Pedernales Co-op weighing fate of director after comments

Pedernales Electric Cooperative officials say they are weighing what to do about a co-op board member who has been accused of making violent and racist comments on social media.

James Oakley, who has served on the electric co-op’s board since 2013 and is also the board’s vice president, posted on Facebook last week that it was “time for a tree and a rope” in reference to a black suspect accused in the killing of a San Antonio police detective in November.

Oakley is also a Burnet County judge, presiding over Burnet County’s five-member commissioner’s court.

On Wednesday, the co-op’s board held a specially called meeting at its Johnson City headquarters to discuss Oakley’s conduct and to consider whether to take any action against him. The board’s six other members could choose to censure Oakley or to remove him from the board.

Speaking in a crowded meeting room Wednesday, Oakley apologized for his comments, which were made after Otis Tyrone McKane was charged in the death of San Antonio police Det. Benjamin Marconi. Oakley said he removed the post from his Facebook page as soon as he received a reply saying it was offensive.

“This is difficult… We are here because of me and I get that,” Oakley said Wednesday. “In a moment of frustration, I posted a comment… I did not mean a call for instant, vigilante justice. I want to be very clear, I am all about due process. I apologized then and I apologize now… I humbly apologize for my word choice. I am asking for your humble forgiveness. I did not intend to offend anyone.”

Oakley said his Facebook comments were not in reference to the race of the suspect, and said he would have made the same comments even if there had been no photo or description of the suspect available.

About 20 speakers, including co-op members and workers, signed up to speak at Wednesday’s 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.

On Wednesday afternoon, the board said it had formed a committee of board members that will decide Oakley’s fate by Dec. 9. The committee will include board president Emily Pataki, board secretary/treasurer Paul Graf and director Kathryn Scanlon.

“PEC has received and considered the complaint regarding Director Oakley’s social media comment,” the co-op said in a written 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.”

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 initial apology was similar to Oakley’s prepared remarks given on Wednesday.

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

Oakley is also on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s executive committee and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement’s board.

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