By Sean Wardwell and Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
In Killeen's first recall election, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper along with council members Kenny Wells, Juan Rivera, Larry Cole and Billy Workman were voted out of office Tuesday.
None of the council members received more than 40 percent support.
About 700 votes were cast for each district representative position. Rivera, who had the best numbers of any of the members under recall, was ousted with 61.8 percent of the votes cast in District 2. In District 1, Wells was recalled with 73.2 percent of the votes cast.
For the at-large positions, Cole was recalled with 75.8 percent of the vote, Cosper with 75.8 percent and Workman with 69.5 percent. About 3,500 votes were garnered for each at-large position.
The city is expected to canvass the votes on Nov. 17, which would make the election results final. At that point, the five council members will be formally removed from office, leaving the city without a quorum. A judge will have to set a new election date, possibly in February.
Recall organizer Jonathan Okray sat with supporters of the recall at a watch party at Ashley Furniture Tuesday night. As early results came in, he and others expressed their satisfaction with voters' decisions.
"It's not personal. This is a business thing," said Okray. "I'm glad people are exercising their right and privilege as a civic duty. People can look at me and say 'Yes, I can make a difference.'"
Okray said his job was done, and he will not seek office. "My task was exactly what we're seeing tonight; just to usher this thing forward and stay focused."
However, Jason Lawhorn, a watch party attendee, said he will throw in his hat for a city council seat. Lawhorn said he felt no sympathy for recalled council members who voted against Green's buyout, and their refusal to initiate an outside investigation was a reason for their recall.
"There's still more work to do, but it's a step in the right direction," said Lawhorn.
Retired Col. Don Clay, who was on hand with Okray, believed the recall effort was about more than former city manager Connie Green's buyout, saying it was a long line of bad decisions by the council that led to the effort.
"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," he said. "It sounds like there are more concerned citizens than good ole boys."
"It's a victory for the city that people said 'Enough is enough,'" said Clay.
At City Hall, the mood was somber as council members monitored the returns from the dais during their regular meeting. By the time the meeting ended, all of them had an idea of their fate.
"I'm happy, really. I'm happy the people have spoken. I'm happy I called for the recall," said Workman after the meeting. "I can go about my life and if the people want me to run again, I will. Thanks for the opportunity to serve."
After leaving the building, Workman was heard yelling out his car while driving away: "I'm riding into the sunset in my brand new Jaguar!"
Other council members took the news in a more subdued tone. Cosper said he was expecting to be recalled, though he still held out hope that the effort might be defeated. "I am not surprised with all of the negativity that has continuously been out there for the last several months," he said.
Despite losing his seat, Cosper said he was proud of what the council had accomplished and his role in the city's master plan. "There has been numerous accomplishments for a city of this size," he said. "I would challenge anyone to find a city in the nation that has been more successful than the city of Killeen for the last couple of decades."
"It has been an honor to serve," said Cosper.
Cole said he expected to be recalled as well, but not at such a wide margin. "Killeen is basically without a government," he said.
On whether he was concerned that the city was without a quorum, Cole said: "That's the citizens' concern. They did it."
Cole said he believes the city should not order a special election, the costs of which he estimates at $50,000. "(We council members) aren't wise stewards of the city's money, it seems, so I don't want to spend any more," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, the election can be in May."
Rivera said he was thankful to every citizen who voted in the election, whether they voted for or against his recall. "They expressed their right," he said. "We are happy to have a nation that has that power; the power to remove and the power to select officials. I'm grateful to every one of them."
However, Rivera said he was unsure supporters of the recall know the position the city is now in with an inability to hold a council meeting. "I just hope the new city council gets selected and elected as soon as possible," he said. "That way they can get back to business."
Wells declined an interview after the meeting.
How to proceed
City staffers now have to decide how best to proceed without a council.
"The city staff will focus on the mission, period," said Interim City Manager Glenn Morrison. "That mission is dedicated service every day for everyone, and that's exactly what we'll do - provide those services."
Mayor Tim Hancock, who was not subject to recall, said he'll work with the two remaining council members to support the city in whatever way they can. He only expressed fears that the city would be unable to act if something catastrophic happened or if the city received a grant.
"As I've said before, when this began, we began to make plans," said Hancock. "I have absolute confidence in the city staff and city manager."
Cosper shared that confidence, saying he was confident the city would be fine without a council for the foreseeable future. "We have a very capable staff," he said.
