Flyer, emails result in 'coercion' charges
By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor
A tempest that began in 2011 has finally boiled over the teapot. Karen Brown, a resident of Lakehills, has been charged with "Coercion Against Candidacy." Karen Ripley, a director with the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District, filed a criminal complaint against Brown with the office of County Attorney Janna Lindig. The charge is a Class A Misdemeanor, according to Judge Richard Evans.
Brown's conduct prior to the 2011 water board election allegedly violated Chapter 2.054 of the Texas Election Code, specifically, "In an election that may be subject to this subchapter, a person commits an offense if by intimidation or by means of coercion the person influences or attempts to influence a person to not file an application for a place on the ballot or a declaration of write-in candidacy or withdraw as a candidate."
Additionally, in this section, "coercion" has the meaning assigned by Section 1.07 of the Penal Code.
Staff writer Carolyn B. Edwards reported extensively on a river authority meeting in the Thursday, April 14, 2011, Courier article titled "BCRAGD meeting - short but not very sweet." Edwards wrote that Brown had not been permitted to address directors during the public comment portion of the meeting. At that time, then-President Jim Chastain said he would not allow her to "slander" any of his board members.
When Brown attempted to address the audience instead, the meeting was abruptly adjourned. Before the meeting, Brown had reportedly handed out flyers decrying Ripley's participation in negotiations for the BCRAGD's new headquarters on Highway 3240. Titled, "Ripley Ripoff Exposed," Brown demanded that Ripley, who was running unopposed, withdraw from the upcoming river authority election.
Further, the flyer contended that Ripley, a real estate agent, faced "charges of conflict of interest and other ethical violations from the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC)," and, "The lead investigator feels disciplinary action is imminent."
In the course of investigating Brown's allegations, Edwards contacted Kerry Galvin, director of Standards and Enforcement for TREC. At that time, Galvin told Edwards, "I would be surprised that the lead investigator had made such a statement since all investigators do is accumulate evidence. Decisions to take disciplinary action are made by me or by our attorney here at TREC headquarters."
Galvin also clarified that the TREC handles "complaints," not "charges." Subsequently, the TREC judged all complaints against Ripley as unfounded and no disciplinary action was taken.
Brown was listed on both complaints filed against Ripley with the TREC. Others who signed complaints included several local real estate agents and Jim Hannah, who is now a member of Bandera City Council.
Additionally, in an email sent to Leroy Kneupper on April 9, 2011, Brown allegedly wrote, "The only way KR is going to step down will be from massive public upheaval to her life."
In a return email on April 11, Kneupper apparently asked, "Did you put out the flyer?" At the time of the email exchange, Kneupper was also a director with the BCRAGD; however, he has since resigned.
According to Edwards' 2011 article, Kneupper had contacted Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris soliciting suggestions for a candidate to run against Ripley. Harris apparently sent Kneupper packing, saying emphatically, "I not only told him no, I told him 'Hell, no!' I think Karen's doing a fine job representing the people in our precinct."
In a April 4, 2011 email, Brown allegedly gave Ripley until the April 7 BCRAGD meeting to tender her permanent resignation, adding, "If you decide to remain on the board, please understand that every person with whom you conduct business, all media outlets, and every tax payer in Bandera County, will immediately be fully apprised regarding your criminal actions. However, should you resign as Director ... all actions to disseminate this document will immediately cease as will all other efforts to expose your unethical character. Your future business and reputation are now in your hands."
In her complaint against Brown, Ripley asserted, "On or about April 4, 2011, I received the attached email from Karen Brown that demanded that I resign as Director of the Bandera River Authority and Groundwater District before the District's April 7, 2011 Quarterly Meeting. In the email threat from Karen Brown, she stated 'Please review the attached mailer. As you can imagine, the fallout from wide spread circulation of such a document will be significant and long lasting.'
"The email threat from Karen Brown further threatened that 'you can avert any more damage to your business and reputation by tendering your permanent resignation as Director of the BCRAGD-for the remainder of this term and the next.' I was running unopposed for the current election. I understood this as a direct threat; that I should not seek re-election and withdraw from the election or I would be harmed. Accompanying the email was the attached flier that outlined the threat to be perpetrated against me and demanded that I 'withdraw' from the upcoming election for Directors. I was even threatened by her that the 'citizens of Bandera County wanted my head'."
For her part, Ripley has been advised not to speak on the record about while the court case is pending. However, in 2011, she was less circumspect, telling Edwards, "I am running unopposed. That's why they [members of Lee Kneupper's Water Matters website group] are trying to get me to resign so they can appoint another person to my position..."
Ripley continued, "They are trying to derail the democratic process for our precinct. Through well permits, meters and commercial wells for our small businesses, they hope to regulate and control all of our water their way."
When contacted by email regarding the charges, Brown wrote, "By my own choosing, I have had absolutely no involvement on any level with the Water District or local politics since April of 2011. I am not the first person to be unjustly persecuted by certain members of the Water District's Board and I'm sure I won't be the last."
Apparently representing herself pro se in the matter, Brown continued, "I am certain that if I had an attorney, he would be telling me not to discuss this case, therefore, I will answer no more questions, but thank you for asking."