The Pedernales Electric Cooperative board of directors voted Jan. 17 to remove director James Oakley's vice president status and issue him a warning over a November Facebook post that some perceived as racist. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
DANIEL CLIFTON • EDITOR
JOHNSON CITY — Though two directors wanted James Oakley removed from the Pedernales Electric Cooperative board over a controversial Facebook post made Nov. 21, 2016, the board went with a recommendation from a PEC complaint committee to strip him of his vice president seat and issue him a warning.
Oakley, however, believes that measure was more than what he deserved.
“First of all, I disagree with the process, I disagree with the findings, and I disagree with the recommendation,” Oakley said after the other six members of the board voted on the measure. “I feel like there are other directors who weren’t calling for my removal but felt like they had to do something to appease the voices that were part of manufacturing this whole fiasco.
“This is something that was opportunistically manipulated and attached to a sensitive topic in today’s society,” he added.
During its regular Jan. 17 meeting, the PEC board of directors voted 6-0 (Oakley did not participate) to accept a complaint committee’s recommendation to take Oakley’s vice president status from him and issue a warning for posting that it was “time for a tree and a rope” regarding the San Antonio Police Department’s Facebook announcement of the arrest of a black man, Otis Tyrone McKane, in the killing of SAPD detective Benjamin Marconi on Nov. 20.
Oakley removed the post by Nov. 22 after realizing some people were offended by it, perceiving it to be a racist comment. He also apologized at the time and once again during a subsequent PEC board meeting.
He pointed out that the comment was made in a private Facebook group, but someone took a screenshot of the post and began sharing it with media outlets and other individuals.
“It was not a public comment,” Oakley said.
During a special PEC board meeting Nov. 30 to consider a complaint filed by PEC Director Cristi Clement against Oakley for the Facebook post, co-op members and employees spoke both in support of Oakley and against him, some even advocating for his removal from the board.
Oakley acknowledged he made the post but said he was reacting to the murder of a law enforcement officer, not to the suspect’s race. He added some people attempted to twist it into a racist comment.
During that meeting, the board appointed a three-director complaint committee consisting of Emily Pataki, Paul Graf, and Kathy Scanlon to investigate the complaint and make a recommendation to the full board of any possible action against Oakley. The complaint committee met Dec. 7 and 8 as well as Jan. 6.
Prior to the Dec. 7 meeting, more than 20 PEC members and staff again voiced their support for Oakley or their desire to see him dismissed from the board.
The committee voted 2-1 to recommend a warning to Oakley as well as remove his vice president status. Scanlon voted against those measures, instead recommending his removal from the board.
During the public comments at the Jan. 17 meeting, people again shared their opinions on Oakley’s future on the board.
Oakley contends the complaint and push by two PEC directors were politically motivated rather than having anything to do with PEC itself.
“My comment didn’t affect the daily operations of PEC,” he said, pointing out that customer service “was up during December, we still have low rates, and there were no major power outages.”
Clement, however, made a motion to remove Oakley from the board, which failed. Only she and Scanlon voted in favor of the measure (Oakley didn’t vote). In the end, the board voted to go with the complaint committee’s recommendation.
“I maintain the vast majority of the million or so PEC members and the 700 employees were not offended by my comment and don’t agree that it had anything to do with PEC,” Oakley added. “As for moving forward, I move forward with my head high as I know I didn’t do anything wrong.”
In another agenda item filed by Oakley that would toss out the amendments that laid out director discipline and possible removal steps by the board, the board postponed consideration of the measure until a later date.