As the city of Killeen prepares its arguments for two lawsuits filed by former employees against the city in the past week, residents are wary of the major lawsuits, which have troubled City Hall in the recent past.
After previously settling a lawsuit against former City Manager Connie Green by a former city employee in 2008, the Killeen City Council in 2011 approved a controversial $750,000 buyout for Green, a decision that led to the recall of five of the city’s seven council members later in the year.
“This current crop has learned their lesson with that,” said Bob Blair, a Killeen resident and former municipal blogger. “I think there were significant consequences with that one.”
“The city always just seems to pay off lawsuits, which just rewards someone for suing the city,” local teacher James Ralston said.
“If they in fact did violate the law, then we would have to pay up. If not, I think it is right to go out and fight it.”
In the past week, Killeen’s former finance director Barbara Gonzales and former city mechanic John Acker, who were both fired in December, sued the city under the Texas Whistleblower Act.
Gonzales’ lawsuit claims she was fired for telling police about alleged unlawful spending by Killeen City Manager Glenn Morrison.
Acker’s case claims that he was fired for telling investigators in the Killeen Police Department about a member of its own ranks allegedly using the city’s motor pool for personal use.
Gonzales is seeking between $200,000 and $1 million in compensatory damages and reinstatement or compensation for lack of reinstatement. Acker is also seeking financial compensation and reinstatement.
The city said it is not offering a settlement in the two lawsuits.
Although the city denied all the claims, little information was released defending the city from the allegations against its top administrators.
The Killeen City Council met Tuesday in closed session to receive advice from the city’s attorney regarding the two lawsuits.
Texas Municipal League, the city’s insurance provider, assigned Stuart Smith of Naman, Howell, Smith and Lee law firm in Waco to represent the city in the two cases.
Smith said, in a telephone conversation Wednesday, that it would likely be nine months to a year before the civil lawsuit is tried in Bell County district court, where the case was filed.
Several council members, who were reached by telephone Wednesday, said they could not comment on the pending litigation because it could affect the outcome of the lawsuits.
“The truth will come out and we look forward to defending ourself in court,” Mayor Dan Corbin said Wednesday.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lower also said he could not comment on the specifics of the litigation.
“I think that once the facts are out, it will shed some more light on this,” Lower said. “With Mr. Morrison, his integrity is not on trial with this.”