By Jennifer M. Sims
Killeen Daily Herald
More than two months after Killeen citizens voted to relax the laws governing the sale of alcohol, a $28,000 debt is hanging over the group that helped push the measures through.
With the debt due Aug. 20, some members of the group think they shouldnt be the only ones stuck with the check.
Voters approved two separate propositions in the May 15 election. One eliminated the private club system for qualified restaurants, and the other allowed for the sale of beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores throughout the city.
The Killeen Tomorrow Political Action Committee was formed by a group of local civic and business leaders in December 2003 to help get the issues onto the ballot. The group paid more than $80,000 to Tim Reeves Consulting, a Dallas firm, for organizing the required petition drive and other consulting services.
A petition with at least 3,660 signatures of registered voters was needed on each issue to get onto the May 15 ballot.
Now the election is over and the new law is in effect, but frustrated PAC members say they shouldnt be the only ones footing the bill.
The law is a benefit to consumers and restaurants, said Bill White, manager at the Outback Steakhouse in Killeen and a member of the PAC.
Outback donated $5,000 to the cause. El Chico, TGI Fridays and Darden Restaurants the parent company of the local Red Lobster and Olive Garden all made contributions, according to PAC members. Some contributions by area businesses were made through other organizations, such as the Texas Retailers Association or the Texas Restaurant Association.
The restaurants are the first people to gain from this, White said, adding that businesses that benefited from the elections result should feel an obligation to pull their own financial weight in paying off the PACs bills.
Chris Barnes, a spokesperson for Chilis, said the restaurant appreciates the results of the election, but was operating fine under the previous club card system.
Certainly we welcome the results of the election and are looking forward to serving our customers a bit more directly than we had before, Barnes said.
But despite its administrative challenges, Barnes said the company was content to work under the former system as well. The decision not to participate was made locally, Barnes added.
Early in the campaign, several area businesses promised money to help fund the campaign, White said.
With the promise of funds and a short window of time to gather the signatures, the group opted to take out a 90-day, $27,500 loan from a local bank to pay the consultant and move forward with the project.
PAC members Dan Corbin and Kathy Gilmore signed as guarantors of the loan.
The money just never came in, so in order to get this thing done, Gilmore and I went and borrowed the money, Corbin said.
Even during the campaign to change the law, Corbin said he did not think the group should spend money it did not already have, but he decided to go along with the plans.
Eddie Stewart, manager of Texas Roadhouse, said despite several months of delays, the company still intends to contribute. Stewart said the restaurant agreed early on to make a contribution, but blamed complications at the corporate level for the delay.
Were waiting on the check, Stewart said.
But its a line that skeptical PAC members say theyve heard before.
Gilmore and Corbin secured a second loan, this one for $27,924, in order to pay off the first debt.
Now, the group has approximately $8,500 in the bank and a nearly $28,000 debt due Aug. 20.
A luncheon sponsored by Outback Steakhouse is scheduled for Monday, but estimates made late last week fell far short of what is needed.
The event, which features various levels of sponsorship, had only raised around $5,000 by the end of last week, said Phyllis B. Gogue, assistant treasurer of the PAC.
Corbin said the next step is to get in touch with people in the area and ask them to support the effort by making contributions.
With his and Gilmores wallets on the line, Corbin said they will need to impress upon the area businesses that they are reaping the rewards of a campaign funded by the PAC.
It could be a convincing argument for some.
Other major contributors to the campaign through July 13 included:
n The Texas Restaurant Association, $10,000;
n The Killeen Industrial Foundation, $5,000;
n BJ Carothers, $7,500;
n The Killeen Economic Development Corp., $10,000.
Contact Jennifer M. Sims at firstname.lastname@example.org