James Oakley, Member of CAMPO Board, Repudiated for Lynching Comments
Burnet County Judge James Oakley publicly called for the lynching of an African American suspect who has been charged and is awaiting trial for the murder of San Antonio police officer Benjamin Marconi. At an emotional hearing of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative — where Oakley serves as board director — the rest of the board unanimously voted to form a committee to quickly consider Oakley’s actions and calls for his removal, according to the Burnet Bulletin.
Many found his call for a public lynching of a suspect before a fair trial particularly disturbing in a state with a long, documented history of racism and lynchings of African Americans. A petition is calling for the removal of Judge Oakley from “all Government offices immediately.”
Oakley also serves in a much more important capacity on the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board (TPB), including the powerful and secretive executive committee, overseeing transportation planning and coordination for the 2 million residents of the Austin region.
About 124,723 African Americans live in the region represented by CAMPO, but not a single member of the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board or Technical Advisory Committee is African American. I documented over the summer the inequities in representation at CAMPO with a Special Report on Representation at CAMPO, which argued against the further dilution of representation of urban Travis County residents. But Judge Oakley — and a large majority of the TPB — voted to further disenfranchise Travis County residents at the September meeting.
Only 941 African Americans live in Burnet County (out of 45,563 residents), which is 83 percent white. The people of Burnet County make up only 2 percent of the region, but the county has a full vote on the Transportation Policy Board and a seat on the executive committee.
Travis County, with 26 times the population of Burnet and a larger share of African Americans, lost proportional representation on the Technical Advisory Committee at the September meeting, while Burnet County gained representation. Following the decision, Travis County is represented at a rate of one vote for every 196,030 residents, while Burnet County is represented at a rate of one vote for every 45,563 resident. In other words, Burnet County residents have more than four times the power, per capita, on the Technical Advisory Committee as Travis County residents.
Overall, the white residents of the Austin region are currently 34 percent over-represented on the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board, while the region’s African Americans do not currently have a vote on the 20 member board.
The nine-member CAMPO Executive Committee –on which Judge Oakley still serves for now — currently includes only one person of color in a region that is only 63 percent white. African Americans do not have a vote on the executive committee, which publishes no public records of its meetings or deliberations.
Equitable representation would mean about two more people of color serving on the executive committee and about four more serving on the Transportation Policy Board. Removing Judge Oakley could be a significant start to rectifying this injustice.
The next meeting of the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board is December 12 and includes opportunities for public comment. You can find email addresses for all members of the Transportation Policy Board here to send in comments on this issue.
This post is made possible by a grant from Sutliff & Stout, an accident and injury law firm in Houston Texas. The content is Streetsblog’s own, and Sutliff & Stout neither endorses nor exercises any editorial control.