BCRAGD meeting - short but not very sweet
By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff writer
The Bandera River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) Board of Directors called their quarterly meeting to order at approximately 10 am Thursday, April 7. Ten minutes later, the meeting had been adjourned.
Witnesses report that a county resident, Karen Brown, had signed up to speak during the "Public Comment" portion of the meeting. When Brown stood, President Jim Chastain told her he knew what she was going to say and he would not allow her to slander any of his board members.
Brown then attempted to speak to the audience, turning her back on the board table. Director Jerry Sides immediately made a motion to adjourn the meeting, which was seconded by Andy Lautzenheiser. The board voted 6-2 to adjourn. Voting for were Sides, Chastain, Lautzenheiser, Don Sloan, Gene Wehmeyer and Karen Ripley. Against were Don Kruckemeyer and Lee Kneupper. Richard Connors, running a little late, was just getting out of his vehicle in the parking lot.
In the parking lot prior to the meeting, Brown had handed out some flyers, witnesses said, entitled "Ripley Ripoff Exposed; Water District Director Karen Ripley foiled in attempt to rip off taxpayers for $6,000."
The flyer accuses Ripley of listing herself as the cooperating broker on the contract for the purchase of the property where the BCRAGD now has its offices. Brown says on the flyer that "after widespread public outcry against the purchase," Ripley used white out on the contract to remove her name.
Acting as the cooperating broker would have entitled Ripley to a $6,000 commission. Ripley contends that as long as she did not vote for the purchase, she was acting within legal guidelines set by the Texas Real Estate Commission for real estate brokers.
Ripley admits that she did use white out on the contract after members of the BCRAGD's board's building committee, comprised of Sides, Lautzenheiser and Wehmeyer, in addition to Ripley, advised her to remove her name to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
On July 6, 2009, Ripley took the BCRAGD's offer for the property to Vicki Browning, who represented the seller of the property, Kenneth Pawvlik. Ripley explained to Browning the views expressed by the building committee members. Browning suggested she just white out her name and they had both buyer and seller initial the change on the same day. Those initials are on the final contract next to the whited-out section.
Brown's flyer states that Ripley is currently facing "charges of conflict of interest and other ethical violations from TREC, the Texas Real Estate Commission. The lead investigator feels disciplinary action is imminent."
Kerri Galvin, director of Standards and Enforcement Services of TREC, acknowledged that TREC is investigating a complaint against Ripley, but no decision has been made at this time. "I would be surprised that the lead investigator had made such a statement," said Galvin, "since all the investigators do is accumulate information. Decisions to take disciplinary action are made by me or by our attorney here at TREC headquarters."
Galvin also clarified that the enforcement arm of TREC handles "complaints," not "charges."
Of two complaints TREC is currently investigating regarding Ripley's handling of the BCRAGD property purchase, one was filed by Brown.
Brown's flyer urged recipients to "Demand that Ripley withdraw from the upcoming election for directors."
On April 4, Brown sent a copy of the flyer to Ripley via email in which she warned Ripley about the "significant and long-lasting...fallout from widespread circulation of such a document."
The email continued: "Citizens of this county are calling for your head. You can avert any more damage to your business and reputation by tendering your permanent resignation as Director of BCRAGD - for the remainder of this term and the next. Your resignation must be official before the start of the April 7 meeting."
The email continued, "If you decide to remain on the board, please understand that every person with whom you conduct business, all media outlets, and every taxpayer in Bandera County, will immediately be fully apprised regarding your criminal actions."
"She even sent it to my Daisy Girl Scout Troop," Ripley said. "What kind of person does something like this? And criminal actions? I haven't been convicted of anything."
Who's behind it?
Ripley believes the pressure to get her to resign comes from fellow board member Lee Kneupper who appears to be spearheading a campaign to elect his supporters to the board, and local pot-stirrer Jim Hannah.
According to Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris, earlier Kneupper had contacted him asking for suggestions for someone to run against Ripley. "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," said Harris.
Ripley said Hannah encouraged her to run in the first place but after her election told her she was "just talking too much...and asking too many questions. According to Ripley, Hannah added, "I'll just tell you how to vote."
"I told him 'You don't give me my marching orders'," Ripley said.
In an email, she added, "I am running unopposed. That's why they [members of Kneupper's Water Matters website group] are trying to get me to resign, so they can appoint another person for my position ... 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."
Ripley says Kneupper and Hannah want to turn the Lakehills area into some kind of special water district that would prevent wells being drilled on small lots. "Those lots are grandfathered in," explained Ripley. "If you don't believe in grandfathering, you may lose your rights down the line."
In addition to Ripley, Kneupper has set his sights on board member Gene Wehmeyer. In another, Kneupper apparently noted: "He needs to go."
No chance to be heard
Residents attending the BCRAGD board meeting Thursday morning felt cheated of their right to be heard. The Texas Attorney General's Open Meetings Act Handbook clearly states: "A meeting that is open to the public under the Act is one that the public is permitted to attend. The Act does not entitle the public to choose the items to be discussed or to speak about items on the agenda."
The Handbook continues to explain that the governmental body may "give members of the public an opportunity to speak ... If it does, it may set reasonable limits on the number, frequency and length of presentations before it, but it may not unfairly discriminate among speakers for or against a particular view."
Brown was among a group of residents who vigorously protested the BCRAGD's purchase of its current office property in 2009. She owns Solitaire Ranch and works for issues regarding property rights and equine matters.
Ripley is the top real estate seller in Bandera County in terms of number of sales and has recently accepted an invitation to serve as the political liaison for the Bandera County Board of Realtors. She is an environmentalist who supports water catchment solutions. She has been select by Texas Monthly as a Five-Star Realtor for Customer Satisfaction.
Slander is defined in Webster's New World Dictionary as the utterance in the presence of another person of a false statement or statements damaging to a third person's character or reputation. Libel is any false and malicious written or printed statement, or sign, picture, or effigy, tending to expose a person to public ridicule, hatred, or contempt, or to injure his reputation in any way. The Supreme Court has given considerable leeway on libel when it applies to public officials and-or otherwise very well known persons.