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Co-op director’s job threatened after ‘time for a tree and a rope’ post

A Burnet County official who simultaneously serves as an area utility executive is now fighting for his job as a director for the Pedernales Electric Cooperative following comments on a social media page that were considered violent and racist.

Burnet County Judge James Oakley, who has served on the co-op’s board since 2013, posted on Facebook last week that it was “time for a tree and a rope” in reference to a black suspect named in the killing of a San Antonio police detective earlier this month.

On Wednesday, the co-op’s board held an emergency meeting at its Johnson City headquarters to consider what action, such as a potential censure or even forcible removal, will now face Oakley.

“This is difficult… We are here because of me and I get that,” Oakley said, speaking to a crowded room in attendance for Wednesday’s meeting. Oakley said he wrote the post “in a moment of frustration… I did not mean a call for instant vigilante justice. I want to be very clear, I am all about due process.”

Oakley went on to issue an apology, saying his original Facebook post would have been the same even if there had been no mugshot or description of the suspect.

About 20 speakers, including co-op members and workers, signed up to speak at the 11 a.m. meeting and many made angry, emotional pleas that Oakley should resign. The meeting lasted about two hours before board members went into executive session to discuss their next steps with legal counsel.

The meeting was reconvened about two hours later and the board announced they had formed a committee to make a final decision on Oakley’s fate by Dec. 9.

“PEC has received and considered the complaint regarding Director Oakley’s social media comment,” the co-op said in a statement. “A committee of board members has been formed to consider all allowable action, per the cooperative’s bylaws. PEC does not condone any type of offensive language. Consistent with our cooperative values, we proudly welcome and serve all members.”

Oakley said Wednesday he removed the post from his Facebook page as soon as he received a reply saying it was offensive. Oakley appears to have made the comment Monday Nov. 21, after suspect Otis Tyrone McKane was charged in the death of San Antonio Det. Benjamin Marconi.

Last week, Oakley issued his first public apology about the Facebook comment as the story went viral and was picked up by several media outlets in Texas and beyond. The apology was very similar to the statement he gave at Wednesday’s meeting.

Previously, Oakley said his comment was “off the cuff” and “indeed curt and harsh.”

“It is for that reason that I deleted it soon after posting and apologize for not being more thoughtful and comprehensive in my expression,” Oakley said in his original apology. “What I should have posted, if anything, is a comment that more clearly reflects my opinion on the cowardly crime of the senseless murder of a law enforcement officer.”

His view of McKane was “the same regardless of ethnicity,” Oakley had said.

In addition to his role on the co-op board and presiding over a five-member commissioner’s court in Burnet County, Oakley is also on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s executive committee and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement’s board.

Last week, Oakley also emphasized he doesn’t oversee criminal cases in his Burnet County role.

“To be clear, I advocate due process,” Oakley said last week. “I also support the death penalty in cases where the ultimate crime has been committed and there is clear and complete evidence and where all steps of the judicial process have been respected. I would also point out that I am an administrative judge and do not preside over criminal court.”

Journalist James Walker, who previously worked for the Burnet Bulletin newspaper, said he saw Oakley’s Facebook post and took the screenshot the morning of Tuesday Nov. 22.

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