With the May 4 election less than two months away, candidates’ campaigns are in full swing, and candidates are making their platforms known.
At the Herald’s candidate forum Monday night, the eight residents running for three seats on the Killeen City Council tackled issues of crime, city spending and budget cuts, economic growth, youth programs and communication with residents in front of close to 80 people who got out in near-freezing temperatures to attend the forum.
Right away, the discussion became spirited. Each candidate had a strong opinion about no-knock warrants. The forum came less than a week after the target of a Killeen police investigation died during as KPD served a no-knock warrant. In 2014, a Killeen police officer died during police service of a no-knock warrant. The Herald asked candidates for their opinions.
District 2 candidate Mellisa Brown was strongly against the tactic and said there is no evidence that anyone is safer using it. Also in District 2, Will Baumgartner said he does not like no-knock warrants, but understands why they are used as a safety measure. District 2 incumbent Debbie Nash-King and District 4 candidate Brockley King Moore each said City Council members do not control the use of the tactic, and that the decision is between law enforcement and the judge. District 3 candidate Sandra Blankenship and District 4 incumbent Steve Harris both emphasized that the tactic should be used only as a last resort. District 3 candidate Tolly James Jr. said the tactic needs to be evaluated and that the police chief should consider the effectiveness versus the loss of life. District 3 incumbent Jim Kilpatrick said no-knock raids can be effective when used with adequate knowledge and said the procedures that are in place need to be evaluated constantly.
See more of their comments on no-knock warrants at https://bit.ly/2NPbVix.
The candidates shared some common views about which crimes are prevalent in their districts, with the consensus being that home and vehicle burglaries are the most common across the city. The candidates said they would combat this trend by encouraging residents to remain vigilant about locking doors and keeping homes well-lit, as well as communicating with neighbors.
Candidates were then asked how they would keep Killeen government spending in check and make sure taxpayers’ money is used wisely in light of the city’s financial struggles.
Budget and economy
In District 4, incumbent Harris and Moore agreed that the council needs to work with the Economic Development Committee to bring in new businesses in order to create more revenue for the city. Harris plans to look at the contract Killeen has with the EDC in order to allow the council to have more of a voice in how the committee operates.
In District 2, Brown said the funding of the Killeen Economic Development Corporation and the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce should be evaluated based on performance, and that the city should look at what is being done by the two in order to bring in new businesses. Baumgartner said transparency should be the No. 1 priority and that residents should always know where the money is going. Incumbent Nash-King also spoke about transparency, and went on to say the budget posted the city’s website should be updated more frequently.
In District 3, Blankenship said Killeen needs to bring in 22nd Century jobs in order to bring higher and lasting revenue. James said the city needed to boost its economic development. Incumbent Kilpatrick said the city needs to have the state give back the money that Killeen misses due to the tax exemptions offered to disabled veterans and their families. He said when the city begins looking at the budget, it is already $6 million behind.
The candidates also largely agreed on how they would communicate with their constituents, saying they would utilize social media to stay in touch. More importantly, each candidate stressed they would make themselves easily and readily available to their citizens.
Candidates were then asked how they would address the need for more youth programs.
In District 4, incumbent Harris said he would continue to build a partnership with KISD and the city to make more areas are available to youth activities. Moore also said he would collaborate with KISD to utilize school playgrounds and gyms.
In District 2, Brown said the city needs to listen to the youth and find out what kind of activities they would be interested and engaged in. Baumgartner said his focus would be on parks, and activities similar to what Harker Heights has, such as educational opportunities and movies in the park. Incumbent Nash-King said she would work with KISD to provide transportation for kids to summer and after school activities.
In District 3, Blankenship said she would also ask kids what they want, and that the city needs to increase volunteer participation and mentorship. James said communication needs to be increased between KISD, Fort Hood, and city nonprofit organizations in order to share ideas and knowledge. Incumbent Kilpatrick said the city needs to implement more sports, more entertainment opportunities and more educational opportunities, such as STEM competitions and partnerships with local learning centers. Kilpatrick also stressed the need to have parent involvement, not parent drop-offs, a statement which sparked applause from the audience.
