PEC Complaint Committee recommends against removing Oakley from Board

PEC director and Burnet County Judge James Oakley

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

The Highlander

A Pedernales Electric Cooperative complaint committee has stopped short of calling for the removal of Burnet County Judge James Oakley from the Board of Directors entirely but has recommended his removal as Vice President of the cooperative's board.

The recommendation of the Complaint Committee will be discussed and action taken during Tuesday's regular Board of Directors meeting at the cooperative's headquarters in Johnson City.

The board will also consider a resolution by Oakley to rescind the bylaws for removal and discipline of a PEC director from bylaw amendments that were put in place just one week before Oakley made a post on Facebook which brought national media spotlight to the PEC and cast Oakley in an unfavorable light.

Oakley called the investigation into his social media presence “a manufactured fiasco” and believes directors were “ill-advised to not anticipate (the disciplinary process) was set up to be manipulated.

“The purpose of my resolution is to make sure nobody else would be subject to this opportunistic scenario again,” Oakley said. “The majority of the board never wants to go through a process like this again. We need to respect the vote of the membership in regards to our directors. I hope politics can be kept out of the PEC board room in the future.”

The Complaint Committee recommendation regarding Oakley was not unanimous. While board Secretary Paul Graf and President Emily Pataki voted in favor of issuing a written warning to Oakley and removing him from the board's leadership, director Kathy Scanlon made it known she preferred an outright removal from the Board of Directors for Oakley, whose Facebook comment regarding the arrest of a man for the shooting death of a San Antonio law enforcement officer garnered national attention when it was made public in November.

Following the arrest of an African-American suspect, Otis Tyrone McKane, for the shooting death of SAPD Det. Benjamin Marconi, Oakley shared a Nov. 21 post by the San Antonio Police Department on his personal Facebook page with a comment of “time for a tree and a rope … .”

That comment, because it was placed on a shared public post, was publicly visible while it was onto re Oakley’s Facebook page until he removed it the following day.

Oakley’s comment drew condemnation from a number of individuals, who thought the elected official had overstepped his bounds by commenting so harshly in a public manner or that he had commented in a manner which could appear to have been made with malicious, racial overtones.

Media coverage of the posting drew references to Oakley's position as a PEC director and a complaint was filed against Oakley by fellow director Cristi Clement, who called for Oakley's dismissal as a PEC director. During a Nov. 30 meeting, the board of directors established the Complaint Committee to review the matter and report back to the board its recommendation for how it would discipline Oakley, if necessary.

In the findings released by the committee after three meetings on Dec. 7-8 and again on Jan. 6, it was noted that while Oakley's comment “does not appear to have been made maliciously nor with intentional hate or racist overtones; and does not appear to be a representation of Director Oakley's historical personality trait in his work in behalf of PEC; it nonetheless has caused unnecessary disruption to the efficiency of PEC's management, operations, administration, regulation of the business affairs and governance functions, and has cast certain unfavorable light to PEC's goodwill and brand, and has apparently caused negative impact to PEC's otherwise high employee morale.”

“Director Oakley's Internet posting on November 21, 2016, and the resulting media coverage, was perceived by many PEC employees and Members as being highly inappropriate and insensitive,” the report states. “While Director Oakley apparently did not intend the perception his comments received, an elected Director of the nation's largest electric cooperative must always remain diligent and use a high level of judgment that his/her actions and activities, even in a private context, may have an impact on the operations and business affairs of the Cooperative.

“Because of the negative impact to the PEC that Director Oakley's November 21, 2016, Internet posting caused, the Board of Directors of PEC provides this warning to Director Oakley: that, as long as he remains on the PEC Board, to carefully and thoughtfully guard his public and personal actions.

“In the best interests of the Cooperative moving forward, and due to the distraction associated with and stemming from this incident, the Board of Directors should replace Director Oakley as Vice President of the Board, effective immediately, thereby removing him from a leadership position on the Board.”

The committee also indicated that it supported PEC members and employees who, “on both sides of the issues, courageously stepped forward to relate and discuss the perception and impact Director Oakley's posted comment had on the Cooperative” and would not tolerate any form of retaliation against any individual who spoke up to the Board or the Complaint Committee regarding the matter.

Oakley said he believes his words were “twisted in a way that wasn't what I intended.”

“While I apologize if my comments offended anybody, my focus was on the crime and cold-blooded murder of a policeman simply because he was wearing a uniform,” Oakley said. “My perspective is not one that takes into account the gender or race of the admitted cop-killer. Of course I believe in due process, but this horrific crime should qualify for the death penalty. I wish there were more focus on the crime rather than my comment on Facebook.”

He also said that because this was the first time the new bylaws, passed Nov. 14, were put to use, there was no “guidance or model to use.” He also disputed that he had caused a disruption to PEC's efficiency, noting “at no point did this interrupt the electric service provided by the cooperative or threaten the employment of any of our employees.”

If Oakley's resolution is approved, it would not undo the investigation into his comments or his standing as a PEC director, but it would prevent board members from being able to remove a fellow director so that a recall election of the membership would be required.

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