CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
JOHNSON CITY — A three-member committee on Dec. 7 could possibly determine disciplinary action for Pedernales Electric Cooperative District 5 director and board vice president James Oakley regarding a Facebook comment he made in connection with the capture of a man suspected of killing a San Antonio police officer.
A public firestorm erupted after Oakley, who is also the Burnet County judge, posted a comment on his Facebook page Nov. 21 saying it was “time for a tree and a rope.” The comment was in reference to the arrest of Otis Tyrone McKane, who is black, in the murder of SAPD detective Benjamin Marconi just days earlier.
Oakley deleted the comment and apologized after subsequent commenters accused him of racism.
He said publicly his statement did not refer to race but to a form of Old West-style justice, an expression of his frustration with a spate of police killings across the country.
A screen shot of his post circulated around other media platforms, resulting in a special called meeting Nov. 30 where about two dozen supporters and opponents of Oakley spoke during the public comments portion.
Fellow board member and District 1 director Cristi Clement filed a formal administrative complaint with PEC, prompting the board to launch a committee to determine potential disciplinary action.
Since that time, Oakley’s supporters have referred to the process as a “political maneuver” by Clement, who is a Democrat. Oakley is a Republican.
“We believe this is a political maneuver by the Democrats,” said Donna Holland-Wilcox, the Burnet County Republican Party chairwoman.
During the public comments section of the Nov. 30 meeting, speakers were not required or asked to identify their party affiliation. One man, Thomas Mitchell, who said Oakley should step down from the board of directors, did describe himself as a conservative Republican for the past 50 years.
PEC directors are voted on in non-partisan elections.
Holland-Wilcox has sent out a mass email gathering support for Oakley with information about the process and links to communicating with PEC staff connected to the process.
“We are exchanging information with conservative leaders in Williamson, Llano, Travis, Hays, Blanco and Kimble counties to ensure that PEC co-op dues paying members are aware of this despicable effort and what their rights are to be heard by the board,” Holland-Wilcox said.
“I’m a private citizen (too), a Burnet County conservative,” she continued. “We know that there are many active local Democrats who have been instrumental in working with director Clement on seizing this unfounded opportunity to try to unseat Judge Oakley (from the PEC board).”
Clement declined comment for this story.
Ravelle Kundinger, the president of the Highland Lakes Democratic Women, which serves Burnet, Lampasas, and Llano counties, said the opposition to Oakley’s comment transcends politics.
“Democrats traditionally, and certainly in today’s social climate, have the perspective of inclusiveness and have the perspective of protecting civil rights, so that might be a reason why it looks like it’s a big gang-up of Democrats in response to what Judge Oakley said,” Kundinger said. “The people who are the most offended are not necessarily people representing the Democrat party but those representing the African-American community.”
During the Nov. 30 meeting, three black PEC employees spoke during the public comments portion, stating they were offended by Oakley’s Facebook comment and perceived a “hostile” work environment since the controversy erupted.
“It’s so insensitive in today’s climate with everything going on between the black community and police officers to not be sensitive,” said Kundinger, who is white. “I can’t find an excuse for it. I expect more from him.”
The three-member committee, comprised of PEC board members Emily Pataki, Paul Graf, and Kathy Scanlan, is scheduled to conduct a public meeting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7, at PEC headquarters, 302 Ave. F in Johnson City.
The committee meeting includes a section for public comments.
The committee could make a recommendation of possible actions against Oakley at that time for a vote by the full, non-affected board members, which also include Clement, Jim Powers, and Amy Lea Akers.
The PEC board’s options include: a verbal warning; a written reprimand; censure; a reduction in director privileges or compensation; or removal.
If the board opts to remove Oakley, it cannot take action for 30 days after such a recommendation.
The next PEC regular meetings are Dec. 19 and Jan. 17.
Editor Daniel Clifton contributed to this report.