"I think that they will do an outstanding job in being flexible and creative in the next several months. I hope that there are no unforeseen incidents or issues that come up that would require council action. I know Killeen is a very resilient community and will get through this."
How the city will get through the next several months without a council remains to be seen. Yet, the recalled members are ready to move forward.
"As it has been said, we will survive," Cole said. "The sun will rise tomorrow."
Timeline: Killeen recall effort
March 22 - City Manager Connie Green undergoes an evaluation during a reportedly contentious executive session of the Killeen City Council.
March 23 - Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock releases a statement reporting that Green is on leave.
March 24 - The city and Green negotiate an exit strategy for his departure.
March 25 - If terminated, Green reportedly could receive up to $400,000 in a severance package.
March 25 - Assistant City Manager Glenn Morrison delivers an offer to Green's home; multiple sources familiar with the agreement say the severance amount is significantly higher than the reported $400,000.
March 29 - The city council votes 4-3 to buyout Green's contract for $750,000. Voting in favor of the buyout: Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper along with council members JoAnn Purser, Kenny Wells and Ernest Wilkerson. Voting against the severance package: council members Juan Rivera, Billy Workman and Larry Cole.
March 30 - Green is paid $750,000; the money is taken from the city's general fund. Morrison becomes the interim city manager.
April 1 - Cosper, Wells and Purser hold a press conference on the steps of city hall to explain their reasons for voting in favor of the controversial buyout.
April 5 - Jonathan Okray files paperwork to recall the entire city council.
April 7 - Rivera calls a press conference to speak out against the buyout, which he voted against.
April 11 - Okray files paperwork to recall the mayor.
April 12 - The council discussion about obtaining an outside investigation into circumstances surrounding the buyout of Green's contract is cut short by a 3-2 vote.
April 19 - The council again discusses the possibility of obtaining an outside investigation but chooses to schedule a town hall meeting instead.
April 20 - City Attorney Kathy Davis gives the green light for council members to talk about the closed-door discussions during two executive sessions concerning Green's contract. Wilkerson alleges that race played a factor in the buyout.
April 24 - The council appears at a town hall meeting, which about 500 residents attend. Okray is outside the building with petitions.
April 26 - Green talks exclusively with the Herald, saying a contentious five-year history with city officials led to his departure. Green alleges that the Committee of 12, a shadow group in Killeen, had been trying to push him out since he became city manager in 2005.
April 27 - Hancock talks exclusively with the Herald, saying the council moved too hastily in its decision about Green's departure.
May 2 - Okray submits the recall petitions for seven council members. In total, the petitions have 9,876 signatures.
May 14 - Purser is defeated in her re-election bid and subsequently not subject to recall.
May 20 - A leaked memorandum submitted to council members shows that enough petition signatures were validated for their recall. The petition to recall the mayor falls short.
May 24 - Council members facing recall are notified that they have five days to resign. If they don't relinquish their seats, voters will decide their political fate at the polls.
May 28 - Council members announce that they will not resign.
June 3 - Okray creates the Killeen Tax Payers for Responsible and Accountable Legal Fund to raise money for a lawsuit against the city because he doesn't think officials are moving quickly enough to set an early date for the recall election.
June 9 - Citing personal reasons, Wilkerson resigns from the council.
June 14 - The council sets a Nov. 8 election date for the recall.
June 17 - Okray announces he and two other Killeen residents have filed a lawsuit against the city, the council, Hancock and City Secretary Paula Miller in U.S. District Court in Waco.
June 21 - City officials launch a search for a new city manager.
June 28 - To replace Wilkerson in the District 2 position, the council appoints Michael Lower.
Aug. 20 - An executive search firm charged with vetting city manager candidates announces that more than 30 people submitted resumes for the position.
Sept. 8 - The city releases the names of five city manager candidates.
Sept. 12 - Okray and his pro-recall organization announce a plan to stage weekly protests outside city hall every Tuesday until election day.
Sept. 14 - The council halts its search for a new city manager.
Oct. 14 - Four council members - Rivera, Wells, Cole and Workman - appear at a political forum hosted by the NAACP and answer questions about the buyout.
Oct. 30 - Former council member Dan Corbin forms an organization called Citizens for a Prosperous Future to oppose the recall measure.
Nov. 4 - City residents cast more than 2,000 ballots during early voting.
Nov. 8 - In unofficial returns, city residents vote to recall Cole, Cosper, Rivera, Wells and Workman from office. If confirmed when results are canvassed, the results will leave the council without a quorum.
- Herald staff reports