Tensions run high as PEC investigates merit of complaint filed against Oakley

By Frank Shubert

Bulletin Publisher

At a meeting held Wednesday by the Complaint Committee established by the Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) on November 30, tensions ran high and continued Thursday regarding a complaint filed against board member James Oakley. The executive session  that followed PEC member comments was ended when Complaint Committee member and director Kathryn Scanlon left the proceedings. They continued on Thursday.

The Complaint Committee, which included Scanlon, board president Emily Pataki and director Paul Graf, was joined by general council Don Ballard and special council Don Richards. The committee was charged with investigating a complaint filed by PEC board member Cristi Clement against Oakley.

On Monday, Nov. 21, Oakley, who also serves as Burnet County Judge, shared a post from the San Antonio Police Department about the arrest of an African-American man, Otis Tyrone McKane — accused of killing San Antonio police Det. Benjamin Marconi — on his personal Facebook account.

Oakley then posted a comment on his shared post that he thought it was “time for a tree and a rope … .”

That comment, because it was placed on a shared public post, was publicly visible while it was on Oakley’s Facebook page. Oakley’s comment drew condemnation from a number of individuals on Facebook, who thought the elected official had overstepped his bounds by commenting so harshly in a public manner.

“I maintain that my comment on my personal Facebook account was my own and did not have anything to do with the PEC until director Clement inferred the implication,” said Oakley. “I also maintain that my comment had nothing to do with the identity of the suspect that admitted to the murder of the police officer. It was never my intent to offend anyone with my comment, the point is that a police officer was murdered.”

Oakley continued, “We (PEC) as a board adopted a new policy in the November meeting that lays out that if any director that files a complaint against another director it automatically triggers a process that a committee is formed to look into the validity of the complaint. The bylaws state that, the president of the board will serve on the committee and two other board members are selected from the remainder of the board. Neither the complainant nor director making the complaint can participate in that decision.”

The meeting Wednesday opened with a moment of silence in recognition of Pearl Harbor Day. Public comments were offered for over an hour before adjourning into the executive session to discuss the Committee findings.

“What concerns me is the mental state displayed by Oakley, who may have an ingrained prejudice when stating the ‘a time for a tree and a rope’ comment,” said Ronald LeVick, Sr., Burnet County Democratic Chair.

“Not only does this indicate Mr. Oakley cannot represent this segment of humanity but adding a second statement, ‘Trump won and if you don’t like it leave” -which may indicate he cannot represent anyone with opposing views.

“PEC can be a microcosm of support but may rid itself of individuals who may or could be termed promoting agendas of hate.”

Larry Landecker expressed his concerns. “When you are in the business of serving the public all you have is your good name. The nation’s largest and most well-respected cooperative cannot associate itself with a racist culture. ‘Time of a tree and a rope’ juxtaposed to a picture of a black man accused of a crime was no accident. Mr. Oakley intended the slur. It’s too late to save Mr. Oakley.” Addressing the board, he said “Your duty is to protect PEC. You have to save the brand from further harm.”

PEC Collections Manager Leslie West, who spoke at the Board meeting on November 30, continued to comment on the trust issue.

“His position is one of trust and honor and respect and his mistake is now created a disconnect between his name and his expectations as a director for PEC. Addressing the committee and the PEC board in general. she paraphrased, “Under the director’s code of conduct you are all bound by the following fiduciary duties. The duty of care which states that a director should exercise the degree of care that an ordinarily prudent would exercise under similar circumstances. And the duty of loyalty asks that you all act in good faith and in the best interests of PEC and its members. It also says that you should put the interests of PEC over any personal interests. Please understand that words can hurt and the actions afterwards either have the power to heal the pain or continue the pain.”

Speakers were given two minutes each to voice their opinions. Several individuals that ran over the time limit had their microphones disabled and were invited to yield to the next speaker.

Mary Jane Avery offered her support of Oakley.

“Two gentlemen. Both are Christian men with beautiful families. Both are skilled businessmen who cut through political traps to deliver excellence for the least amount of money.  

Both men love and respect all people,” said Avery. “A few weeks ago a majority of our PEC members were joined by millions of Americans and made one of these men our next president of the United States. In June a majority of PEC members overwhelmingly reelected the other as a PEC director. And when I say overwhelmingly I mean it was a blowout.” 

Avery concluded, “I do not want my one true vote overturned. The PEC needs James Oakley’s strong and decisive leadership. Why? Because James Oakley  is making the PEC great again.”

Bill Trembly of Meadowlakes offered his support to Oakley. “This charge against James Oakley is obviously a charge that should never have been made or brought to the PEC board. his remarks were public and not any statement made in a PEC boardroom. Mr. Oakley has the right to say anything he cares to the public or to the private. I fought for that right for all of our citizens in the US Army and proud to be a veteran, as many in this room are.”

“And I state things as I see them truthfully. This is clearly a liberal Democrat board member trying to push a politically correct agenda on the PEC and it has no place in a PEC boardroom. And for that matter has no place in any corporation board room in the the United States. It is a saddle attempt by a board member to replace a loyal, dedicated, professional board member (with someone) she hopes will be a liberal reflecting her political views.

Trembly continued, “I strongly recommend that the board reject this attempt at mutiny and move on with important business items with the PEC.”

Close to 30 speakers signed up to offer comments.

“I’ve been a PEC member for 16 years and I have known James Oakley for most of that 16 years. I know him well and I know his values. James and his family received a lot of backlash from his post,” said Jeff Sellers.

“I am not defending his comment but I am speaking about the man’s character. James’ comment had to do with his feelings on how all who target law enforcement should be handled. I know that James has a genuine love for people he is serving. His entire life is about serving. Not only as a career, but as a contributing and functioning member of our community. It is unfortunate that our society allows words to be mistaken and used against us, out of context in this case.”

“The fact that this investigation is taking place is a travesty in my opinion and a witch hunt with a frivolous complaint to hurt an effective public servant. His freedom of speech statement did not contain any words about race,” Sellers concluded.

On Thursday, the Complaint Committee released a statement by Don Richards, special counsel to the committee and board.

“PEC Complaint Committee Meeting. After media and social media statements I would like to clear up any expectations or misperceptions regarding the procedure the cooperative is undertaking. The focus right now is what is in the best interest of the cooperative. This is not a civil or criminal matter. The committee has been doing research and addressing the corporate issues raised. The cooperative has legal right under state law to address the issues, but must do so according to the bylaws. The committee does its work and reports its findings to the board. The board will make the final decision on this matter. The board can agree, disagree or amend the committee’s recommendation. The bylaws state 30 days notice must be provided before the most severe discipline (removal) could be enacted. The committee will issue its report. The report will go into an upcoming board packet. It will be released to the public when that board packet is made public. This is the procedure the committee is following.”

After the Thursday Executive Session of the Complaint Committee, board president Pataki closed the proceedings.

“The Committee has wrapped up our deliberation and investigation,” said Pataki. We will reconvene next Wed, Dec 14 at 9am at which time we will consider that report.”

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