Burke reappears at West U council to apologize for confronting teen; no longer facing charge
Embattled West University Place City Councilwoman Kellye Burke, facing calls for her resignation and an ongoing recall drive — but no longer, reportedly, a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge — strove to make amends Monday in her first public appearance since a March 31 incident in which she profanely confronted a young female supporter of President Trump and other teens at an area cookie store.
Burke, 50, had been largely absent from the public eye — and from the previous City Council meeting — since a public furor over the incident spilled into social media circles and the political echo chambers, drawing almost unheard of national and even international attention to the small city of West University Place.
While a petition drive to force a recall election — the only remedy Burke’s opponents had under the West University charter — has been heating up, with a reported 700 signatures gathered toward 1,600-plus needed to force the removal election.
Burke, elected to council last year, sought to remedy that by placing an item on Monday’s agenda simply titled “Statement from Councilmember Kellye Burke.”
The council chamber, as at the last meeting, was at near full capacity and abuzz with anticipation. But before Burke could begin making her statement, Councilman Bob Higley interjected, asking City Attorney Alan Petrov to rule on the agenda item’s legitimacy under the Texas Open Meetings Act and its relevance, because Higley said the council has no legal authority to remove Burke or censure her.
Petrov said, though, he “respectfully” disagreed with Higley’s assessment. Given the high public interest in Burke’s situation, he said, it was entirely proper for the council members — and the citizenry — to hear her statement.
With that, Burke, who displayed composure throughout the meeting, began to speak.
“Earlier this month while standing in line at a local restaurant, I made inappropriate remarks to a group of teenage girls standing near me. There is no excuse for my conduct,” she began.
“I sincerely apologize to the young women and their families. I further apologize to the people of West U. You are my friends and constituents, but most importantly, you are my neighbors,” she continued.
“I’m sorry for my actions and for the hurt and pain I caused. I am honored to be your council member and pledge with all my heart to regain your trust and respect,” she concluded.
Her statement received a smattering of applause from the audience. Mayor Susan Sample said, “I appreciate your statement. I think a lot of people have waited for that.”
Later, during the public comments part of the meeting, several people came to the podium to speak both on Burke’s behalf as well as to continue the call for her to resign.
Michael Lockler said that Burke’s reported comments to the girls (apparently referring to an “Access Hollywood” recording of Donald Trump making profane comments about women that were made public shortly before the 2016 election) showed “more interest in her personal agenda than acting on behalf of the city.”
He said Burke’s comments did not reflect well on the city and had brought unwanted negative publicity to West University.
“Her actions were offensive and antithetical to a good citizen of our community, much less on of our leaders,” he said, calling for her to resign.
Jay Cohen, an attorney who is one of the organizers of the recall petition, thanked Burke for her apology but wondered if it had been “forced” by all of the publicity.
“If you hide behind freedom of speech, then you’re disregarding common decency, and that’s what this is about,” Cohen said. “We teach our children bullying is wrong, and we can’t have someone in office who’s doing that.”
Cohen asked the council members to voice their own thoughts about Burke’s statements, but Petrov, the city attorney, interjected, saying it was not appropriate under the Texas Open Meetings Act for members to make statements during the public comments part of the meeting.
Lori Britton, said she was “torn” by Burke’s statement.
“I accept your apology and I certainly do forgive you. However, it feels too late,” Britton said. She said Burke had forgone previous opportunities to apologize sincerely.
“We’ve got an elected official of our community who outwardly and aggressively detests a portion of our community. That’s not OK,” she said. “I voted for you. I’d like to rescind my vote. This is where adult accountability, empathy, and humility should kick in. When you can’t represent us all, you represent no one.”
There were several others who spoke in support of Burke, even if they did not necessarily defend her actions, including two former council members, Steven Segal and Stan McCandless, and McCandless’ wife, Sally.
Segal said that many members of the public were unaware that Burke had tried to apologize personally to all the girls and their families shortly after the incident before the wave of negative publicity forced her to remain silent.
Sally McCandless, a decades-long educator said the incident was “a teaching moment, a learning moment, both for adults and our children.”
“Did Kellye Burke make a terrible mistake? Yes, she did. Has she recognized that? Yes, she did. And I would think that adults in the room, in the community, whether it’s through your church or Christian values or whatever, there would be this feeling of forgiveness,” she said, adding that the “extreme” recall effort was “ridiculous.”
Claire Furse, a 17-year-old student at St. John’s School, said “I’m here to say that I think Mrs. Burke is a good person. She’s kind and funny, and she’s always willing to volunteer to help our city,” noting that Burke, a longtime advocate of gun control legislation, spoke to her school on the issue at her request.
“We’ve all made mistakes in our lives. I know I have,” Furse said. “But I think forgiveness is important. Mrs. Burke made a mistake, and she’s apologized. I know she’s very sorry, and I hope you’ll accept her apology.”
Burke intently listened to all of the speakers but made no other statement. Earlier, Channel 2 news reported that Burke’s attorney David Adler had appeared in court on Burke’s behalf and that the misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge against her, filed by the Precinct 1 Harris County Constable’s Office, had been dropped.
The Burke situation was not the only subject on the public’s mind. Several people asked the council to allow the city attorney to defend in court a recent decision by the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment about the AT&T facility that abuts several residential properties, and not settle with AT&T.