Brazee says cost is what dissuaded him from running

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

John Brazee, Pawhuska's incumbent Ward 4 councilor, cited a Nov. 30, 2020, letter from local lawyer and former city councilor Steve Holcombe when explaining why he chose not to seek re-election.

The deadline for candidate declarations for the Ward 4 seat was Wednesday, Dec. 9. Brazee did not file a declaration. His old friend and council colleague, Rodger Milleson, filed to run in Ward 4, as did Carrie Ann Watters.

In a Nov. 30 letter, Holcombe told Brazee, "I have been retained by a prospective candidate for Ward IV who will file an objection with the election board to your candidacy based upon lack of residency. My client intends to vigorously pursue the objection even through an appeals process, if necessary."

Brazee and his wife, Amber, told the Journal-Capital they believed Holcombe sent the letter to intimidate John Brazee out of running for re-election.

"I feel like Mr. Holcombe was bullying us and using us not having the resources to defend ourselves," Amber Brazee said.

"It was winnable, but I did not have the money to fight it," John Brazee said, adding that an attorney he talked to indicated it would cost at least $10,000 to secure a defense.

In the text of his letter to Brazee, Holcombe said he sent the correspondence "as a courtesy," and he reiterated that explanation when the Journal-Capital asked him about it.

"The letter was provided as a courtesy," Holcombe told the newspaper in an email. The newspaper had explained to him in an email that John and Amber Brazee viewed the letter as an attempt to intimidate.

Holcombe also provided the Journal-Capital with a copy of the objection petition that he said he had been prepared to file on behalf of his client, Carrie Ann Watters, if Brazee had declared his candidacy.

In that petition, Holcombe focuses on an argument to the effect that John and Amber Brazee live at 111 Prue, or 141 Prue or 165 Prue, all of which he says are Pawhuska postal addresses, but are located outside city limits.

Holcombe also argues in the petition that John Brazee's representation to the Osage County Election Board since September 2019 that his residential address for voting purposes is 901 Lynn Ave. is insufficient, in that 901 Lynn is a business address not zoned by the city of Pawhuska for residential purposes.

John Brazee told the newspaper that his initial candidacy for City Council, in 2018, had been based on other parties confirming to him that at least part of the property where he lived at the time fell within Pawhuska city limits. Brazee said that Larry Eulert, who was interim city manager, had researched the issue and represented to him that his residence at the time was at least partially inside the city limits and it was all right for him to hold a council seat.

Brazee explained it was his belief, based on what he had been told, that there might be different maps of Pawhuska's city limits, at least some of which showed that his residence as of 2018 was at least partially inside city limits.

"It depends on which map you look at," John Brazee said. He denied that it has ever been his intent to be dishonest or fraudulent in his representations of his situation. 

Brazee additionally said he had moved his voter registration address to 901 Lynn Ave., the address of his tire and auto service business. He said that he eats meals there and sometimes sleeps there. He said there is no Oklahoma law that prevents him from doing so.

"It's just as much my residence as anything else," Brazee said regarding his shop at 901 Lynn. "U Haul blankets are pretty soft. I sleep here all the time."

Another matter that Brazee brought up in regard to Holcombe, who is a former Ward 2 councilor, is that he recalled asking Holcombe for legal advice regarding residency for purposes of holding municipal office, and Brazee said that he "felt represented" by Holcombe in regard to an exchange on the subject. Brazee voiced concern that Holcombe might have used information gleaned from that conversation to help Watters.

"I have no recollection -- none whatsoever -- that Mr. Brazee ever asked me for legal advice in my capacity as an attorney," Holcombe said in an email. "He has never retained me. He has never signed a written engagement agreement with me. He has never been to my law office for a consultation, nor requested any such consultation.

"I do recall that on a number of occasions -- while both he and I were seated on the city council - that he would ask a question of me about a number of various and disparate issues that all city council members wonder about or are asked about," Holcombe said in an email. "That's just part of the job. It's difficult for a non-lawyer to come onto the Pawhuska City Council and immediately grasp all of the issues that may come before them because there is no orientation program for new council members." 

Holcombe also addressed the issue of John Brazee feeling represented as follows: "If he 'felt represented' I can only imagine that it is because I was answering questions of his as I would answer it for any public citizen with a question to a city councilman about the application of the city charter, ordinances, etc."

Holcombe added that the history of his and John Brazee's political behavior toward one another did not lend itself to any notion that Brazee might have felt "represented" by Holcombe.

Holcombe said the following in an email: "Beyond that Mr. Brazee put in a lot of time and energy during my 2019 campaign for re-election to be a part of preventing my re-election. He was successful in his efforts and any feelings that he 'felt represented' by me apparently did not hinder him in his efforts. Further, I put in a lot of time and energy in a recall effort later in 2019 to remove Mr. Brazee which, if I had ever been retained by him as his attorney, I would not have pursued. Mr. Brazee made no objection about 'feeling represented' by me during that unsuccessful campaign to remove him. It is interesting that Mr. Brazee only now raises these feelings of his."

Holcombe asked the Journal-Capital if it would research the allegations contained in the petition that he prepared for Watters, and if the newspaper would ask current City Council members other than John Brazee if they think Brazee is qualified to continue to hold the Ward 4 seat until the first meeting of May 2021. The newspaper agreed to pursue these issues and report to the public what it finds.