Citizen defends councilman accused of stealing from grieving mot - 12 News KBMT and K-JAC. News, Weather and Sports for SE Texas

Citizen defends councilman accused of stealing from grieving mother, but he's a no-show on council

KOUNTZE -  Kountze Councilman Ira Braneff is out of jail on bond, but he could soon face more criminal charges.

Authorities say he's confessed to pocketing $3,000 from a mother who paid Braneff for a gravestone for her teenaged son, but she never received it.

And on Thursday, Hardin County District Attorney David Sheffield told 12News a second possible victim had come forward accusing Braneff of stealing $2,000 in another fraudulent headstone sale.

Thursday evening, Kountze city council held its first meeting since Braneff's arrest.  Braneff did not attend, but Cheryl Bean, who says she's known Braneff for 10 years was present.

She said she was there to show support for the embattled councilman, and to tell his colleagues not to condemn him.

Bean says Braneff is sad and embarrassed.  She said she spoke to him before the meeting.  She said, "I said Ira if you need $3,000 I would have tried to raise the money, and he said I didn't even need the money, and he didn't understand what happened."

Neither do his colleagues at City Hall.  City Manager Rod Hutto said, "We're all king of speechless, we're kind of shocked about it, and that's pretty much where we stand."

Hutto says the council has its hands tied. He says the city attorney told him, there's nothing the city can do until Braneff is convicted.

In other council business, a budget proposal aimed at keeping officers around longer at the Kountze police force is on hold.

Council members want time to examine an option the police chief has placed on the table.

The city manager had initially come up with a plan to raise police officers salaries and avoid the constant turnover in the department.

However that would have required consolidating with the Hardin County Sheriff's Office and Kountze police being under the sheriff's supervision.
But Thursday night at council, Police Chief Paul Darks proposed keeping the force under the city's control, and still be able to give officers a pay hike, since he intends to retire.

Hutto says, "It's pretty much eliminating a position because we have a chief and assistant chief like Paul Darks says he's going to retire September 30th, that's going to eliminate his salary all together and this assistant chief will now move up to chief's position."

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