalaska-Iliuliuk Family Health Services Clinic and a member of the Unalaska Scouting Committee, according to a release from Valley.
Contact reporter Jeffrey Meehan at email@example.com