Here’s what each candidate stated as their No. 1 priority, if elected:
Brown: “My first priority would go along with the first steps that the council takes come June and that is starting the work of finalizing the proposed budget. Then, doing our protocol and procedures. As I stated earlier, I want to make sure that every citizen is able to speak to their council and address them without fear of retaliation against them. As far as the budget, I want to make sure we are spending wisely, we’re not spending on frivolous projects that we don’t necessarily need to have, but that we want to have. I think if we can get those two areas taken care of, the citizens will be happier, we’ll be more efficient, and we’ll be more effective as a council and as a city.”
Baumgartner: “My top priority is, and will always be, the safety of the citizens of Killeen, and that includes the police and the fire. As I stated before, the first thing that I would like to do is try and see what we can do as a council to increase the budget for the fire department, as well as the police department to get those bodies in, to get the equipment in that they need, and to get the training that everyone needs to make this place a safe one.”
Nash-King: “My top priority is working with the council and city manager to retain qualified and trained employees and first responders. The only way we know to do that is to give competitive pay and give them the equipment and resources that are needed to do their job. The seniors and youth are a priority; the programs and activities that are needed in order to give them the quality of life that we all deserve. Balancing the budget at the current tax rate and finding resources and working with the auditor and the city manager and the city council to ensure that we are continuing to be transparent with our budget and how we spend taxpayers’ money.”
Blankenship: “Everything’s a priority. I want to make sure we have our water secure. We need to find money and not put it on the backs of the citizens, that should be a priority. We need to make sure our police and fire have the training they need to keep us safe.”
James Jr.: “The first priority I would have is to wrap my mind around this coming up year’s budget. That’s what we need coming up. Basically, as we’ve all talked about throughout this forum, we have some choices coming ahead. I know we didn’t get a chance to talk about it, but the challenge of financing the Chaparral Road is before us, and we are going to have to make some hard decisions, and I agree that we should not look at just doing the easy road, which is to basically say ‘Let’s do another bond,’ or ‘Let’s ask the citizens for more money,’ so there are some hard choices ahead, but the first priority for me is: let’s get in to the budget and let’s see what we can do to make this thing work.”
Kilpatrick: “My No. 1 priority is first responder retention, quality of life for them. That means getting more bang for our buck with call outs. Money is not always the end state. It’s also their quality of life and how they get to spend time with their families with the number of call outs that they have. The next priority I have is our pre-teens, teens, and young adults. Let’s mentor the pre-teens, get them activities and establish standards for them. For the teens, let’s mentor them, let’s get them activities, and let’s reinforce the activities. For our young adults, let’s teach them what’s good and bad. If you do bad, you get bad things. If you do good, you get good things. Simple as that.”
Harris: “My priority is going to be economic development. but under that umbrella of economic development, the first thing I’m going to be looking at is the Future Land Use Map, because the city is growing disproportionately right now. It’s not growing in a balanced way because we’re changing the Future Land Use Map and we’re rezoning things all over creation and all these things are just being thrown off because we aren’t growing right. The Future Land Use Map right now is just a thing that’s required by law that’s just there and seems to just keep the attorneys at bay. One thing I would start working on is the Emergency Master Plan because we’re building. My development took 11 years before the development got a fire station there. Eleven years. We need to balance that out next time so that whenever we have developments like that, that come up so fast, we need to have a fire station come up along with it.”
Moore: “My first priority is safety; first responders, retention and recruitment. As Mr. Harris said, I’m proud of Fire Station 9. When they had that grand opening, we just went wild because it services about 30,000 people of District 4. My second thing is balancing the budget. You have to have a balanced budget. Third is economic development. You have to continuously work and have an open mind to bring in industry and an open mind to bring in new ideas and not get stuck in your ways.”
Candidate information and more election coverage is available at kdhnews.com/centerforpolitics. The Herald will have continuing coverage of the election.
There will be a forum for with Killeen Independent School District candidates at 6:30 p.m. March 18.