Killeen City Council candidates gave their opinions about bringing more jobs with livable wages to Killeen at a forum last week.
Will Baumgartner, incumbent Debbie Nash-King and Mellisa Brown are competing for the District 2 seat. Incumbent Jim Kilpatrick, Tolly James Jr. and Sandra Blankenship are running for District 3. Brockley King Moore and incumbent Steve Harris are on the ballot for District 4.
Tavares Bethel, The Village United executive director and JoAnn Foster, the organization’s director of civic engagement, officiated the forum sponsored by The Village United and Texas Black Pages.
Bethel asked: “Over the course of the last couple of days, I had the opportunity to look through the city’s comprehensive plan and also the downtown plan. We do know the expansion of the south corridor is the reality … if elected, what is your plan to hold the (Killeen) Economic Development Corporation accountable to bringing jobs with a livable wage to the city of Killeen?”
Brown: “There are three representatives of the council that are sitting on KEDC; however one of them is the mayor and is a non-voting member of the council, so there are actually two council members that are on KEDC. We need to regain control over KEDC again. Right now, the KEDC is ran by the Greater of Killeen Chamber of Commerce, they are not associated with the City at all. They are not accountable to the citizens. So why are they handling millions of dollars of citizens’ taxpayer money? I don’t think anybody who is not going to be accountable to you, should be accountable of spending your money.
Baumgartner: “I am not going to lie to you, December of last year, if you asked me who KEDC was, I would’ve been like ‘I don’t know.’ I’m pretty sure at least 60 percent of the people in Killeen would be the same way. It’s not something that everybody knows about. We know the Chamber of Commerce ... I for one, assume that the City Council was the one that was bringing these companies in; they were the one themselves giving the tax breaks to get them to come in, until all the hoopla with the chemical plant came in and then I found out who they (KEDC) were. Like Mrs. Brown said, we gotta hold them accountable. We gotta get more individuals on that board aside from one that doesn’t have a voting say in a normal council meeting.
Nash-King: “In order to bring business in, we have to do some type of rebound. As you understand, we are competing against every city, it isn’t just Killeen. You’re competing against throughout the USA, trying to get one business in your area. When I came on the council in 2017, the biggest thing I was fighting for and talking with Mr. (John) Crutchfield and KEDC is about small businesses. Asking them to hold business owners down here — right here downtown — accountable and wanting to do an upkeep on them; to bring more small businesses down here … right now we don’t have the revenue to compete against other big cities to bring them (large corporations) here. We need to focus on our small businesses right here downtown and build it up before we even try to bring an even bigger business.
Blankenship: “The city of Killeen might actually start looking at buying, more on the southside of Killeen, some of the land that is available for manufacturing because that is what is actually going to bring some of these high-paying jobs. The city Killeen could have another economic business district working on the southside of Killeen instead of having more houses … the jobs that need to come in are, as I said before, high-tech jobs, manufacturing jobs and they need to be brought in and those jobs are going to bringing more than minimum wage.”
James: “One thing we have to do ... is research. Here’s what I would do; we need to establish an economic development strategic plan that basically holds them accountable so that we find out whether we have high-wage job growth, more sustainable tax base that is driven less by our residential property and more by the industry that we have here. We’ve seen a lot of car washes, we’ve seen a lot of restaurants. Those places are good to eat at, but they’re not good to live on full wage.”
Kilpatrick: “This last week I announced in the Killeen Daily Herald my program that I’ve been talking to, as a member of the KEDC, to other board members. We need to target a specific type of industry. Just throwing a wide, wide net out across and say ‘We need more industry.’ Well, what is more industry? Identify what you need. The largest workforce in Bell County is health, welfare and social work at 16.98% of all the employers and its growing faster every year. That would tell me that with five major hospitals here, three major teaching institutions ... that are coming up that along with our increasing population; we need to target the medical industry.”
Harris: “Like I said before, when KEDC makes a decision, they tell us (city council) ‘Well there’s three council members on the board.’ Well, three council members doesn’t constitute the rest of the council … they don’t know what is going on; is not informed on anything. For KEDC to be accountable, I was going to have brought up on the agenda an item to have them start again quarterly updates because they weren’t doing that. When I asked the question about it at one council meeting, they couldn’t remember the last time they gave one … I was going to try to have an agenda item to have a contract change to where they had to notify us of stuff that is going on. We should hold KEDC accountable like it should be and let us be involved with it.”
Moore: “We all do agree that we need more industry here in Killeen. I think the KEDC has been trying. I will have to say being a retired soldier and been very involved in the community, we have the three biggest industries in Central Texas and Bell County. We have a school district that is begging for teachers, but you have to go to school to be certified. We have a career center that puts out firemen, it’s a two-year program and you have to be certified. We have Texas A&M-Central Texas University, we have CTC and just a couple of weeks ago they opened up a chemical plant over in the northside of Killeen, but it demands science and math. We need to target a specific industry of Killeen because we have a wide range of people.”
The candidates also addressed issues at previous forums hosted by the Killeen Daily Herald and LULAC Herencia Council 4297.
More information about candidates and candidates’ videos are available at the Herald’s Center for Politics, kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics.
In addition, candidates address a variety of issues in the Herald’s Election Guide, which publishes April 21 on the eve of early voting.
Early voting is April 22 through April 30. Election Day is May 4.