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Killeen charter review may alter council districts

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Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2012 4:30 am

Like many Killeenites, Bill Mulkins does not know which district he lives in.

As a leader of his neighborhood watch group, Mulkins has taken an active role in developing a culture of ownership and community in his neighborhood.

But as far as district identity is concerned, “It is not as much as I would hope,” he said.

The Killeen City Council has embarked on a review of the city charter with plans to prepare changes to the document — considered the city’s constitution — for an election in May.

As for new configurations of the city’s government system, Mayor Dan Corbin has suggested putting all of the options on the ballot and letting voters decide.

“It is the people’s document, and so the people should decide what it says,” Corbin said. “If we don’t put it on the ballot we are making the decision for them.”

At-large districts

One proposal is to return to a system where candidates for a district seat must live in that district — formerly called a ward — but all Killeen residents could vote for them.

This would be a change to the current system, where voters can only vote for a district council member if they live in that district.

The theory of single-member districts is that district council members are more attuned to the issues of their geographic area of the city.

One problem is that in a city of Killeen’s size, district seats are particularly susceptible to voter apathy.

In May, when District 1 and District 2 seats were up for election, the winning candidates, Wayne Gilmore and Jose Segarra, each received just 401 and 531 votes respectively.

But allowing everyone to vote for all district council members proposes another problem — the elections may disenfranchise minority groups in the city.

Dispersed minority

White voters, who make up the majority in Killeen, could theoretically vote for only white candidates — even those running for districts across the city.

As a result, minorities by nature would not have their ethnic or cultural values represented on the council.

This scenario is unlikely to happen because any proposed change to city government has to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice 90 days before the election is held.

The challenge in Killeen is that the minority population is not divided into discrete geographical areas. Minority households are dispersed throughout the city.

Austin analogy

Austin, which also has a widely dispersed Hispanic and African-American populations, is the largest city in Texas not to have single-district member council.

“Austin is the holdout in having at-large,” Bennett Sandlan, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said.

This November, Austin voters will decide between two proposals to move to 10 single-member districts and an at-large elected mayor, or a hybrid — similar to Killeen’s — of eight single-district council members, two at-large council members and an at-large elected mayor.

“One reason is simply to have people that are more attuned to the needs important to that district,” Sandlan said.

Without single-districts, Austin, which has a population of about 820,000, has maintained its minority representation on the council through what Sandlan calls a “gentleman’s agreement.”

The unspoken agreement, which has existed for years, reserves two of the 10 council seats for minorities, one for a Hispanic council member and the other for an African-American.

Support for system

Raul Villaronga, president of the local League of United Latin American Citizens or LULAC chapter 4535, opposes a change to the current government system in Killeen and disapproves of the unofficial arrangement in Austin. “That is not a good policy and that does not exist in Killeen,” Villaronga said.

The Hispanic former mayor of Killeen said he and LULAC 4535 worked for 12 years to lobby the city to adopt a single-member district system.

Villaronga said by studying the voter logs of past elections, it was clear that voters from outside districts had elected district representatives.

“The bulk of the votes were coming from voters outside of the district,” Villaronga said. “I think it is appropriate that the candidate come from the district and have to be elected by voters in the district.”

A mixed group, which included the current mayor, LULAC and the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, helped promote the move to single-member districts seven years ago.

“If the whole entire community can vote for that candidate, what is the point of having single-member districts in the first place?” TaNeika Driver, president of the local NAACP chapter, said. “If it is not broken, don’t fix it.”

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2 comments:

  • Viktor posted at 10:22 pm on Sun, Oct 28, 2012.

    Viktor Posts: 317

    If its not broken don't fix it? The recent recall of city council is a clear indication that its broken for the people that need to run the show in Killeen. When single member districts were proposed some fools viewed it as their own little kingdoms. Now that it backfired due to the recall, there's an outcry to change it. Turns out that its a lot more difficult to maintain a stranglehold on the city when the candidates that go with the flow are dispersed throughout the city. Much easier to just pick a handful of followers and have them run as at-large for city government. They get voted in and follow the lead of those that like to be top dog. Single member districts are a hassle for city's moochers. What if a candidate that didn't go with the flow got elected? Look at some of the council people now that actually shun the big business game plan and look out for the needs of the people. Killeen's moochers can't afford their type on council.

     
  • Eliza posted at 7:43 am on Sun, Oct 28, 2012.

    Eliza Posts: 830

    @ The Hispanic former mayor of Killeen said he and LULAC 4535 worked for 12 years to lobby the city to adopt a single-member district system.--
    A mixed group, which included the current mayor, LULAC and the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, helped promote the move to single-member districts seven years ago.-------


    I'll now have to say,from being put into the position, that I, a white citizen of Killeen, am now offended, that no mention by either of the above org. included that any thought was given, to what was the betterment of the white citizen voters or the Hawaiian,German,Korean etc citizen voters of Killeen, when it was decided to go to a single-member district system.
    A system which from my observation,and others, has been very confusing at times,not only to the voters themselves but to some poll workers.-

    Living in a country where all are suppose to have access to the same benefits if appliable. The benefit of voting for who one wants in an office, has been interfered with by the 2 org. mentioned above.
    I believe this type of thinking is from the old school and we are far beyond those times.
    I believe this type of thinking will indeed recognize the org. fears,and keep the citizen voters separated if they are told, 'They can't be trusted to vote for someone just because of that persons ethic association'.
    I believe this type of thinking could be considered unhealthy by many.

    Its not as if we've lived in a clone of whiteness ,and have never mixed with people of other races then ourselves. The majority in Killeen have an association with the military,none of us were in an all black,white or hispanic,etc military. From that association,the majority, would know how to dis-associate the good or the bad in a candidate of any race, when we go to vote.
    But the way its stated by the associations above,they would encourage voters, to only vote for certain people. And take away the right, for any others to be able to vote for those same people.
    I believe again that is wrong and I wonder if its even legal.

    I myself believe all citizen voters should be allowed to vote for those in the city, who would be eligible to make decisions for them,it shouldn't matter what color,or what area of the city the voter, or candidate lives in. It only makes good sense,and would be fair to all.
    I will encourage any to vote in this manner when the decision is to be made.

     

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