Councilors respond to Holcombe's question about removing Brazee

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Three members of the Pawhuska City Council gave differing answers last week to a question regarding whether they think John Brazee should be removed from the council before his three-year term as Ward 4 councilor is set to end in May 2021.

During an email exchange Dec. 11 between the Journal-Capital and Steve Holcombe, a local lawyer and former member of the council, Holcombe asked the newspaper if it would "inquire of the current city council as to whether Mr. Brazee is even qualified to sit in his seat from now until the first meeting in May, 2021." The newspaper agreed to ask the question, and did so last week. Holcombe contends that Brazee is not a legal resident of Pawhuska.

Mayor Roger Taylor responded to the question with a "no comment."

Ward 3 Councilor Mark Buchanan, who is running for re-election in the current election cycle, said he does not agree with removing Brazee from the panel before May.

"My answer to that question right now is 'no,'" Buchanan said. He added that City Attorney John Heskett is looking into the issue.

"It is up to the citizens of Pawhuska to vote people on and off the council, and it's not my place to remove them," Buchanan said.

At-Large Councilor Steve Tolson said he favors having Taylor (he is the Ward 1 councilor, chosen by his council colleagues to serve as mayor), request an opinion from Heskett.

Tolson said he is interested in hearing more about city government's potential liability.

"I'm not trying to get rid of John Brazee at all," Tolson said. "The city just needs to make sure we're protected."

Holcombe raised the question in electronic messages with city officials in late November. Holcombe, who narrowly lost a bid for re-election to the Ward 2 seat in April 2019, was later involved in an unsuccessful attempt to recall four members of the council, including Brazee. That recall attempt was defeated at the polls.

Prior to the candidacy declaration period for the current election cycle, Holcombe sent a letter to Brazee, trying to dissuade him from seeking a new term of office and threatening a legal challenge if he were to decide to run. Holcombe told the Journal-Capital in an email that he was providing legal representation to Carrie Ann Watters, who is running for the Ward 4 seat, in regard to a potential legal challenge to Brazee.

In late November, Holcombe argued to city officials that, "the city has a duty to investigate all available facts about Johnny Brazee's residency because the City Charter makes it clear that a sitting City Council member is disqualified from completing a term of office when they are no longer residing within the city limits."

Holcombe also told city officials that, "a question has been asked of me by another concerned citizen as to whether an audit should be conducted of Johnny Brazee's voting record. For instance, would a quorum have only been met by Johnny Brazee's attendance at a Special or General City Council meeting such that City actions or resolutions taken at such meetings may now be called into question?"

Holcombe's interest in unseating John Brazee comes in context of an adversarial political relationship between the two men. In an email message Dec. 11 to the Journal-Capital, Holcombe said he believed Brazee had worked against his re-election in early 2019, and Holcombe acknowledged having wanted to recall Brazee later that year.

Brazee appeared to interpret Holcombe's current actions in context of the history between himself and Holcombe.

"I think it's a personal attack on me, because he's upset about being off the council," Brazee said.