BRYAN - To say Karen Hall is active in Bryan city politics is an understatement. She's the treasurer of the Citizens for Bryan political action committee and speaks quite frequently at Bryan city council meetings. Recently, she and Citizens for Bryan submitted a petition to change the city charter. Tuesday night is the second and final reading of that ballot initiative.
But is she even a resident of the City of Bryan?
Karen Hall claims that under an agreement with a property owner who died about 10 years ago, she is entitled to claim her residency and voter registration at an address on Highway 21. When News 3 was notified about other addresses associated with Ms. Hall, we took another look. As we found out, so had the Brazos County District Attorney's office.
If you've been to a Bryan City Council meeting, you've probably heard Karen Hall speak. She's vocal about issues facing the city of Bryan. As an organizer for the Citizens for Bryan political action committee, she successfully submitted a petition asking for changes to the city charter's ethical guidelines, including whether family of council members can serve on boards and committees
The petition is more than 400 pages and contains thousands of signatures from registered voters inside the Bryan city limits. There is a public inspection copy available at the city secretary's office for anyone to see. On it, you'll find Karen Hall's signature on 41 of the pages as a witness and resident. To be signer of a petition or a witness to people signing, the city's charter states that the person must be a resident and a qualified voter. When she speaks at city council meetings, as she has six times this year already, she gives the same address: 5918 Highway 21 East.
A drive on Highway 21 to that address takes you to Bruders Commercial and Residential Electric. Neither the property owners, nor the owners of Bruders would talk on camera, but they did show us around. Both told News 3 that Karen Hall has never lived at the property, nor will she. The small upstairs apartment from the previous owner shows no sign of a current resident. Bruders's employees say they use the space as storage. When our cameras were there, the apartment was in disrepair. There were holes in the ceiling and walls and trash covering the floor.
Papers filed with the city organizing the Citizens for Bryan PAC list Karen Hall as the Treasurer, and a second address appears: 6111 Highway 21 East. No one was there when we went by.
If you look in the online white pages for Karen Hall a third address shows up. This one, though, not in Bryan, but in Kurten- where she says she is living and taking care of her elderly mother-in-law.
We spoke with Karen on Tuesday afternoon. Hall claims she had an agreement with Wayne Kelly, the original owner of the property at 5918 Highway 21, which is currently Bruders. Hall admitted she didn't sleep at that address.
"I don't sleep on Highway 21, if that's what you're asking at this present time," said Hall.
"I have in the past used a motor-type home that was on my property and the city was very concerned about that so I thought okay Wayne said to use his place so that's what I did," explained Hall.
"Do you keep anything there? Do you get mail at that location?" I asked.
"No," Hall said. Her mail is delivered to a P.O. Box.
Wayne Kelly died in 2005. Jim Miles is in charge of his estate. I asked Hall if, at any point since Mr. Kelly passed away, she bothered to check with the people overseeing the property or running the business located there if the agreement was still valid.
"I did not and I certainly need to check back with Mr. Miles," said Hall.
"There are rules to follow," said former council member Ben Hardeman. He should know. He served four terms on the council. During his last stint, from 2003 to 2009, Karen Hall was a regular at council meetings. Minutes since 2000 show her giving the same address on Highway 21 that's in question.
"It feels wrong," said Hardeman.
"It concerns me that anyone that doesn't live in the city tries to change the fundamental activities and fundamental political process in the city," said Hardeman.
Lane Thibadeaux, a lawyer in Bryan, said the accuracy of meeting residency for petition sponsors is crucial
"There is a heightened level of scrutiny assessed if the person who is initiating the signature campaign does not meet the residency requirements and it could possibly affect, given the reading of the city charter, any other signers to the particular petition," explained Thibadeaux.
"In this city, you know, we get people from College Station that weigh in on our issues. That's appropriate," said Hardeman.
"If you're making the decision about what's best for Bryan, you ought to be a resident of Bryan," continued Hardeman.
In the hours since we spoke with Karen Hall Tuesday afternoon, she told News 3 that she called Jim Miles, the man overseeing Wayne Kelly's estate, to apologize for keeping him out of the loop. Karen said he hung up on her and that her agreement with the late Wayne Kelly must be over.
The information News 3 has gathered on Karen Hall's residency is also in the hands of the District Attorney's office. Hardeman told us he provided documents to the D.A. Employees at Bruders told us that two investigators with the D.A.'s office searched the shop and office in July. Brazos County D.A. Jarvis Parsons says it's his policy to not comment on whether or not there is an active investigation.
If the Bryan City Council approves the second and final reading of the Citizens for Bryan petition tonight, the charter initiative will appear on the ballot in the November election.